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GitHub Expands Free Feature Access, Slices Other Costs

By Jack M. Germain LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Apr 16, 2020 11:40 AM PT
github has opened free access to its repositories for an unlimited number of collaborators

GitHub has lowered its pricing plans drastically and made its core features free for everyone, even for private development.

GitHub CEO Nat Friedman on Tuesday announced a plan that had been in the works for some time, noting that the changes were not related to the COVID-19 worldwide health crisis.

The new structure allows access to GitHub's private repositories with unlimited collaborators for all GitHub accounts.

Microsoft purchased GitHub, a software hosting and version-control platform, for US$7.5 billion in June 2018.

Previously, if an organization wanted to use GitHub for private development, it had to subscribe to one of GitHub's paid plans. However, all developers should have access to GitHub without price being a barrier, Friedman said.

Teams now can manage their work in one place, including continuous integration and continuous delivery or deployment (CI/CD) software engineering, project management, code review, package management, and more.

"We want everyone to be able to ship great software on the platform developers love," said Friedman.

Those who need advanced features -- such as code owners or security assertion markup language (SAML), or personalized support teams -- can upgrade to one of GitHub's reduced-fee paid plans.

This is a very significant move for open source. GitHub has changed the development world by giving engineers the freedom to use and collaborate though public and private repositories, observed Netdata CEO Costa Tsaousis.

"This extends that even more. Now, more engineers will have access to a tool where they can contribute to other projects or create their own," he told LinuxInsider.

Pushing a Competitive Edge

The change in access cost extends GitHub's free service to more developer teams and users. It also cuts in half prices for access to some key features.

GitHub's pricing move seems likely to please existing users, especially those in smaller companies, and intrigue prospects, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"The end result could lead to GitHub achieving its ambitions of expanding from 40 million to 100 million developers by 2025, while also resulting in less variety and diversity in the open source market," he told LinuxInsider.

The most important change is that GitHub is allowing unlimited repositories and collaborators as part of the free tier. That offer includes access to private projects.

Given the financial pressures that organizations of every kind and size are suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, GitHub's sizable price reduction should draw kudos and new users. What's less certain is whether its competitors will feel forced to offer clients similar cost cuts, King observed.

"It is a fairly painless issue for a company owned by Microsoft, but is also a concept that could be difficult or impossible for companies with shallower pockets to consider," he added.

Right Timing

"This is a huge investment we are making, and it is good for GitHub's business long term because more developers globally will be able to use the platform," a spokesperson said in a statement provided to LinuxInsider by company rep Nicole Numrich.

The growth factor is the key reason for the change of plans in providing expanded free access, according to the spokesperson. It has 40 million developers now, and global development is not slowing down.

The GitHub Enterprise product is reaching more companies than ever with 29 Global Fortune 50 companies building the software behind their businesses on GitHub Enterprise, the spokesperson noted. This shift from a "pay-for-privacy" model to a "pay-for-features" model is a fundamental change to the business architecture of GitHub.

Plummeting Price Plan

GitHub reduced the entry-level paid tier price to $4 per user per month instead of $9. The company still offers a more expensive tier ($21) with SAML sign-on and greatly expanded storage and actions.

Also still available is the specialized GitHub One service. Account managers with high-value customers can negotiate special subscription fees.

Under the previous cost structure, GitHub offered a free tier for private development. However, it limited the number of collaborators with access to a private repository to three.

Teams interested in using GitHub for private development had to subscribe to one of its paid plans. GitHub previously offered unlimited repositories for free only to public projects or those with a small number of users. That precluded use of the free tier by several different types of teams, organizations and companies.

Follow this link for details about signing up for a free access plan or to upgrade/downgrade your personal or organization's subscription plan.

Although there are several key differences between the free tier and the lowest-cost paid tier have in terms of allowing access for code owners and required reviewers, the new free plan also expands the available storage and number of actions per month.

Sharpens the Developer's Edge

With more developers having an accessible, free place to create software, there will be more opportunities to collaborate on projects without being limited by prices, noted Netdata's Tsaousis. With more collaboration, open source startups and other projects likely will grow and scale at a faster rate.

"Netdata's firsthand experience has proved how powerful these tools can be. As an open source project, founded by a sole developer, Netdata's roots are in using GitHub's open source repositories," he said.

With the help of the community's contributors, along with dedicated company engineers, the Netdata Agent has grown into one of the most watched and starred projects on GitHub and is downloaded more than half a million times a day, Tsaousis pointed out. The new free access expansion will make it even easier for an organization to standardize on GitHub, which is at the heart of the pricing decision.

"Becoming a de facto standard is a huge advantage with regards to competitive solutions," he noted. "However, once an organization is set on GitHub, it can be difficult to revisit that decision if Pro and Team features ever become cost-prohibitive."

Brilliant Growth Move

Gitlab is a growing threat to GitHub, and a key reason for GitHub's change in strategy, suggested Thomas Hatch, CTO of SaltStack.

"This move is critical for GitHub to stay relevant as GitLab continues to steal users and customers from them. In a nutshell, this allows GitHub to give open source users and developers the same thing that GitLab has been delivering for many years," he told LinuxInsider.

As more big names open-source their software and participate in the community, it's important to remember why open source existed in the first place, and the value of the foundation from which you can build, noted Aiven CTO Heikki Nousiainen.

"End users have a strong preference for innovation using true open source technologies and look for licensing and companies that are compatible with the tradition set forth by open source initiatives," he told LinuxInsider.

Open Source Significance

The inclusion of WordPress and digital marketing features in GitHub's offering allows plenty of room to experiment, observed Pavan Raheja, business head at Flint Technology|Consulting.

"GitHub being the best-smooth version control system takes a burden off me and allows my team to try new features comfortably," he told LinuxInsider. "It just gives complete freedom to my developers to try new features without having to worry about anything. Especially, as WordPress is evolving to decoupled systems and we are constantly trying to evolve, Github gives us the complete freedom to try and test at will and with complete ease."

GitHub makes it easy to collaborate with remote developers, Raheja pointed out. It makes the Workflow so simple that he can keep a complete track of where the new developments are happening without being worried about his master copy.

"As I have complete control over the master and commit requests, I do not have to be worried," Raheja remarked. "I just have to have a quick look a the pull request in any of the branches my developers make the changes on. It further gives me complete freedom to focus on other activities, like digital marketing, without worrying about my code management."

No Perfect Plan

GitHub's new access strategy may have an unintended bad consequence, according to Prabhu Subramanian, creator of AppThreat and lead architect at ShiftLeft.

"This is significant but not for the better, unfortunately. Having all of the open source artifacts -- code, packages, vulnerabilities, discussions, road maps -- being aggregated under a single commercial umbrella is kind of the opposite of what open source stands for. Free in open source is about freedom," Subramanian told LinuxInsider.

In one sense, GitHub now is matching other players, such as GitLab and BitBucket , which long have offered private repositories for free. However, the long-term plan appears to be to introduce more lock-in/stickiness by making developers and teams use features such as GitHub Actions and other bundled feature sets from GitHub, he explained.

"Such a lock-in necessarily is not bad, since it simplifies the workflow and reduces overall cost and time to market. But nevertheless it is something that teams should carefully consider and resist clicking and enabling every single feature on any platform, not just GitHub," Subramanian said.

The GitHub announcement is good for small startups more than the open source movement, said Arun Balakrishnan, director of products at ShiftLeft.

They can do private development in teams for free and scale up when the organization grows, he told LinuxInsider. "GitHub had a Pro Tier which allowed unlimited collaborators. That was still restricted to public repos. This new announcement gives everyone unlimited collaborators for free. This is good for small teams working on open source projects. Previously they had to pay to get more than three collaborators."


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software. Email Jack.


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