Microsoft's 'future CEO of GitHub' speaks out on Atom, keeping GitHub independent and more

Soon-to-be GitHub CEO Nat Friedman took to Reddit to try to answer developer questions and allay fears about Microsoft's plans for the service.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Worried about the LinkedIn-ification of GitHub? Or Microsoft's intentions around keeping the Atom editor around? Or what's next for Visual Studio Team Services with GitHub in the mix?


Developers had questions. The new soon-to-be GitHub CEO had some answers.

On June 7, just a few days after Microsoft's announcement that it's buying the GitHub hosting and development service, Microsoft's Nat Friedman took part in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session.

Friedman is the Corporate Vice President of Developer Services at Microsoft and was the CEO and Cofounder of Xamarin, a company Microsoft acquired in 2016.

Friedman told the Reddit audience his first commit to GitHub (in PHP) was in 2009 when the service was a year old. Participants had a lot of questions about Microsoft's plans and intentions for GitHub. Friedman answered more than many seemingly expected, but not everything, given Microsoft's GitHub acquisition isn't final until it gets regulatory approval.

Developers wanted to know if Microsoft plans to keep GitHub's Atom text editor around, given that it overlaps with Microsoft's VS Code editor. Friedman's answer: "We will continue to develop and support both Atom and VS Code going forward."

He added some more context:

"VS Code and Atom actually share a ton of history and code, and Microsoft and GitHub have collaborated on the foundational technologies for years: Most obviously, we work together on Electron, the common foundation for both editors. Microsoft began working with GitHub on Electron when it was announced in 2015--when it was still called AtomShell and before VS Code was announced. We joined their Slack channels and participated in hackathons, and Microsoft has been a major contributor to Electron ever since. We also use Electron in many other products."

(Microsoft's VS Code, Yammer and Teams apps were all built using Electron.)

Microsoft also has no plans to try to mush together unnaturally GitHub and Visual Studio Team Services or to dump VSTS, for those wondering.

Friedman said he was "sad" to see some developers spooked by Microsoft's purchase of GitHub decide to move to alternative platforms such as GitLab, but downplayed the impact. He repeated his pledge to try to earn developers' trust.

"The GitHub team reports that the set of users who have migrated or closed their accounts is extremely small, and this is more than made up for by the surge of new signups and new interest in GitHub this week," Friedman claimed.

Some more tidbits from the Friedman AMA:

Why did Microsoft previously reject open source? Friedman's one word answer: "Fear."

Will Microsoft open-source GitHub? Parts of it already are, he said. "It's an interesting idea worth considering but I don't foresee doing this in the near future."

What about illegal content hosted on GitHub? "GitHub has a policy against illegal and disrespectful content already which we plan to support. Beyond that, we won't actively moderate content or take responsibility for what people post, which I think qualifies as "not going beyond DMCA," he said.

Should developers expect Microsoft to add LinkedIn integration, Bing ads, Microsoft Account sign-in requirements, etc. to GitHub now that it is its owner? Friedman noted "We are not buying GitHub to turn it into Microsoft; we are buying GitHub because we believe in the importance of developers, and in GitHub's unique role in the developer community. Our goal is to help GitHub be better at being GitHub, and if anything, to help Microsoft be a little more like GitHub."

Any plans to make private repositories free as on GitLab and BitBucket? "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.

Can Microsoft prove private repositories on GitHub will remain private even from Microsoft employees and executives? Friedman: "Microsoft hosts the confidential information of more than one billion customers today, and this is a responsibility we take extremely seriously. GitHub already has policies and controls in place to limit employee access to private repos, and this will remain as tight as ever under Microsoft."

The full Friedman Reddit AMA is here.

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