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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.

While Rabellino meets with PHP developers, you won't see Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates dining with Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman anytime soon.

Members of the open source community are still reluctant to make amends with Microsoft, and it will take time for that skepticism to disappear, van Dam acknowledges.

But for Rabellino, even in the 1990s when he was founding the Italian Linux Society, he says he wanted "to steer clear from the useless bashing and negativity." He chose Linux over early versions of Windows because he needed an OS that could perform multitasking.

"I think of myself as a positive guy, an optimistic guy. To me, it was 'I like this system better.'"

While Rabellino was fascinated by the grassroots movement surrounding Linux, using the open source OS was a "pragmatic choice." "I didn't have any ax to grind," he says. "To me, open source has always been a means to an end."

When asked if Rabellino might urge Microsoft to build Windows computers that aren't plagued by constant updates and can start up and shut down as fast as a Linux machine, Rabellino says, "You know, it's something we should work on."

"We talk to the product teams about that," adds Peter Galli, senior open source community manager at Microsoft. "We have no control over that. But we hear your frustration."

Rabellino's main focus right now "is to enable PHP to shine on our platforms." He also discussed Microsoft's own open source licenses, the Microsoft Public License and the Microsoft Reciprocal License.

These licenses offer more patent protection than the more commonly used open source licenses, Rabellino indicates.

"I always thought licenses are just a tool. It's really about being pragmatic, it's not about what license to choose based on an idealistic approach. I see a lot of good stuff in Microsoft licenses when it comes to patent language. There is an advantage there. Why choose one license versus another? Do you want to protect your code? Do you want to build a certain business strategy? Do you want to protect intellectual property? Enable communities?"

Overall, Rabellino believes open source has a great future. Aside from core software projects such as Linux, the participatory, community model is showing its strength in projects like Wikipedia, he notes.

Open source is "going strong," Rabellino says. "It's going to get stronger. It's going to be even more pervasive. We are entering the world of mixed IT."


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