Why Microsoft is buying GitHub: It's all about developer relationships

Microsoft's move to acquire GitHub isn't all that surprising given that the company is a top contributor and has worked well with developers in recent years. Now can it keep GitHub the Switzerland of code?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Microsoft's $7.5 billion acquisition ofGitHub is more like a commencement speech following years of improved relationships with more than just Windows developers.

The big question is whether it can keep GitHub as a necessary Switzerland for developers and their code. Microsoft will acquire GitHub in a $7.5 billion deal that isn't likely to be material similar to LinkedIn, but represents a key milestone in software development.

See: Microsoft buys GitHub for $7.5 billion

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said:

Microsoft is a developer-first company, and by joining forces with GitHub we strengthen our commitment to developer freedom, openness and innovation.

The company also said that GitHub will run as an independent unit. Microsoft said the plan was to empower developers as well as bring its tools to new audiences. Nadella said in a blog post:

We recognize the responsibility we take on with this agreement. We are committed to being stewards of the GitHub community, which will retain its developer-first ethos, operate independently and remain an open platform. We will always listen to developer feedback and invest in both fundamentals and new capabilities.

As Mary Jo Foley reported Friday, Microsoft's purchase of GitHub isn't as far-fetched as it would have been years ago. Under Nadella Microsoft has become about a lot more than Windows. Microsoft is a big open source contributor and supporter. Microsoft's iOS and Android versions of its software are as good if not better than they are on Windows.

TechRepublic: Everything you need to know about GitHub | GitHub Learning Lab app helps developers get better at using the platform | GitHub: Here are the biggest open source project trends we'll see in 2018

After all, Microsoft is already the top contributor to GitHub.


Financially and strategically Microsoft buying GitHub is basically a footnote. GitHub does have subscription offerings and GitHub Enterprise, which happens to run on Amazon Web Services, is designed to speed up development workflows. But GitHub won't be material to Microsoft financially.

However, GitHub will be material to Microsoft with developers. GitHub has 80 million repositories worldwide, 27 million developers and 1.8 billion businesses and organizations on its platform.

The purchase -- if you assume GitHub will essentially run independently -- will give Microsoft a different standing with developers. GitHub is a central repository of code. It's the primary vehicle for developers to share. And GitHub is critical to developers. Should Microsoft not screw up this GitHub mojo it's standing with developers will only improve. Double bonus if contributors to GitHub keep adding code.

Read also: GitHub makes open-source project licensing easier with an open-source program | GitHub aims to make coding more automated

Nevertheless, it's not hard to find folks screaming about how Microsoft shouldn't own GitHub. The topic of Microsoft acquiring GitHub has caused angst here, here, here, here and here. You can find more.

This angst is a bit premature. Microsoft has managed to allow LinkedIn to run. It is likely to do the same with GitHub.

Keep in mind that Microsoft's rationale for GitHub revolves around one word: Relationships. The game in enterprise software is won and lost on developer relationships. Buying GitHub -- again assuming Microsoft doesn't botch the integration -- can only cement the software giant as a developer touch point.

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