Posted by Tara Grumm
Senior Manager, Worldwide Marketing and Operations

 Gianugo Rabellino is the Senior Director of Open Source Communities at Microsoft Open Technologies, Inc., (MS Open Tech) a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft Corporation that is focused on advancing Microsoft’s commitment to openness across the company and throughout the industry. With more than 20 years experience in the open source community, including co-founding the first official Linux association in Italy, elevating Linux and open source to the mainstream in that region, and currently holding the vice president position at the Apache Attic Project Management Committee, Gianugo chatted with us about his perspective on openness at Microsoft, and what it’s like being an integral part of MS Open Tech.

Have any life experiences affected the way you work?

Growing up and working across Europe, I spent 20 years as an entrepreneur, a small business executive and a global industry association leader – and I spent those 20 years paying my bills with open source software.

From my experiences as an entrepreneur, what matters most the ability to execute and iterate rapidly on ideas and projects using technologies that help supporting ever-changing business goals. IT has gone way beyond the old debate of black or white. In a cloud where customers don’t have to worry about managing their hardware, operating system or database, and in a world of devices where hardware is tightly coupled with software and monetization happens at the app level, talking about open source or proprietary software as alternatives rather than complements in a complex system is simply no longer relevant. Openness has done wonders in the past few decades, and the least we can do in return is try to understand what openness and open source mean today in the new world of devices and services.

As a long-time open source guy working at Microsoft – the one thing I’ve learned is that as the world has changed, Microsoft has changed too, with a renewed focus on trying to understand the sometimes elusive mix of open source, open standards, developer communities and interoperability that characterizes what openness really stands for today. And this is an effort that involves every level in the company.

My first week at Microsoft, I remember Jean Paoli (President of MS Open Tech) telling me I should spend time meeting with the people across the company who have an interest in open source. I had no idea that two years later, I am still not done working through my list of people to meet!

What has been your most rewarding and/or interesting customer or partner experience?

In April 2013, MS Open Tech celebrated its one year anniversary, and what a year!

We proudly shipped 51 open source and open standards projects. We expanded dramatically how developers can build applications across Microsoft and non-Microsoft platforms. We helped people develop using the latest technologies on services and devices.

MS Open Tech’s logo is a bridge of sorts, and it represents how we are building bridges among a diverse set of technologies, and finding that the boundaries are diminishing between commercial companies and open source software. 2013 was truly a great year.

Do you see the spirit of openness changing the way Microsoft does business?

Microsoft has always been rooted in trying to open up opportunities for others. More than 30 years ago, Microsoft helped put a computer on every desk, connected people all over the world, spread innovation, and made it possible for individuals and businesses to operate the way they do today. 

This PC revolution eventually grew into an openness revolution where open source and open standards helped drive innovation over time. The PC revolution was all about personal empowerment. That spirit is just as relevant today, perhaps even more so as technology has evolved to the point that it’s woven in to the very fabric of our daily lives. Today, the openness revolution continues to transform a world of devices connected to online services, and we are humbled to be a part of it.

Over the past several years, Microsoft has been making a set of broad-reaching changes to its technology and business practices that increased the openness of its products and drove greater interoperability and opportunity across the IT community of developers, partners, customers, and competitors. At MS Open Tech, we focus on providing our customers with even greater choice and opportunity to bridge Microsoft and non-Microsoft technologies together in heterogeneous environments.

If you met someone who’s skeptical of Microsoft’s work with open source communities, what would you say?

One of the best things about the open source model is transparency: just check us out on Github, on Codeplex, on the W3C mailing lists and in all those places where you can see for yourself what Microsoft is doing with open source. We enable open source on our platforms and encourage open source developers to continue to think of Windows and Windows Phone as platforms for them to develop on. Today, Linux is welcome in the Windows Azure cloud; developers are using popular open source tools to build applications for Windows devices; Apple, Google, Microsoft and others are working together with the community to define transparently the future of the open web.

Gone are the times where people and organizations where using a single technology, be it an operating system, a language or a platform. The abundance of readily available solutions, the ongoing pressure of time-to-market and the role software has carved for itself from the datacenter to the living room have shifted the conversation from philosophy to pragmatism; one in which proprietary and open source technologies are frequently working together. We recognize that shift at Microsoft, and at Microsoft Open Technologies, we are working to bridge Microsoft and non-Microsoft technologies to make technologies work together seamlessly.

What is a fact about you that people might be surprised to learn?

It always amuses me when I go deep into a technical conversation and then people discover I’m actually a lawyer. At a certain point I had to write the full story in my blog, yet 20 years later I’m positive more than ever that I made the right choice. I also abandoned an admittedly not very hopeful career as an opera tenor when I found I would be more successful marrying my passions for Opera and the Internet: my friend and I launched Operaweb, one of the earliest (1996!) opera websites.

What is your favorite technology innovation that exists so far?

Can I have two? At the moment I am absolutely in awe at the big transition from machine readable to machine understandable content: machine learning, natural language processing and new user interfaces are in their early days and with untapped potential. But speaking from my 20+ years, I think the Internet will go down in history along with fire, the wheel and the printing press: I still remember the thrill when my first ping from a small town in the Ligurian coast of Italy got a corresponding pong from a computer lab on the East Coast of the US. It was just a handful of bytes, yet they made me jump all over my bedroom thinking about the possibilities.

Where do you feel you get your best work done?

I’m absolutely nomadic and I don’t have a special “where”. Unlike many others, also, I don’t particularly mind interruptions – I learned to deal with them as a necessary part of an effective work environment and as a father of two young children. When I really need to get something done, I rely strongly on the Pomodoro technique: the idea of shutting all connectivity down and isolate yourself for 25 minute slots is the simplest and most effective productivity tip I came across in a long while.