What Microsoft’s GitHub Deal Promises to Programmers

Microsoft sent tremors through the open source world last week, when it announced that it would acquire the popular developer platform GitHub for US$7.5 billion in company stock.

Microsoft will acquire GitHub subject to closing conditions and completion of regulatory review. The acquisition is expected to close by the end of the calendar year.

GitHub, one of the world’s largest computer code repositories, is home to more than 28 million developers for collaboration and distribution of projects. In recent years, Microsoft has stepped up its activity through several partnerships with GitHub.

The two companies will empower developers to achieve more at every stage of the development lifecycle, accelerate enterprise use of GitHub, and bring Microsoft’s developer tools and services to new audiences, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during a global phone conference.

“GitHub is the destination for developers to learn, share and work together to create software. It’s a destination for Microsoft too. We are the most active organization on GitHub, with more than 2 million commits or updates made to projects,” Nadella said.

GitHub will remain independent, he promised. Once the acquisition closes, Nat Friedman will become GitHub’s CEO and will report to Microsoft Cloud and AI Group Executive Vice President Scott Guthrie. Current GitHub CEO and cofounder Chris Wanstrath will be a technical fellow at Microsoft and also will report to Wanstrath.

“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,” said Nadella at last week’s conference. “Microsoft is all-in on open source.”

Why GitHub?

Microsoft has been a developer-focused company from its start in creating the platforms and tools it offers today, noted Nadella. The company’s core mission is building technology so that others can build technology.

Microsoft sees three clear opportunities ahead with the GitHub acquisition. First, it will empower developers at every stage of the development lifecycle — from ideation to collaboration to deployment to the cloud, Nadella said.

“Going forward, GitHub will remain an open platform, which any developer can plug into and extend,” he promised. “Developers will continue to be able to use the programming languages, tools and operating systems of their choice for their projects and will still be able to deploy their code on any cloud and any device.”

Second, Microsoft will accelerate enterprise developers’ use of GitHub with direct sales and partner channels, as well as access to Microsoft’s global cloud infrastructure and services.

Third, Microsoft’s developer tools and services will be available to new audiences.

Microsoft recognizes its responsibility with this agreement and is committed to being stewards of the GitHub community, which will “retain its developer-first ethos, operate independently, and remain an open platform,” Nadella said.

Open Source Enthusiasm

While many open source insiders responded to Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub with high praise, others expressed concerns about unexpected consequences for open source independence.

The acquisition will give Microsoft deeper penetration into the developer mindset, said Nakul Aggarwal, CTO of BrowserStack.

“I hope this acquisition creates a real win-win situation for all three parties — developers, Github and Microsoft — in this order,” he told LinuxInsider, “but the acquisition will not create that positive impact on the developer community.”

Microsoft as a brand needs to innovate within and solve a genuine developer problem to receive empathy and love from developers, Aggarwal explained. Only then will it reflect that developers really care.

“Currently it looks like a business problem to solve and an acquisition as a way to do it,” he pointed out. “Microsoft gains a deeper Integration with all their developer tools — Visual Studio / Xamarin / Azure, etc. — and more penetration into open source and hence can be known as developer-friendly.”

Business Over Religion

Microsoft’s move to acquire GitHub is a smart business decision, said Jyoti Bansal, CEO of Big Labs.

It speaks to the massive strategic value of developer platforms and solutions, he told LinuxInsider.

“Satya Nadella has so far done a great job dropping the Windows religion to embrace the reality of the iOS, Android, Linux and the multicloud world, which he will hopefully continue with the GitHub community,” Bansal said.

“By putting [former Xamarin CEO] Nat Friedman in place as a technical CEO, Microsoft is sending a clear message that they’re committed to GitHub and the larger developer ecosystem,” he noted.

The acquisition is a big win for Microsoft, according to Jack E. Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold Associates.

It puts the company ahead in the Web hosting market against fierce competitors Amazon Web Services and Google, he told LinuxInsider.

It creates an incentive for many more app developers to host on Azure, especially in the commercial space where MSFT recently has been less competitive than in the enterprise space.

“That is a win-win for Microsoft, and it doesn’t hurt the developer community either, as they will gain some additional incentives, albeit MSFT-centric, Gold said.

Shifting Focus

GitHub and Microsoft make a perfect fit, as both strive to serve developers of all kinds, said Stefano Maffulli, community director at Scality.

“I’m surprised that this hasn’t happened before — Microsoft has clearly shifted its focus to developers many years ago,” he told LinuxInsider. “They’ve always claimed to be about developers, and today they put more money where their mouth is. I’m glad the corporation made such a visible U-turn.”

The issue of GitHub’s real commitment to open source also may come into play, he suggested. GitHub has not always been synonymous with open source.

“GitHub has never been open source. Not all code hosted on GitHub is open source at all,” Maffulli said.

Despite its popularity with software developers, GitHub initially did not do enough to educate them about the importance of copyright and licenses for open source, he suggested.

However, both GitHub and Microsoft have greatly improved, Maffulli added.

“They are still proprietary software companies. But at least they now understand, respect and promote open source ideas and practices,” Maffulli said.

Open Source Marketplace

GitHub’s acquisition is good news for open source and perhaps the single most significant validation conceivable that open source *is* the mainstream resource for software development, according to Patrick Carey, director of product strategy at Black Duck by Synopsys.

“Microsoft has always been focused on the needs of the developer, and this acquisition is consistent with that focus,” he told LinuxInsider. “It may seem remarkable that Microsoft, once considered the archenemy of both Linux and open source, would acquire GitHub — perhaps the most prominent piece of open source infrastructure today. But it shows just how much Satya Nadella has changed the game at Microsoft.”

The acquisition makes possible better focus on open source security, Carey added. Microsoft likely will make further strides to embrace open source by providing community developers with new tools to help improve the quality and security of their projects.

Potential for Business Trojan Horse

Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub makes perfect sense, given the company’s direction under Satya Nadella, said Blair Hanley Frank, principal analyst at Information Services Group. GitHub is central to the modern developer workflow.

“This acquisition brings Microsoft deeper into that conversation,” he told LinuxInsider. “It shows the company’s embrace of open source and its willingness to evolve to meet the changing needs of its customer base.”

The biggest question is how Microsoft plans to integrate GitHub Enterprise with its other developer offerings, including Visual Studio Team Services. Microsoft does not appear to be integrating the GitHub Marketplace into the Azure Marketplace, Frank said.

Rather, the company sees the GitHub marketplace as a place for it to promote its own software and services to developers. It is important to avoid merging the two at this point, he cautioned, since GitHub’s independence — perceived or otherwise — is key to maintaining goodwill with developers.

“Overall, this is a boost to Azure all-up, since it builds stronger ties between where developers go to build their code and where they can deploy that code in the cloud,” Frank said.

The Edge Factor

Microsoft’s GitHub acquisition is the clearest signal yet of the importance of the cloud-native edge, according to Said Ouissal, CEO of Zededa.

As cloud developers shift their focus toward taking advantage of Internet of Things data in real time at the “intelligent edge,” they need an on-ramp to the edge — a platform that allows the embedded systems of the world operate like the cloud, he told LinuxInsider.

“Embedded systems today were not even designed for network or optimized for Internet connectivity. They were built for a time when embedded computers were simply ‘set it and forget it’ for years at a time,” Quisssal pointed out.

The developer workflows that Microsoft wants to see drive and influence business processes could spell the end of embedded computing as we know it, he cautioned, if we want to enable those 28 million developers to thrive at the edge.

Jack M. Germain

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.

1 Comment

  • The problem for OSS on Github is that Microsoft is a for-profit corporation. Even if MS is altruistically willing to spend billions on goodwill efforts today, that may change tomorrow; without noone being the wiser for it.

    It is only prudent to be wary of this acquisition, especially given the company’s past. Having presented multi-million dollar proposals to boards, I wonder how this acquisition was presented, debated upon and finally authorized.

    My gut feeling tells me that there is much more going on behind the scenes than the platitudes and empty promises we’ve been spoon fed are telling us.

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