Impi Linux is no more
Five years after it was first launched, South Africa’s Impi Linux distribution no longer exists. The distribution, which began life as a Debian-derivative and later became an Ubuntu-variant when Mark Shuttleworth invested in the company, finally reached the end of its life under the ownership of Business Connection (BCX). The company says that it no longer makes sense to maintain an open source specialist division and has re-assigned open source staff to new roles in the company.
In November 2003 a group of South African Linux hackers and advocates launched Impi Linux. Team leader Ross Addis said at the time that the motivation for launching the new distribution was to create an “integrated, multilingual, professional and innovative open source solution to the local market”. Over the next two years Impi Linux attracted some attention but largely remained a distribution with a small footprint.
That was until September 2005 when Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth bought a majority stake in Impi with the idea of Impi becoming a localised version of Ubuntu to cater for the South African market, in particular the public sector which appeared to be taking big strides in the direction of open source software. In the ensuing year Impi looked to be perfectly positioned to claim a significant portion of the potential open source market.
In February 2006 Impi Linux, along with future owner Business Connection (BCX), was selected in a tender process as one of eight preferred open source partners to offer OSS services to the South African government. A month later, Impi Linux and Arivia.kom, a big IT player in the public sector, joined forces to set up an internship programme to foster new Linux skills. And by September 2006 the South African department of science and technology had announced its plans to move its employees over to customised Impi Linux desktops.
Things appeared to still be on track in May 2007 when Impi released version 7.05 of its distribution, having adopted the Ubuntu-style nomenclature. Impi managing director Gary Fortuin was bullish about the future of Impi Linux telling Tectonic that Impi was at the time the “only vendor [able] to cater for a complete OSS business-ready solution”. But things were obviously not as rosy as made out.
Despite initial signs of potential in the public sector and some private sector successes Impi Linux was not performing as well as expected and eventually news of Impi Linux all but stopped. It was only sometime in 2008 that news emerged that Impi Linux had been sold off by Shuttleworth to Business Connection, at what one insider described as a “bargain basement” price. As South Africa’s second-largest technology company with extensive links into the public sector Impi’s future in government looked to still have potential, however.
Business Connection took on many of Impi’s existing employees and also snapped up former Shuttleworth Foundation employees that had been instrumental in the foundation’s open source programme.
Unfortunately, none of this was going to help and Business Connection has now closed its open source specialist division and retired Impi Linux. John Jenkins, chief executive for services at Business Connection, says that the promised open source boom was not forthcoming and eventually the company “could no longer justify [an OSS] unit”. He says that Business Connection’s open source business can just as well be managed through the company’s existing support structures without having a specialised OSS unit.
Jenkins says that he is “not bombarded everyday” with requests for open source solutions. “There just wasn’t major uptake.” He says the company has a few remaining open source contracts, mostly in government and one in the private sector, and that those will be managed by the existing BCX support structures.
Members of Business Connection’s open source unit have mostly already been re-assigned to other roles in the company, says Jenkins. Impi Linux MD Gary Fortuin, who moved to BCX when Impi was sold by Shuttleworth, resigned prior to the open source unit being closed down.