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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.

But he encountered "absolutely no backlash" in private conversations. "As part of my decision process, I went to a number of people in the community, asking them if it was a good thing to do, to validate my feelings that this company had changed and moved on," he says.

Not only were his open source contacts supportive, but they also were interested in the job for themselves. "They told me, 'Well if you don't end up getting the job forward it to me, because I'm interested,'" he says.

Rabellino, who reports directly to Jean Paoli, general manager of Microsoft's interoperability strategy team, said he viewed his Microsoft interview as a two-way street.

"I was expecting to interview the company and make sure there was fertile ground for a change," he says.

Rabellino wouldn't have wanted to join Microsoft if he felt the company was simply making pro-open source statements as a tactical move to boost its public image. Microsoft's efforts to engage the open source community and allow interoperability between Microsoft products and open source software have to be "concrete" and "sustainable."

"To me, it's all about business decisions," he says. "We're living in a mixed IT environment. If you want to develop something that has an impact, you cannot discount the community. Microsoft has a huge community of developers, and has always been about developers. Developers nowadays are mostly to be found in the open source world. We need to go where they are."

In fact, that's one of the reasons Microsoft has softened its stance toward open source over the years, he says. "Not for the sake of change, but because the market changed."

After joining Microsoft, Rabellino went back to Europe for a week in late January and early February to meet with numerous open source advocates, including van Dam in Belgium. Microsoft and open source developers used to be "like water and fire," van Dam says, noting, "It's truly amazing to see that Microsoft now has learned the value of open source, knowing that open source is here to stay."

Microsoft, certainly, isn't 100% behind open source. Microsoft gave itself another black eye in the open source world by prohibiting developers from using GPLv3-licensed open source software in any application distributed in the Windows Phone Marketplace. Rabellino calls it "a complicated issue and an ongoing issue."

Microsoft hasn't followed up on claims that Linux and other open source products violate 235 Microsoft patents. But the company is filing patent lawsuits involving the Linux-based Android.


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