Thursday, July 18

Microsoft to Buy GitHub; Controversy Scheduled for This Week

So yeah, what the title said. Microsoft is buying GitHub for 7.5 BILLION with a “B” US dollars. This is officially this week’s Big DealTM, and everyone’s going to be talking about it. It would not be quite accurate to say that GitHub powers software development as a whole, but it powers a lot of it. GitHub’s friendliness to — and free repositories for — open source software have made it nigh on indispensable for many developers around the world.

So now some people are freaking out. People unfamiliar with tech history or the open source world might wonder why. After all, companies change hands all the time. Sometimes that works out for consumers, and sometimes it doesn’t. I personally think it will work out, but I can understand why some people are angry.

GitHub’s friendliness to…open source software have made it nigh on indispensable for many developers

You see, once upon a time, Microsoft was the de facto bad guy of the tech world, and many people still see them that way. From the very beginning, MS embraced some pretty predatory business practices that put them in bad standing with users. Even after the famous antitrust case that broke their impending monopoly on web browsers (yeah, that almost happened), Microsoft has a record of buying good products and then killing them at a rate that rivals Electronic Arts.

What’s more, the Linux and open source community in particular got burned over the years, as Microsoft made a habit of using their advertising budget to spread unsubstantiated claims about Linux, other enterprise-focused operating systems, and open source data security options. People are still sore about that.

products Microsoft hasn’t killed have often ended up feeling rather lackluster

The products Microsoft hasn’t killed have often ended up feeling rather lackluster. Think of Skype, for example.

But I don’t think all is lost. No, Microsoft didn’t suddenly have a collective change of heart, and turn into do-gooders. I think they’ve just realized that ticking off everyone who isn’t them is a poor long-term business strategy. We live in a world where consumers increasingly demand that corporations at least pretend to be good guys, and so Microsoft seems to have changed their modus operandi, to some extent.

They bought LinkedIn for over 20 billion USD, and have let it run more or less as it did before. They released Visual Studio Code—one of the best code editors for Windows that we’ve had in a while—and it’s even open source.

Most telling, they killed Codeplex, their onetime competitor to GitHub, and started putting a lot of their own open source code on the latter platform. All of these actions directly contradict the old patterns Microsoft used to follow.

If they care at all about the goodwill they have earned themselves in the past few years, it would be best to let GitHub be GitHub. If they continue to follow this new pattern, they probably will. Indeed, in Microsoft’s own post on the subject, they state that they intend to let GitHub operate independently.

Acquisition will empower developers, accelerate GitHub’s growth and advance Microsoft services with new audiences

So do we believe them? Why buy GitHub at all, if they’re not going to monetize the hell out of it? Well they will, just not in the way everybody seems to fear. Microsoft doesn’t make most of their money from Windows by selling it to individual users. They do it by selling it to enterprise-level customers, and supporting it. The same goes for Microsoft Office Subscriptions. The indications seem to be pointing in the same direction for GitHub.

Microsoft will most likely develop and sell enterprise-specific tools and services around GitHub to entice their biggest customers onto the platform. They don’t want your money, they want that corporation money. I strongly suspect that for most individual developers and open source projects, the GitHub experience will remain unchanged.

So the average dev could probably look at this sale as a positive change, or at least a neutral one. Failing that, there’s always Gitlab or Bitbucket.


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