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Jean Paoli, president of the new Microsoft Open Technologies Inc.

Microsoft is taking the unusual step of forming a new subsidiary that will work with open-source projects, open-standards groups and interoperability initiatives.

The subsidiary, called Microsoft Open Technologies Inc., is being announced today. It will be formed from company’s Interoperability Strategy team, and led by Microsoft executive Jean Paoli as the subsidiary’s president.

About 50 to 75 people will be part of the subsidiary to start.

It’s a surprise twist in Microsoft’s relationship with the open-source world. After a contentious history, the company has been participating more broadly in open-source projects in recent years, as reflected by its newfound status as one of the top 20 contributors to the Linux kernel.

In an interview with GeekWire today, Paoli said Microsoft’s existing product groups and divisions will continue to be involved with open-source and standards initiatives, as they are today.

At the same time, he said, the subsidiary will be nimble and flexible, with the ability to work with outside projects at a faster pace, while providing a stronger connection between them and the broader company.

“We believe that the subsidiary will provide a new way of engaging with open-source communities in a more clearly defined manner,” he said, adding that the effort is about “bridging Microsoft and non-Microsoft technologies.”

Microsoft Open Technologies will be wholly owned by Microsoft, with a board of directors that includes executives from the company’s business groups.

Paoli described the new subsidiary as an additional tool on top of the company’s existing ways of working with open source projects and standards initiatives. Asked if the subsidiary will remain on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, he said those types of details are still being determined.

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