​What Microsoft buying GitHub means to open-source software development

Buying GitHub may make sense for Microsoft, but many open-source developers hate the deal.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

A few years back, the mere idea of Microsoft (Microsoft of all companies!) buying GitHub, the leading open-source development hosting company, would have been seen as nuts. Today, Microsoft is buying GitHub for a cool $7.5-billion in stock. Not a bad price for a company's that never seen a dime of net revenue.

But, Microsoft isn't buying GitHub for revenue. It's buying it because as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put it: "Microsoft is a developer-first company, and by joining forces with GitHub we strengthen our commitment to developer freedom, openness, and innovation."

People agree that GitHub is the most popular open-source version control code repository in the world. No other company or group comes close. As of March 2018, GitHub had over 28 million users and 85 million code repositories.

Sacha Labourey, CEO of CloudBees, the enterprise Jenkins continuous integration site "can't think of a better destination for GitHub than 'The New Microsoft.' The New Microsoft totally gets developers. GitHub has built an amazing social network for developers who are likely not going to be in a hurry to leave this buzzing hive anytime soon for some temporary FUD."

FUD? Former Microsoft CEO Steve "Linux is a cancer" Ballmer may have quit his job in 2014 to be replaced by Satya "Microsoft loves Linux" Nadella, but many open-source developers and supporters still hate Microsoft.

Roy Schestowitz, editor of the anti-Microsoft and software patent site, TechRights tweeted, "Microsoft is a saboteur whose sabotage relies on lies about 'love.'" He also claims "Git hosts other than #github getting 10 times the usual load (surge) as people migrate away from GitHub."

Indeed, Gitlab, a leading GitHub competitor, reports: "We're seeing 10x the normal daily amount of repositories." This is being driven not just because of old grudges against Microsoft, but because, as one Reddit writer put it, under Microsoft GitHub's "real future is a buggy and monetized site."

Nadella may say, "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."

But, some very vocal developers don't buy that for a New York minute. They are certain that Microsoft will "Embrace, extend, and extinguish" the programs of potential rivals. As one put it on a Google+ thread, "What does M$ have to gain from this, other than by either shutting it down in the long term, monetizing it further or by data mining folks? In just a matter of hours, they made GitHub a completely toxic entity."

Actually, leaving aside Microsoft's aforementioned reasons to buy GitHub, Microsoft is a huge GitHub user. Microsoft uses the Git protocol -- ironically created by Linus Torvalds to manage Linux -- in Visual Studio Team Service. Microsoft also already uses GitHub for many of its own programs. Indeed, João Pedro Martins, an Azure Architect Manager claims, "Microsoft is already the biggest contributor anyway."

Microsoft developer, Miguel de Icaza, founder of the open-source programs Mono and GNOME, remarked, "Satya looked at Microsoft's bill from all the code we host on GitHub and figured it would be cheaper to buy the company."

Still other developers and companies don't want their code being hosted on a site that now belongs to a major competitor. In response to de Icaza, Matt Van Horn, wrote, "It's gonna be so cool that Microsoft will be able to peek into the private repos of people trying to compete with them, won't it?"

Some open-source developers are sick and tired of treating Microsoft like it hasn't changed its way over the last few years. Jon Masters, Red Hat's chief ARM architect wrote on Google+, "If you're needlessly hating on Microsoft for buying GitHub, I hate to be the one to have to tell you this, but the world changed. It's time to move forward with life and accept that in 2018, MSFT isn't the Great Satan out to destroy all Open Source."

James Bottomley, a Distinguished Engineer at IBM Research and a leading Linux developer, added in a blog post, "Companies with well established open-source business models and motivations that don't depend on the whims of VCs are much more trustworthy in open source in the long term. Although it's a fairly recent convert, Microsoft is now among these because it's clearly visible how its conversion from desktop to cloud both requires open source and requires Microsoft to play nicely with open source."

As for Microsoft's bad track record, Bottomley thinks that's a "bonus because from the corporate point of view it has to be extra vigilant in maintaining its open source credentials."

The real battle over GitHub's future won't be in social media battles. It will be with GitHub's users. Will they be moving their code out of GitHub as soon as possible? Are they comfortable with leaving their program in MS-GitHub? Only time, and Microsoft's actions, will tell.

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