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Microsoft's GitHub Acquisition: What It Could Mean for DevelopersMicrosoft's GitHub Acquisition: What It Could Mean for Developers

As Microsoft prepares to acquire the GitHub software development platform, lots of open source developers who use GitHub are wondering how it will affect them. Several analysts tell Channel Futures that the move will likely be a positive one.

Todd R. Weiss

June 4, 2018

6 Min Read
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The battle lines were drawn quickly when Microsoft announced Monday that it’s acquiring the GitHub software development platform for $7.5 billion.

On one side, a firestorm of criticism began spreading from angry open-source developers who are longtime GitHub users. They don’t trust Microsoft. Many developers posted comments saying they will move their projects to competing online repositories in protest.

One critic, Martin Varsavsky, wrote on Twitter that “Microsoft buying GitHub feels like Exxon Mobil buying Greenpeace.”

Competitor SourceForge posted on Twitter that it’s “seeing a big surge in imported projects to SourceForge today” from GitHub in response to the planned acquisition. SourceForge even posted a link to a GitHub to SourceForge import tool to ease such transitions.  

Others see the GitHub acquisition differently, saying the planned move and the related announcement that longtime open-source expert and luminary Nat Friedman will become the company’s new CEO will be positive changes for the development community. Friedman is the co-founder of the Xamarin open-source project, which Microsoft acquired in 2016. Friedman has been serving as Microsoft’s vice president of developer services since joining the company.

“I have known @natfriedman for years: he will be a fantastic CEO for @github,” wrote longtime open source luminary Jono Bacon in a Twitter post. “He has the engineering and leadership heritage, a deep understanding of developers, open source, and @microsoft, and is a warm and engaging guy. I think he will also mesh well with the other leadership.”

Analysts Say the Acquisition Shows Promise

Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC, told Channel Futures that acquisitions like this one will become the new norm as companies seek to add DevOps to their product offerings.

Al Gillen

Al Gillen

“GitHub in Microsoft’s portfolio? Good grief, what a nice add,” he said.

Of course, for skeptics of the move, especially for open-source developers who don’t have much trust in Microsoft, there will be some time for the reality to set in, said Gillen.

“For those of us following Microsoft forever, when I look at this move I’m thinking, “Who would ever have thought this could happen?'” said Gillen. “But look at their trajectory over the last five years,” as Microsoft has jumped more deeply into open source in a wide range of ways. “This actually makes a lot of sense and feels like a fairly logical next step for them.”

The appointment of Friedman as GitHub CEO will help to convince many of the open-source skeptics, added Gillen.

“Nat’s got enormous credibility with the open-source world, whether he’s a Microsoft employee or not. The key thing is that Nat has been a hero in the open-source community for his whole career.”

Another analyst, Dan Olds of Gabriel Consulting Group, called the planned acquisition a “when-worlds-collide type of event” for bringing together an open-source institution – GitHub – with one of the world’s largest proprietary software companies.

“The real story is what will happen with developers” and their reactions to the move, said Olds. “But I would say the Microsoft of 2018 is not the Microsoft of 2000,” when the company was openly critical of open source, which was an emerging competitive worry at the time.

“This Microsoft today is one that uses a hell of a lot of open source internally,” said Olds. “I believe Microsoft will be a good steward for GitHub, but I think they are going to have to prove themselves to the open-source community.”

Forrester analyst Diego Lo Giudice said he sees strengths in the deal.

“With the acquisition of GitHub, Microsoft more importantly doubles down on the open-source community, adding to its already large acquired community with LinkedIn,” he wrote. “[Microsoft CEO] Satya Nadella seems very serious in moving Microsoft more and more toward open source … [but] will the open source community trust him?”

Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, is a bit more guarded. Although the announcement was surprising, “it also aligns well with the company’s strategy of increased outreach to and engagements with developers. It’s also far more defensible and less controversial for Microsoft under Satya Nadella’s leadership than it ever would have been when Steve Ballmer was in charge,” when wide criticism of open source was in full swing within the company.

Still, “the obvious issue of concern is how GitHub’s clients will respond” to the move, said King.

“Along with being a popular repository for developer projects of all sorts, GitHub is also a commercial venture whose $200 million or so in annual revenue depends on subscription and other fees,” he added. “Alienate enough customers and the value of Microsoft’s hefty $7.5 billion tender offer looks pretty skinny, so it’d be wise for the company to tread lightly.”

And yet despite Nadella’s leadership and his assurances that GitHub will remain open and responsive to the development community once the deal is finalized, “it isn’t hard to imagine hardcore open-source advocates walking away from GitHub” due to the acquisition, said King.

“Exactly where they’ll end up is harder to say, but it’s not like other online developer resources and services platforms don’t exist; however, I believe professional developers and teams [that] work with a variety of platforms are likely to be more open-minded about the deal, at least for the time being.”

One channel partner, Randy Bias, vice president of technology and strategy at Juniper Networks, called the GitHub acquisition “a great deal,” adding that Microsoft has long valued and enabled developers.

“GitHub is a natural extension of what Microsoft has always been about,” he said. “This deal proves we are deeply into the cloud era and that businesses must embrace and transform themselves or face the consequences.”

Microsoft’s CEO Explains the Move

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced the acquisition on the company’s blog. He argued that the move is designed to deepen his company’s commitment to developer communities.

“More than 28 million developers already collaborate on GitHub, and it is home to more than 85 million code repositories used by people in nearly every country,” he wrote. “From the largest corporations to the smallest startups, GitHub is the destination for developers to learn, share and work together to create software.”

That includes Microsoft, he added, which is “the most active organization on GitHub, with more than 2 million ‘commits,’ or updates, made to projects,” wrote Nadella.

Microsoft will not change the existing organization of GitHub and will continue to operate it independently of Microsoft’s other divisions, he wrote.

“Going forward, GitHub will remain an open platform, which any developer can plug into and extend. 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.”

What GitHub will gain through the acquisition is more use by enterprise developers through deeper connections with Microsoft’s direct sales and partner channels, as well as direct access to Microsoft’s global cloud infrastructure and services, wrote Nadella. Another gain for GitHub will be the delivery of Microsoft’s developer tools and services to new audiences, he added.

“Most importantly, we recognize the responsibility we take on with this agreement,” continued 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.”

Under the acquisition, current GitHub CEO and co-founder Chris Wanstrath will become a technical fellow with Microsoft when the deal closes later this year.

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About the Author(s)

Todd R. Weiss

Todd R. Weiss is an award-winning technology journalist who covers open source and Linux, cloud service providers, cloud computing, virtualization, containers and microservices, mobile devices, security, enterprise applications, enterprise IT, software development and QA, IoT and more. He has worked previously as a staff writer for Computerworld and eWEEK.com, covering a wide variety of IT beats. He spends his spare time working on a book about an unheralded member of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves, watching classic Humphrey Bogart movies and collecting toy taxis from around the world.

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