Microsoft Is Buying GitHub For $7.5 Billion Dollars, and Predictably, There’s a Developer Backlash

Everyone complaining about Microsoft buying GitHub needs to offer a better solution

GitHub, though notionally a for-profit company, has become an essential, integral part of the open-source community. GitHub offers free hosting for open-source projects and has risen to become the premiere service for collaborative, open-source development: the authoritative source repository for many of these projects, with GitHub’s own particular pull-request-based workflow becoming a de facto standard approach for taking code contributions.

The fear is that Microsoft is hostile to open source and will do something to GitHub (though exactly what isn’t clear) to undermine the open-source projects that depend on it. Comments here at Ars, as well as on SlashdotReddit and Hacker News, suggest not any specific concerns but a widespread lack of trust, at least among certain developers, of Microsoft’s behavior, motives, and future plans for the service.

These feelings may have been justified in the past but seem much less so today.

Microsoft today is a company with a wide range of high-profile open-source projects, hosted on GitHub. Among other things, there’s the Visual Studio Code developer-oriented text editor, there’s the .NET runtime, and there’s the Chakra JavaScript engine from the Edge browser. Even Microsoft’s new documentation system is backed by GitHub.

These projects are all hosted on GitHub, and by most accounts I’ve heard, Microsoft is doing open source in an effective, community-engaged way. Publishing source code is not the same as developing in the open; there are corporate open-source projects where all development is done privately, in-house, with few-to-no outside contributions accepted. The code is published periodically (often without the full commit history, so providing no way to see how the code was incrementally developed) with an open-source license attached. For the most part, Microsoft hasn’t used this model; instead, it uses the GitHub for authoritative repositories, with all development published to GitHub as it’s done. Microsoft welcomes outside contributions, uses GitHub’s issue tracking to publicly record bugs and feature requests, and the projects engage with their user and developer communities to prioritize new development. This is a corporation doing open source the right way.

GitHub is a large code repository that has become very popular with developers and companies hosting entire projects, documentation, and code. Apple, Amazon, Google, and many other big tech companies use GitHub. There are 85 million repositories hosted on GitHub, and 28 million developers contribute to them. GitHub will now be led by CEO Nat Friedman, the founder of Xamarin, who will report to Microsoft’s Cloud and AI chief Scott Guthrie. GitHub CEO and co-founder Chris Wanstrath will now become a technical fellow at Microsoft, also reporting into Guthrie.

t’s easy to imagine why Microsoft would want to acquire GitHub. Microsoft killed its own GitHub competitor, Codeplex, in December and is now the top contributor to GitHub, Microsoft now has more than 1,000 employees actively pushing code to GitHub repositories. Its popularity among developers could see Microsoft earn some much-needed trust and respect from developers. In bigger enterprises and slower moving businesses, the fact Microsoft has acquired GitHub will make it more trusted to use for projects and source control, simply because Microsoft is already trusted across many software and services by these companies. “We will accelerate enterprise developers’ use of GitHub, with our direct sales and partner channels and access to Microsoft’s global cloud infrastructure and services,” says Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

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MICROSOFT WILL NEED TO EARN TRUST AND RESPECT FROM DEVELOPERS

Microsoft won’t be able to address the general concern that important tools and internet services keep being consolidated into the hands of a few big tech companies. “When it comes to our commitment to open source, judge us by the actions we have taken in the recent past, our actions today, and in the future,” says Nadella, in an attempt to ease concerns around Microsoft’s acquisition.

For all the concerns, there are plenty of reasons to see this as a positive for Microsoft and GitHub users. Microsoft has been actively pushing open source technology, and the company has open sourced PowerShellVisual Studio Code, and the Microsoft Edge JavaScript engine. Microsoft also partnered with Canonical to bring Ubuntu to Windows 10, and acquired Xamarin to assist with mobile app development. These are moves that have been met with surprise by developers initially, but that have earned respect. It’s essential that Microsoft stewards the GitHub community forward to earn even more trust and developer love. The Microsoft old isn’t the Microsoft of new, and this GitHub acquisition is a chance for Microsoft to prove that even further.

Microsoft has struggled with developer love for years, and it’s a big part of the reasons Windows Phone failed and that its Universal Windows Apps platform hasn’t taken off. Microsoft has spent recent years improving Windows 10 so it’s a respectable development box, and tools like Visual Studio Code — which lets developers build and debug web and cloud applications — have soared in popularity with developers.

Microsoft clearly knows it needs to treat this acquisition with care. “Most importantly, we recognize the responsibility we take on with this agreement,” explains Nadella. “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.”

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