When the rich do the right thing

Here’s an example of when a rich person does something for the good of humanity. Sure, he mentions in the article that he wouldn’t mind making money, but he is genuinely doing good for the planet.

Ubuntu Linux encourages sharing and copying
10 May 2005

Free operating system Ubuntu Linux has been heralded as one of the most exciting software projects ever created, writes Michael Herman.

Ask software billionaire Mark Shuttleworth why he has dedicated so much of his time and money to open-source projects since selling his business in 1999, and he is likely to tell you he wants to make the world a better place.

Already a successful ecommerce icon when in his early 20s, Shuttleworth, the first African in space, sold his South African internet certification company Thawte Consulting to United States competitor VeriSign for $NZ785 million six years ago, turning the young entrepreneur into a rand lord overnight.

Not content simply to watch his fortune grow, Shuttleworth turned his attention to improving the lives of others through technological innovation, funding several projects “that have the potential to bring about dramatic improvements to some aspect of the education system” and founding the now celebrated Linux distribution, Ubuntu.

Translated as “humanity to others”, the ancient sub-Saharan word describes a value system that has at its core the understanding that “I am what I am because of who we all are”.

In a preamble on the organisation’s website, www.ubuntulinux.org, Shuttleworth says Ubuntu Linux brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world.

This difference is probably best expressed by its call to users to help spread the Ubuntu message.

“You are legally entitled and encouraged to copy, share, and redistribute this CD, for yourself and your friends,” reads the note on Ubuntu Linux’s CD cover, which it distributes free of any charges – postage included – to any part of the world.

While commercial software developers are charged to drive up shareholder value through increased sales and enforcing licensing restrictions on users to try to limit piracy, Ubuntu has been instructed by its open-source activist philanthropist boss to do work “for the benefit of all humanity” and to charge it to his account, if it is not commercially viable.

Asked once whether he believed that the “services will pay for development” business model of the free-software movement would keep Ubuntu alive, Shuttleworth answered he’d like the project to be sustainable, but that he’d be “honoured to consider it a gift back to the open-source world”, which he credits with having played a critical role in creating his wealth.

“So I hope it’s commerce, though it may turn out to be philanthropy. Either way, it’s still cheaper than going back to space, or hooking up with fast planes/boats/women, which I supposed would be Plan B,” Shuttleworth told HoserHead in an email response on Slashdot, the self- proclaimed “News for nerds” website.

In his own words, the Ubuntu project “is all about creating a free, high-quality OS for everybody – home, office and data centre”.

To this end the single-install CD includes a mix of quality applications, including a Gnome desktop with the popular Firefox browser (more than 50 million downloads at the end of April), OpenOffice productivity suite, Gstreamer for multimedia, Thunderbird email client and other popular open-source programs.

Before you dismiss this free lunch, consider that Ubuntu has become the most accessed section of DistroWatch, the online touchstone for open-source operating system issues.

Attracting twice as much daily traffic “from unique IP addresses” as its nearest challenger, the website says “Ubuntu has clearly won over many users of other operating systems and has quite possibly become the fastest-growing Linux distribution of all times”.