Microsoft’s Github Acquisition – An Unbiased Perspective

As someone who has worked on Microsoft tooling since the days of Foxpro 2.6 to Visual Studio 2010 in IT career, and yet ditched them all for PHP, Python and open source years later, I think I am qualified to offer a somewhat neutral or objective perspective on this acquisition.

When this news was first announced on last Friday, I was naturally puzzled and so were a lot of other developers and not without reasons. The way this was initially announced without any clarification or their plans about what they were going to do with the hosting facility in future, speculations were bound to be raised and people were bound to be pissed off, especially given Microsoft’s history of being “not so friendly” with open source and “not so good” with some acquisitions.

When it comes to open source, the Linux subreddit is the place where developers pour their hearts out and this particular thread quite summed up  their initial knee-jerk reaction. As the most upvoted comment says:

its like Microsoft is obsessed with generating as much frustration in the world as possible

Other reactions were also quite similar:

I LOL’ed.

First, Sourceforge started to install malware on the open source projects. So everyone run to Github. Now, Github might get owned by Microsoft. Not to mention Github is 100% closed source. Gitlab looks good every day. There are other open source git solution too.

GitLab, the top open source competitor to Github soon became the most discussed alternative (apparently, their marketing team did their bit too with the perfect timing!). And so, a mass exodus of projects soon began, which not only became the most discussed topic on reddit, but also caught a lot of media attention too:

GitLab gains developers after Microsoft buys rival GitHub

Just within a couple of days from this announcement, some 13,000 projects had already migrated to Gitlab which included some prominent names. Naturally, it was time now for Microsoft to do some damage control. But if their PR team was any wiser, they should have already anticipated this and this damage control move should have been done at the outset as the first thing. How could they not expect this backlash considering Microsoft’s past history with open source (however distant it may be)?

The first move came when Satya Nadella, the Microsoft CEO gave an interview to CNBC on Monday (4th June):

One of the most important things Satya said in the interview was that Microsoft is a developer tooling company at core (let’s ignore Windows and Office for a moment!). However, most developers still had concerns, they wanted to know how this high level strategy of being open source developer friendly will turn out to be in practice.

Most importantly, they needed an assurance that their daily driver for source control isn’t going to be integrated and hijacked by other Microsoft products like Skype, Linkedin or even a Passport account. And that assurance came yesterday from Nat Friedman, the future CEO of Github in his Reddit AMA.

Firstly, the fact that Github Inc. was going in the hands of an open source veteran who had contributed to GNOME and MONO projects in the past was itself quite reassuring. At least, Github isn’t going to be controlled by a typical corporate honcho who has nothing but shareholders’ interests in mind! Nat assured most redditors that Github is going to stay as it is, its developer focus is not going to be shifted, nor is it going to be integrated with any other products. And most importantly, they will never require a Microsoft account to login to Github, rather, their other products might consider allowing a Github user to authenticate to their systems in future:

Nat also goes on to further assure redditors in the AMA that they will always remain a “developer first” company, and are keen to learn a lot from Github from this acquisition. Rather than impose their own work culture on Github, they’ll be taking lessons from Github and try and be like them:

All in all, this damage control or whatever Microsoft has done seems to have done the magic at least for the moment. People and projects seem to have stopped their exodus to Gitlab, though its difficult to say what could happen in the long term.

10 comments

  1. Tim Woodman says:

    Heard it all before with Novell and Munich, the same language, phrases, half truths and reassurances, all in the name of obfuscating FUD.

    The total cost of ownership of Microsoft is less than any free system’s TCO. Here is the spreadsheet to prove it. We can make a lot of dinero farming other peoples software to third party patent trolls……. allegedly.

    • Prahlad Yeri says:

      Totally agreed, they’ll have to actually earn their trust this time. Any sign of them turning Github into a profit mongering machine, or destroying it like Nokia or Wunderlist, will result in another mass exodus to Gitlab et al., and there will be hardly anyone left on Github this time.

  2. LE3M says:

    “Gitlab, the top competitor to Github (also open source) soon became”

    I know you meant GitLab, but the wording makes it sound like GitHub is open source. Which its not.

    “Just within a couple of days of this announcements, some 13,000 projects had already migrated to Gitlab”

    Actually, the real number at that time were some 250 000 projects:
    https://twitter.com/gitlabstatus/status/1003887898142367744

    “People and projects seem to have stopped their exodus to Gitlab, though its difficult to say what could happen in the long term.”

    The project imports are calmer than the immediately after the reported acquisition, but that’s to be expected and can be unrelated to Microsofts talk. Still I would not say that the reaction has stopped. The normal amount of imports is less than 100 in the hour, it’s still swinging around 500-1000 project imports in the hour:
    https://monitor.gitlab.net/dashboard/db/github-importer?orgId=1

    What people seems to forget by this acquisition is that Microsoft shut down their own “GitHub” called Codeplex not long ago because they did not manage to beat the competition. That’s obviously the main reason for buying GitHub, they were unable to create something developers would prefer.
    The repeated assurances that everything will stay the same way as people love is the usual business talk, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Not only Microsoft, but any company acquiring another, uses this or similar sentences immediately after the acquisition. Give it a year or so and things will slowly change. Some will like the changes, others not. What those changes are, we don’t know. The only fact we can say is that there will be changes to the platform and that it’s naive believing anything else.

    • Prahlad Yeri says:

      >> I know you meant GitLab, but the wording makes it sound like GitHub is open source. Which its not.

      Fair enough, I’ll fix the wording.

      >> Not only Microsoft, but any company acquiring another, uses this or similar sentences immediately after the acquisition.

      That’s true, but at least the signs are looking good. For instance, making Nat Friedman the CEO of Github should ensure that those changes won’t happen at least in the short term. But even if the worst happens, there is always the Plan-B – switch to a different hosting facility or self-host. Only thing you need to be careful about is to not get locked into any of the github’s proprietary workflow or CI/CD tools.

      • LE3M says:

        Thanks for fixing.

        I’m sure there are many decent employees within Microsoft, but I distrust Microsoft as a company. Not only because of things that happened 10 years ago, but because of things that happened within 10 years or that are still ongoing. I don’t think Nat Friedman will be able to change the culture, and even if he would I’m not sure if it really matters anymore either. Microsoft is largely still the same old Microsoft and they had their chances. For example Microsoft don’t allow Vulkan in UWP, in France Microsoft are exploiting the careless French administrators and are sending their emails with addresses not ending in @microsoft.com but @intradef.gouv.fr pretending to be colleagues of the French government (this is insane and Microsoft knows very well how wrong this is and still does it), or the case in the UK with ODF, or what about the Munich case Woodman mentioning? Did you know that the company who wrote the report they were using to make the final decision is a company who’s business is selling Microsoft services? How crazy is that?
        https://www.accenture.com/us-en/service-technology-microsoft-accenture-alliance-solutions-overview
        https://enterprise.microsoft.com/en-us/partners/accenture-avanade/

        I think we can agree to disagree, but I hope you slightly understand why there is distrust for Microsoft as a company. I believe people have good reasons to run away and that we should not pretend that everything Microsoft did wrong happened in the far past.

  3. Beluga says:

    This recent documentary, The Microsoft cyber attack, is enlightening regarding their current and ongoing practices in lobbying: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wGLS2rSQPQ

  4. WBee says:

    What ‘prominent names’ left GitHub? There was no mention of the actual names here or in the article you linked to.

  5. Kazinator says:

    It’s really simple; let me break it down.

    If you don’t host your project(s) on your own site, you’re saying that you can’t develop free software without someone holding your hand.

    If you host it on GitHub, you’re saying that you can’t develop free software without help from tools and a community managed by Microsoft.

    You’re also saying that you prefer to develop free software with the help of proprietary tools. Not just proprietary tools, but proprietary tools that you can’t even install locally, but only access remotely.

    You’re saying that free software has failed in such a basic way, that it can’t even facilitate the collaboration for its own development.

    You might as well tattoo “I Suck” on your forehead and quit programming.

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