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.
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."
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."