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Impi Linux is no more

By   |  April 15, 2009

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.

Business Connection
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.


14 Responses to “Impi Linux is no more”

  1. Tom
    April 15th, 2009 @ 1:12 pm

    I recieved one liner email “stop selling our Linux” from Impi so I removed this distro from my list and they went into obscurity. Obviously their attempt was to create fully commercial Linux without any rights to redistribute it. Corel Linux tried it and failed. Other thing was the license which said “we are charging you R0 now but later we can change that amount” which flies in the face of what Linux represents. Suddenly you could own millions for copy you’re using !

  2. Mpumelelo Msimanga
    April 15th, 2009 @ 3:47 pm

    What a pity, I wonder how much this had to do with executives not understanding the Open Source model?

  3. Jaco
    April 16th, 2009 @ 2:06 am

    Sorry to see these boys go. Been keeping an eye on them from pre-canonical days.
    But I’m sure they’ve gained some very valuable experience.

    Wish them all the best of luck for future endeavours

  4. Ubuntu Look » Impi Linux is no more
    April 16th, 2009 @ 5:22 am

    […] Read more at Tectonic […]

  5. Anon
    April 16th, 2009 @ 9:35 am

    Well its finally happened … If you take into consideration that the original developers started leaving well more than a year ago, it was only a matter of time for the inevitable to happen.

  6. pissed off
    April 16th, 2009 @ 9:35 am

    Don’t believe everything you read Jaco ….. A proper response will follow shortly …

  7. Alastair Otter
    April 16th, 2009 @ 9:54 am

    @pissed off

    Why pissed off, Gary? Why not explain? You have some new and exciting news about Impi? Looking forward to hearing from you.

  8. pissed off
    April 16th, 2009 @ 10:10 am

    The acquisition of Impi Linux by BCX was meant to signal the establishmemnt of an focused open source business unit targeting all things open source, not just open source migration within government. The Impi Linux team was happy with this at the time, as focusing on a broader market mitigitaed the risk of government not livving up to their open source migration promises. This was echoed by BCX several times, so much so that BCX was largely uninterested in the government migration business Impi Linux was pursuing up until the time of the sale.

    What transpired internally was completely different though – due to the fractured nature of BCX, the newly formed Linux / OSS business unit was not only competing with the Microsoft competency, but with fellow open source competencies. So much so that if the Novell business unit was taken in to see a customer, the Linux / OSS business unit was excluded from doing the same. Despite several requests to merge these disparate efforts into a single focus, these requests were ignored.

    Time and time again, requestes were made to the execs to relook at the placement of the unit and to make it a National Strategy… Time and time again these requests were ignored … Saying that we were a ” Incubation Unit ” and that we couldn’t be moved for 2 years despite us not making any sense to be part of Professional Services…

    It truly is a sad day for open source in South Africa. While BCX no doubt retains some open source skill, it will not be driving and advocating open source with the same enthusiasm that Impi Linux and the subsequent Linux and OSS team did.

    The time was fairly bad too, for the first time in our history, we recorded a multi-million rand turnover with much more in the pipeline. While the net profit after year one was still in the negative, the potential for year two was clearly visible yet disregarded. We had letters of intent, verbal sla confirmation for 3years etc but still this was not taken into account.

    As a team, we had finally got the right mix to make Enterprise Open Source Migration a reality in our country. You were correct in saying that at the original launch in 2005 that we weren’t really ready for this type of Migration but we truly were now. Another reason for us not taking off as quick as we hoped was the slow adoption from our customers. We ran extensive and expensive POC’s but still the orders were slow.

    Anyway….. give me a call if you wanna chat more …

  9. Thomas
    April 16th, 2009 @ 10:42 am

    Typo in the first paragraph, it’s Business Connexion, not Connection. Also, Impi was never based on Debian, they rolled their own package management system in the pre-investment era. I remember, because at the time I was at the Shuttleworth Foundation and I offered then some funding as this was a project the Foundation was considering (later removed from the Foundation and turned into Canonical’s Ubuntu). The only catch was that they needed to base the distro on Debian. My offer was declined.

    Also, the Impi Linux Distribution itself ceased to exist some time ago, 7.05 was the last attempt. After that it was acknowledged that Impi needs to run as close to Ubuntu as possible and rather provide support and consulting around the now much-bigger-than-Impi Ubuntu distro.

  10. Francis
    April 16th, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

    Actually thomas, the first release of Impi was based Gnoppix, which is a debian based distro. Then it was chosen to go over to a custom package management system.

  11. Ross Addis
    April 16th, 2009 @ 10:02 pm

    As the old saying goes; “It is better to have tried and failed, than never tried at all”.

    What I remember most from my Impi days was the extreme passion displayed by everyone involved.
    As Thomas mentioned, Impi Linux played a role in the birth of Ubuntu. If that was Impi’s most notable achievement, then I am proud to have been part of it.

    My sincerest gratitude goes out to everyone who supported us and to all of the people who contributed. To the various staff members, your passion and commitment is what stays with me the most.

    Thank you to, Francis, Gary, Jonathan (Graphics), Jonathan (Ubuntu maniac), Adi, Charles, Andre, Quintin, Fran-Pierre, Nadine, Henti, Wil, Neville, Thomas, Pat, Lorraine, Stephan, Nick, Howard, Eddie, Phumla and of course Mark.

    Also a special thanks has to go out to the various people at SITA, DST, PNC, Treasury, CSIR, Exclusive Books, GLUG, GGB, Siemens, HP, Dell, Arivia.kom, IBM, Iburst, I-Kno, Obsidian, Synaq, Code Weavers, TSF, HBD, Wits, Kolab. IS and Sentec.

    Alistair and the rest of the guys at Tectonic, you were awesome.

    The last Impi team photo can be viewed here:

  12. Ian
    April 16th, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

    Oh well. Guess we’ll just have to use one of the 299 other Linux distros. Didn’t seem very special or unique to me anyway.

  13. kmf
    April 17th, 2009 @ 2:42 pm


    Man I think that IMPI will come back …
    just give it time. Good Ideas never die.

  14. Charles Majola
    April 29th, 2009 @ 11:05 am

    OOOH Impi Linux Employees reunion!!!1

    Hi guys, how you boys doing?

    Anyway, Gary, I don’t think you ever understood Mark’s vision of Impi and the open source model (after all you did work for M$ SA) hence the failure.

    What happens to the domains? I want those domains!!

    Ya think BCX can sell them to me?

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