MANILA, February 23, 2006
 (BULLETIN) By MELVIN G. CALIMAG - Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth, whose other claim to fame is being the second "space tourist" in history, visited the Philippines for less than 24 hours early this month to conduct collaboration talks with industry stakeholders.

Ubuntu, a freely distributed operating system based on Linux, has been slowly making a name in the open source community because it is primarily geared for the desktop environment. Shuttleworth’s business organization, Canonical Limited, develops and distributes the open source software.

The millionaire IT executive arrived in the country last February 1 using his own private plane and immediately held an early morning seminar to potential local partners at the Peninsula Manila.

After an accommodating an hour-long interview session with the local IT press, he took a helicopter for a trip to UP Diliman for discussions with school officials. He left later in the evening using the same private plane.

Shuttleworth’s low-key visit was made more significant after news broke out a few days after his trip here, which disclosed that tech giants Dell and Google has reached a deal that will pave the way for Google and Ubuntu to bundle their software with Dell machines in the US — the same model that Microsoft uses to market its products.

During his stay here, Shuttleworth revealed his desire to tap local partners who will distribute the product for free and earn only through special contract services and technical support. His meeting with UP officials was also a part of his strategy to expose students in educational institutions to open source environment.

The youthful executive, who earned his fortune after selling his Internet security firm Thawte Consulting to Verisign for 0 million, said his firm, Canonical, is not yet profitable and admitted it would take some time before this will happen.

"But I don’t see the justification of creating a large organization to market Ubuntu, I’d rather spend on developing the software," he said. "Technically, we’re not focused on channels. Rather, we’re interested in building a network for services and solutions."

Over the next couple of months, Shuttleworth said they would be providing round-the-clock global assistance for non-technical, enduser services such as sofware installation.

He expressed amazement at how Ubunte has progressed in the country since 2004, noting that, for last year alone, Canonical shipped a total of 57,000 Ubuntu CDs here. "That’s a lot if you compare it to Japan where we shipped only 1,600 CDs."

Although there is already a huge base of Ubuntu users in the Philippines, Canonical has yet to appoint an official local partner. The company, however, is keen on setting up a local distribution network as this will lessen the cost of shipping the CDs.

He said there are now versions of Ubuntu in some local languages that are being used to bring minority groups in other countries to the digital age.

For the Philippines, he said that although majority of Filipinos understands English, it is ill feasible to develop a version based on Tagalog so it can reach more people.

"Free software is also good for people who are just starting to use technology. It also for grandma because she will not break it," quipped Shuttleworth, who is from South Africa.

He also noted the although free software is growing at an exponential growth in countries where individual income is low, there are some developed countries who are also quickly adopting it. "In Spain, open source is really accelerating."

On the next technology wave, Shuttleworth said collaboration among developers will grow as a major trend in the next 10 to 15 years. "After that, artificial intelligence will become the next big thing."

Currently, he said his company is developing Ubuntu OS for personal digital assistants (PDAs). "We’re on this because we believe 20 percent of Ubuntu’s growth will come from PDAs."

On the lighter side, when asked about his experience in outer space, Shuttleworth said his June 2001 trip, which lasted for ten days — eight days at the International Space Station and two days on the Soyuz rocket — was an "extraordinary privilege."

"The view from outside the earth’s atmosphere was exhilarating," said Shuttleworth, who is the second "space tourist" in history after American businessman Dennis Tito.

The million he paid to literally buy his way to orbit came from the Verisign deal.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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