Mark Shuttleworth is a South African entrepreneur who was the second self-funded space tourist and first African in space. He is now best known as founder of Canonical Ltd. and for his leadership of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, an enterprise Linux distribution that is freely available worldwide and has both cutting-edge desktop and enterprise server editions, and has become very popular. He currently lives in London and holds dual citizenship of South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Mark was born in the town of Welkom in South Africa, and grew up in Cape Town. While studying towards a Business Science degree in Finance and Information Systems at the University of Cape Town (UCT) he first encountered the Internet, and quickly became intrigued by the changes it would bring in business and society.
In 1995, his final year at UCT, Mark founded Thawte, as an Internet consulting business. The main focus of the company was Internet security for electronic commerce. Thawte is the first company to produce a full-security encrypted e-commerce web server that was commercially available outside the United States. This brought Thawte to the world of public key infrastructure, which is the basis for all encrypted and authenticated Internet transactions. Thawte was recognized by both Netscape and Microsoft as a trusted third party for web site certification, and it quickly established a leadership position helping businesses around the world accept secure transactions over the web. By 1999, when it was acquired by VeriSign, Thawte was fastest-growing internet certificate authority worldwide, and was the leading certificate authority outside of the USA.
In April 2002 Mark realized a lifelong dream to fly in space. Shuttleworth gained worldwide fame on 25 April 2002 as a spaceflight participant aboard the Russian Soyuz TM-34 mission, paying approximately US$ 20 million. Two days later, the Soyuz spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station, where he spent eight days participating in experiments related to AIDS and genome research. On 5 May 2002, he returned to Earth. In order to participate on the flight, Shuttleworth had to undergo one year of training and preparation, including seven months spent in Star City, Russia.
While in space he had a radio conversation with Nelson Mandela and a 14 year old South African girl, Michelle Foster, who asked him to marry her. He politely dodged the question, stating that he was “very honored at the question” before moving the conversation on. The terminally ill Miss Foster’s conversation was enabled by the Reach for a Dream foundation.
He spent a year working on the project, including seven months of formal training at Star City in Russia, and almost as much time in medical testing, science program development and negotiations. The First African in Space project was without doubt the most challenging and exciting project any geek could wish for.
In 2001 he formed the Shuttleworth Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to social innovation which also funds educational and free and open source software projects in South Africa, such as the Freedom Toaster.
In early 2004, he returned to the free software world by funding the development of Ubuntu, a Linux distribution based on Debian, through his company Canonical Ltd. Mark founded the Ubuntu project, which aims to produce a high quality desktop and server operating system that is freely available all over the world. The project brings together the very best of the free software stack, with cutting-edge desktop and handheld innovation and very solid server-side infrastructure. As a spinoff the project has resulted in the creation of a number of unique tools for free software developers, such as the Bazaar version control system and Launchpad.net. Sub-projects include specialised desktop environments for schools, and for the needs of people in specific countries or industries, such as Edubuntu and Kubuntu.
In 2005 he founded the Ubuntu Foundation and made an initial investment of 10 million dollars. In the Ubuntu project, Shuttleworth is often referred to with the tongue-in-cheek title Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life, abbreviated SABDFL. To come up with a list of names of people to hire for the project, Mr. Shuttleworth took six months of Debian mailing list archives with him whilst travelling to the Antarctic aboard the icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov in early 2004. In September 2005, he purchased a 65% stake of Impi Linux.
- Mark Shuttleworth’s Homepage
- Spacefacts biography of Mark Shuttleworth
- Interview, Financial Times, January 2006