6 min read

Microsoft buying GitHub is “good news” for open source. – Jim Zemlin, the Executive Director of Linux Foundation

Unless you have been living under a rock, you will have heard about the software giant Microsoft’s acquisition of the open source platform giant GitHub for $7.5 Billion. Since the announcement a few weeks ago, the discussions in the open source community have heated up regarding the future of open source.

This acquisition has seen a surge in the number of developers migrating to rival version control systems like BitBucket, GitLab, etc., but mostly GitLab. This will affect GitHub’s user base and in turn the contribution to the platform, which is the primary source of funding to keep any open source service alive. This goes to show how difficult it is to create a great product for developers and still make money. Microsoft has created great products for enterprises and has been making money in the process. As such, this acquisition is one worth waiting and watching as it transforms both entities.

The common fear among developers is that Microsoft will exploit the limitations inherent to an open source platform and will inject its subscription model into GitHub to make it profitable. The insane price that Microsoft paid to acquire GitHub afterall needs to be recovered. However, it may not be as straightforward. Many believe it’s not the platform’s monetizing potential, but its access to the user base that Microsoft is most interested in. A lot of them also believe, Microsoft has the potential to resurrect GitHub and revolutionize the open source movement.

Let us explore some reasons why this acquisition is fruitful for the developer community.

GitHub’s losses have been significant

GitHub had reportedly been suffering losses and is said to have lost $66 Mn loss in 2016.

The software industry is a fierce eat-or-get-eaten jungle. Losing out in the market to giant companies or other emerging startups is a common fear. There is always an alternative tool for every developer need as the software market relentlessly works to make things cheaper while offering variety. Startups are reaching the deflection point sooner in their operation cycle.

The GitHub community is the platform’s greatest strengths and the reason why the platform has remained operational through difficult times; but there were regular internal frictions at the management level in GitHub. The strife became apparent when reports came of developers feeling ignored by the GitHub management. The founder, Chris Wanstrath, had to come out and address reports of toxic environment, in a report last year.

With Microsoft buying GitHub, there would be a massive cashflow for all the projects in development and the management will be streamlined with Nat Friedman, announced as the head of GitHub operations. Nat’s successful history with leading open source projects such as Xamarin, gives many hope that this time around, Microsoft really does mean well for GitHub with its acquisition.

The Azure Cloud advantage for GitHub

One of the key challenges that GitHub has faced lately is scaling their infrastructure smoothly without adversely impacting their users. Outages have become a common occurrences that most GitHub users are familiar with.

Microsoft has a strong suite of cloud platform and services in the form of Azure. GitHub users can expect receiving the native experience of using the Azure stack as a part of the integration with GitHub. This integration will further enhance the collaboration on the GitHub platform for developers and advance the GitHub ecosystem.

Microsoft can integrate GitHub into its enterprise offerings

GitHub, in the last few years, has been attempting to extend its reach in the enterprise market with various offerings for business. However, this offering was limited to creating private repositories for some fees. Microsoft, on the other end, has been a leader when it comes to providing enterprise tools and venturing into the subscription market.

This acquisition will excite the brand-loyal enterprises, using Microsoft suites. Imagine the new clientele that GitHub now has access to thanks to Microsoft. Just as Microsoft have bundled Skype with their Office 365 suite, it is easy to postulate similar offerings being designed for enterprises with GitHub at the center of such plans. Just like Excel, GitHub could end up as the default version control tool that enterprises use to build new projects, prototype ideas, open source or otherwise.

In exchange, Github could be Microsoft’s ace up its sleeve in  strengthening its open source community ties and help put Microsoft in a position to inject innovative strategies in the community.

Microsoft’s push to open source projects

Microsoft, have plunged head first into open sourcing projects in recent years. The push is not only for their experimental projects, but has also has been for their successful enterprise tools like .NET Core and Visual Studio. Historically, Microsoft has taken a lot of heat from the open source community for opposing the Linux model. But the recent paradigm shift in Microsoft, with a change in its leadership and vision, is focussed on working around the community and doing business from the enterprises. End of last year, Microsoft joined the Linux Foundation and went platinum with the Open Source Initiative.

TypeScript is a full open source language and sees regular updates from Microsoft. It is now an established language for web development and is managed better than some of the open source languages. Also, TypeScript is fully hosted on GitHub for developers to improve on it.  This indicates that Microsoft has been able to reach out to the community and has the potential to operate open source projects without necessarily commercializing them.

Conclusion

Microsoft buying out GitHub is not necessarily bad. The tech giant has been one of the biggest contributors to GitHub with its projects like Visual Studio Code, TypeScript, etc. While the panic is understandable, considering Microsoft’s past strategies to counter the open source model in its early days, the recent activities in Microsoft, especially under the leadership of Satya Nadella are suggesting a paradigm shift in Microsoft’s approach to serving the IT market.

You can hate Microsoft for being a profit-driven company, but there is no denying that Microsoft was one of the pioneers of the modern day software industry and more importantly, the bitter pill that GitHub needs to get out of the evergrowing loss making sinkhole. Microsoft understand software better and are capable of doing open source the right way and with more efficiency.  This acquisition was inevitable to sustain the platform and to scale it to serve the increasing demand of developer market.

What Microsoft must bear in mind while revamping GitHub policies and the business model is that, it’s greatest challenge and its greatest asset is the paradox of this alliance itself. As GitHub gets more profit conscious, Microsoft must get more community centric to ensure an equilibrium is reached where developers can thrive on a platform that provides a great developing and community experience.

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