TECHNOLOGY billionaire Mark Shuttleworth has invested R10m in local open-source developer ImpiLinux, cash that will help it to step up its activities and bid for corporate tenders.
Shuttleworth will have a 65% stake in the business, which is 7% held by Khuselo Investments, a venture controlled by Eddie Funde, chairman of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, and Pumla Radebe, Johannesburg City Parks chairwoman.
A further 20% has been earmarked for an empowerment trust to distribute shares to black employees over time.
ImpiLinux has developed a local version of the Linux open source operating system, with added features that make it more useful but carry a fee.
“The Linux market is getting more important and the World Bank supports open source for developing countries,” Shuttleworth said yesterday. “SA should be moving as fast as possible down that road.”
ImpiLinux had done some pioneering work, but it was a huge effort to develop an entire operating system, he said.
It will work with his company, Canonical, which developed the Ubuntu operating system that is gaining popularity worldwide. The next version of ImpiLinux will be based on Ubuntu, with adaptations to make it more useful for local users.
While open-source software is traditionally free, ImpiLinux charges a fee for features that include support for Adobe files, DVD discs and MP3 music files.
It is available in English, Xhosa and Afrikaans, and an immediate aim is to add more languages so that users can work in their mother tongue.
Gary Fortuin of ImpiLinux, who will be MD of the business, hopes that the software’s local perspective and ability to provide quick support will result in ImpiLinus winning corporate and government deals.
ImpiLinux will be among the bidders for a tender issued by the State IT Agency, which is rolling out open source in government.
Shuttleworth admits ImpiLinux may not get large companies and state departments to buy its operating system, so his investment may not see any returns.
“One challenge of the Linux market is that there are always high-quality versions available for free, and anyone who designs a value-added version has to demonstrate that value,” Shuttleworth said.
“The Impi guys have convinced me they have the wherewithal to do it.”