Mark Shuttleworth

OK, I admit it, he is from South Africa and both of us were brought up in Afrikaans towns, so I am a teeny bit biased. But he is quite a remarkable man.

Mark was born in Welkom (pronounced Velkom) in 1973 which now makes him thirty-five years old. When he was twenty-two he founded a digital certificate company called “Thawte” which he sold, only four years later for – and here figures seem to vary a little, US$575M and US$595M.

So there was this young man, with about £290M in his back pocket at the age of twenty-six. Where to go next? The following year he formed a company called “HBD Venture Capital“. A year later he formed the “Shuttleworth Foundation” and then wondered what else he could do.

“Space”, he thought, “I want to go into space”. So he contacted the Russians, paid them ten million, and then spent just under a year training in Russia and learning their language. The result was that he was the first African to spend time in Space, working on the Russian Space station on AIDS research. Whilst up there he spoke to Nelson Mandela on the space telephone.

But I now come to the interesting part which has impressed me.

In 2005 he started Ubuntu – a Gnu-Linux operating system distro (distribution). Linux itself was started with the Gnu-Project in 1984 so, to-date it has been in existence for twenty-four years. This is twenty-one years before Mark came on the scene with his offering.

Mark was determined to make a success of this project, so he formed “Canonical Limited” to offer commercial support knowing that the corporate market would never look at Linux unless there was good technical support on offer. Then, as he was one man, and the power behind the throne, he knew that he had to ensure continuity, and be seen to put this in place, in case he got knocked down by the proverbial London double-decker bus. So he formed the “Ubuntu Foundation” and invested five million pounds in it.

Wikipedia states:

The Ubuntu Foundation is a purpose trust founded by Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical Ltd. to ensure the long-term maintenance of the Ubuntu Linux distribution independently of the commercial activities of Canonical Ltd. Its initial funding commitment is $10M.

Its current advisory board is made up of chairman Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical Ltd., and representatives of the Ubuntu Community Council and the Ubuntu Technical Board.

Although it was originally announced that the Ubuntu Foundation would employ core members of the Ubuntu community, as of 2008, the Foundation remains dormant. Mark Shuttleworth describes it as an “emergency fund” in case anything were to happen to Canonical Ltd.

So Mark is a very forward looking man, and once this was all in place he persuaded the Open Source community to join in and produce the first Ubuntu offering. Ubuntu has two releases a year, always in April and October. The version numbers have been wisely thought out so that everyone knows the date of the release by the version number. Last year April was 7.04 and October was 7.10, this April was 8.04. Always the year and the month of release.

I recently used Google Trends to see how Ubuntu compared with some of the larger, more well-known offerings of Gnu-Linux (Linux is the small kernel designed by the two chief architects of the Linus operating system kernel, Linus Torvalds from Finland and Alan Cox from UK. The correct name for the entire operating system is Gnu-Linux).

But I digress. If we take a look at the following graph, and bear in mind that it has been drawn up only by people using Google for their searches, we can see by the top graph that people searching in Linux Distro names are mainly searching for Ubuntu information. This is not wholly accurate but it does signify that more people are interested in Ubuntu in a growing trend and less people are interested in the other distros also in a forward trend.

But after that, the Ubuntu graph rose and left the others standing.

Looking at the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2005 when the second distribution of Ubuntu was scheduled for release, we see that Ubuntu reached the interest levels of the more popular of the other distributions. But after that, the Ubuntu graph rose and left the others standing.

The lower graph is based on newspaper and television published press articles on each distribution. Here we see that although Ubuntu is marginly ahead of SuSE Linux, and both of them get most of the press releases, we should bear in mind that SuSE is owned by Novel and Microsoft has a stake in it. Both companies more than active within the domain of the press. We can therefore conclude that on that basis, Ubuntu is doing better than can be expected with their press coverage. Well done Ubuntu, whoever runs your publicity department is doing an excellent job.

There are a lot of other instances where Mark has ensured a loyal following, not least of how he has set up the “Ubuntu Community”. In addition, one of the bugbears of new users trying to get help in the past, in pre-Ubuntu days, was that they often received put-downs rather than help by the more experienced users who wanted to keep Linux as a club. The help forums on Ubuntu have a “Thank You” button and coupled with the fact that to be an official member of the Ubuntu community you have to be voted on and they take into consideration whether you are helping writing code, helping promote Ubuntu, maybe helping with artwork or logos, or been especially helpful to new-comers. This is why experienced users vie with each other to get the most “Thank You’s” by helping all and sundry as often as they can. The help in these forums is phenomenal!


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