GitHub to give users of its free plan access to unlimited private repositories

Microsoft is making GitHub's private repositories free to smaller developers and teams, which could help Microsoft go head-to-head with GitLab and BitBucket.

Microsoft is going to give users of its free GitHub plan access to unlimited private repositories. The change in strategy could give Microsoft a better competitive position against rival services like GitLab and BitBucket.

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Credit: Microsoft

This announcement comes courtesy of TheNextWeb.com, which admits it broke Microsoft's embargo on the news a day early. Microsoft will formally announce this change in strategy on January 8, according to that site, which seemingly is when the new capability also will go live. (I asked Microsoft to confirm the news, but no word back so far.) 

Microsoft to date has maintained GitHub's previous strategy of limiting the ability to create private repositories that aren't visible to the public and are privately shared to paying customers.

TheNextWeb says Microsoft plans to limit private repositories on free accounts to three collaborators a piece, so this will be more for small developers and teams.

GitHub's $7 per user per month for developers and $9 per user per month Team plans both include support for unlimited private repositories. Developers who don't need unlimited private repositories can sign up for one of the company's free plans.

Microsoft bought GitHub for $7.5 billion last year.

In June, during a Reddit AMA, GitHub's new chief Nat Friedman was asked if Microsoft ever planned to make private repositories free. Friedman said at that time: "It's too soon for me to know the answer to that. We want GitHub to be accessible to everyone in the world, and for everyone to have an opportunity to be a developer." 

Update: It looks like Microsoft also plans to tinker with the higher-end paid GitHub plans, as well. Courtesy of GeekWire, which is 
also under embargo (I assume): "GitHub also plans to combine its Business Cloud and Enterprise pricing tiers into a single tier called GitHub Enterprise that's intended for larger companies that want to host GitHub on their own infrastructure or use it as a cloud service."

Update (January 7, 1:37 p.m. ET)Microsoft just officially announced the news. GitHub Free now includes unlimited private repositories with up to three collaborators per repository.   

Another Update (January 8): A couple of readers asked if there was a catch in this new free repository offer, specifically if Microsoft is prohibiting developers working on commercial products from using it. The answer is no. Here's the full answer from Kathy Simpson, Senior Manager of Product at GitHub: 

"There's not any prohibition on using the free plan to develop a commercial product. Whether it's the right fit simply depends on the needs that specific enterprises have, as functionality for GitHub Pro, GitHub Team, and GitHub Enterprise support varying advanced collaboration and management tools. See the pricing page for the breakdown: https://github.com/pricing/.

"If you're working on a project that you'd like to keep private, we want to make it possible for you to do just that. And often, developers are collaborating on projects together with friends or colleagues, so we want to make it possible for them to continue to work together regardless of where they're at with their project. If their project grows, we want GitHub to scale with them."