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Open source expert takes on the hardest job at Microsoft

Jon Brodkin | March 1, 2011
A few months ago, Gianugo Rabellino traded his Linux and Mac PCs for a Windows 7 laptop, left the open source company he founded and moved to Redmond for a new job with Microsoft. His goal: improve Microsoft's credibility within open source circles.

Rabellino, an Italian who was raised in Milan, started the Italian Linux Society in 1994, earned a law degree in 1997, and then worked for various companies until 2006 when he founded Sourcesense, an open source services company with offices in the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Italy.

After serving as CEO for several years, he left in May 2010, a decision he chalked up to "phases in life." Rabellino spent a few months with his family before deciding in October to join Microsoft and move from Italy to Redmond, Wash.

Rabellino is still a member of the Apache Software Foundation and led the group's XML project. He calls himself "an Apache guy," as well as "a hard-core Debian-ista."

"I used to have many Linux PCs," as well as a MacBook, he says. But in moving from one continent to another, Rabellino "managed to get rid of a lot of computers that were cluttering my basement," and has consolidated onto a Windows 7 laptop, an Apple iPad, and Windows Phone 7 device.

At Sourcesense, Rabellino partnered with Microsoft to deploy open source software for Microsoft Office in 2008, just a month after writing in his blog that "Microsoft is clearly struggling to find a spot in today's industry where software as such is getting less and less relevant." (The comment was in reference to a possible acquisition of Yahoo by Microsoft).

Rabellino continued to be outspoken on open source topics after accepting the job at Microsoft last fall, writing that IBM's decision to join OpenJDK was tantamount to "IBM surrendering to the Oracle bully," while "the Java Community Process is now as credible as Weekly World News, and basically nobody is safe."

If Rabellino is criticized for cozying up to Microsoft, he won't be the first to suffer that fate. GNOME creator Miguel de Icaza has taken heat from open source enthusiasts because he has frequently expressed admiration for Microsoft technologies.

"Miguel is doing the right thing in keeping the conversation open and not being shy of speaking his mind," Rabellino says. "I'm wary of building a world that is black and white."

Still, Rabellino admits to having some trepidation about the reaction his joining Microsoft might have caused. "It was somewhat in the back of my mind that I would have some ... being called names and whatnot."


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