South African entrepreneur and multibillionaire Mark Shuttleworth. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
South African entrepreneur and multibillionaire Mark Shuttleworth. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

SOUTH African entrepreneur and multibillionaire Mark Shuttleworth plans to enter the smartphone industry by supplying operating systems that will allow certain cellphones to double as PCs when connected to a monitor and dock.

Ubuntu, a computer operating system distributed free of charge, will be available on phones this year and there are plans to offer Ubuntu Linux on smartphones.

Mr Shuttleworth told the BBC he was in talks with manufacturers about enabling handsets to double as PCs when docked to monitors. The plan is for devices to be sold with the system pre-installed by 2014.

“It’s quite incredible that we’re at this point when the power of the phone is crossing over with the baseline processing power of basic laptops,” he said.

Ubuntu is the most popular operating system on the Linux kernel — the code that lets software and hardware work together. The London-based company behind it, Canonical, offers it for download free of charge, helped by thousands of volunteers who contribute to the project. Canonical estimates that more than 20-million PCs already use it. It also expects that close to 10% of the world’s new desktops and laptops will ship with Ubuntu next year.

Ubuntu is aimed at two core mobile segments: the high-end superphone and the entry-level smartphone, helping operators to grow the use of data among consumers who typically use only the phone and messaging, but who might embrace the use of the web and e-mail on their phone.

Mr Shuttleworth sold his Cape Town-based start-up Thawte Consulting, which provided digital certificates for websites, to VeriSign for $575m in 1999. In 2000 he founded the emerging-market investment group HBD Venture Capital.

After spending $20m on a trip into space (the first African tourist in space and second space tourist in the world), he started the Ubuntu project. In March 2004 he formed Canonical to promote and commercially support free software projects.

Mr Shuttleworth said this week they were defining a new era of convergence in technology with one unified operating system that underpins cloud computing, data centres, PCs and consumer electronics.

The company plans to use the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to showcase the software.

On his personal website, Mr Shuttleworth says he wants to shape the future by exploring territory that is unfamiliar and uncertain.