As we prepare to enter a new year, the big names that have dominated the Linux world for the past decade--Red Hat (NYSE: RHT), Canonical/Ubuntu, Debian, SUSE--are unchanged. But they may be joined in 2013 by a newcomer to the open source channel, Mageia Linux, which has been enjoying staggering popularity since its creation barely two years ago. Where might it head next?

Measuring the market share of Linux distributions is never an exact science. After all, it's hard to maintain precise numbers on a product that, in most cases, users download and share for free. But according to distrowatch.com, Mageia Linux is the second most popular distribution available today. That's impressive, given the distributions that have been around for many years--including Ubuntu, openSUSE and Fedora--dominate most of the rest of the top of the list. And Linux Mint, which distrowatch.com believes to be the most popular distribution, is closely based on Ubuntu.

Admittedly, Mageia is not a total parvenu. It originated in the fall of 2010 as a fork of Mandriva Linux, an old and well-established distribution which, in its heyday, enjoyed a lot of influence under the direction of the company Mandriva SA. (Mandriva SA and Mandriva Linux continue to exist, but after facing bankruptcy the company is currently undergoing refinancing and restructuring.) Still, Mageia's surging popularity is especially remarkable given that the distribution does not enjoy major commercial backing.

In addition, beyond gaining a large following in a short time, Mageia has also made a name for itself as the first major Linux distribution to adopt MariaDB as its default database platform, replacing Oracle's MySQL. That move may not interest many non-geeky users, but it could give Mageia a lead on the Big Data front if MariaDB surpasses MySQL, the open source channel's traditional standby for building databases, as the preferred platform.

Whether Mageia will gain commercial influence in the open source channel to match its popularity among end users remains to be seen. So far, the distribution remains purely community-based. Unlike Ubuntu, Fedora or OpenSUSE, it has no close ties to corporate entities. It has, however, already piqued the interest of Mandriva SA, which in May announced plans to base a new business server product on Mageia. Meanwhile, Mageia itself offers a server edition as well as a desktop version, potentially allowing channel partners to integrate Mageia into their own commercial server products.

The next release of Mageia, version 3, is due in March 2013. Given the momentum that the project currently enjoys--as well as the ongoing upheavals that other popular distributions continue to confront as Canonical faces complaints for displaying Amazon.com search results to Ubuntu users and the jury remains out on whether GNOME Shell is better than its predecessor--Mageia just may become an increasingly important name to know in the open source channel in the new year.