Mark Shuttleworth has his gaze fixed firmly upwards, both towards the heavens and the open source movement.
The South African entrepreneur, who is successfully making the Linux operating system commercially viable through Ubuntu, was also the second ever space tourist.
In recent weeks Shuttleworth has been in the news following a key distribution deal with Dell for Ubuntu.
Ubuntu has emerged as a strong player in the open source software movement and his deal with Dell means computer buyers can use an alternative platform to Windows.
Shuttleworth says of his freely available Ubuntu operating system: “Of all the things that I have taken on, this is the most challenging, and the thing that should potentially bring about the best changes in open source movement.”
Shuttleworth sold his internet security company Thawte Consulting to Verisign in 1999 for US$575m and used part of the profits to set up Canonical, the organisation that promotes open source software distribution through Ubuntu.
“We call it Linux for human beings because we very much have this idea that Linux is something that can bring extraordinary potential to the lives of people who don’t think of themselves as experts.”
Although Ubuntu is free of charge, Canonical’s business model is based around optional professional service and support, provided on a 24/7 basis.
“This can all be usable without charging for the software. We can give exactly the same piece of software to a bank in Wallstreet and to a student in Mumbai. It costs us absolutely nothing when someone in Mumbai gives his friend a copy of Ubuntu.”
Shuttleworth believes that the open software movement will continue to accelerate because although it is free, at its core it is profitable through sheer productivity.
“If you look at the economics of the software industry, in the UK for example, the vast majority of money that changes hands around software has to do with people managing or updating software. Or integrating or deploying software.
“It’s not money that gets paid to somebody who wrote that software. Free software fits beautifully into that.”
In a move to bring Linux mainstream Shuttleworth has joined forces with Dell to provide the operating system as an alternative to Windows via its online store.
After Dell encouraged customer feedback on what innovations and improvements they would like, it turns out an overwhelming majority wanted the option of a Linux operating system, said Shutttleworth.
“Michael Dell himself was running Ubuntu. He’s very interested in what the next generation are doing with technology.
“My biggest hope is that they do in fact sell sufficient numbers of computers to treat it as a serious business category.”
Shuttleworth was just 26 years old when he paid US$20m for the privilege of being the world’s second ever space tourist.
“You can imagine being that young and sitting in the same place that Yuri Gagarin sat to be trained, in many cases being taught by the same people with the same equipment. These were things that I’d read about, part of my profoundest aspirations as a kid.”
Although Shuttleworth has acquired a small fortune and achieved a great amount for the open source community, he is modest enough to know his place in the grand scheme of things.
“It’s amazing to see how small the world really is from space. There’s nothing more beautiful.”
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