Why Microsoft's GitHub Deal Isn't a Sign of the Apocalypse

Fear not, developers. The open source development community will thrive, no matter who's running the show.

John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author

June 6, 2018

3 Min Read
Image: Pixabay

The news that Microsoft is acquiring GitHub for $7.5 billion shouldn’t come as a shock to developers or anyone else. Despite significant progress over the past few years, the software giant still needs to move boldly beyond its Windows roots, as well as past largely unsuccessful, attempts to win developer community support.

By picking up GitHub, Microsoft immediately becomes a major force in open source software development. As of June 2018, there were 28 million developers in the GitHub community, as well as 85 million code repositories, making it the world's largest host of source code.

Still, it’s easy to understand why developers generally mistrust Microsoft. Many bitterly remember former CEO Steve Ballmer's infamous 2001 quip that "Linux is a cancer." Yet the Microsoft that's absorbing GitHub is no longer Ballmer’s bumbling giant. The days when Microsoft could bounce its substantial weight around to wreck perfectly good ventures, such as Skype or Nokia, are now as dead as Clippy. Under Satya Nadella's leadership, Microsoft is absorbing innovators and building on their success rather than trying to contort them into something that the company imagines they should be. With GitHub, Microsoft has every reason in the world to develop a close, mutually beneficial relationship with coders and absolutely no reason to tick them off.

Microsoft's recent acquisition track record should give coders hope. The company's 2016 LinkedIn acquisition, for instance, has gone about as well as anyone could have expected at the time. Outside of some links to Microsoft Office, one would hardly know that Microsoft is now running the show. The same can also be said of Microsoft's 2014 acquisition of Minecraft-creator Mojang. Despite loud protests and much rending of garments by many in the Minecraft community, the video game sandbox remains as popular as ever.

What many GitHub developers fail to realize is that their friendly community was going to be acquired by someone anyway — either that or face eventual liquidation. The private company, CEO-less and still feeling the effects of a workplace discrimination charge, was burning through money with no immediate prospects of additional venture capital funding or launching an IPO. It's just as well that Microsoft stepped forward with piles of cash to make things better. Would GitHub developers feel any more loved in the hands of an Apple, Google or Oracle? Really?

Remember, too, that even if Microsoft actually does revert back to its bumbling old days and somehow manages to run GitHub into the ground, the open source coder community is not without viable alternatives. GitLab, a GitHub rival, recently boasted that it has seen a 10-fold increase in the number of developers moving their repositories over to its service. And if GitLab somehow drops the open source ball, it's inevitable all the young stallions will likely find yet another place to hang their backpacks.


About the Author(s)

John Edwards

Technology Journalist & Author

John Edwards is a veteran business technology journalist. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous business and technology publications, including Computerworld, CFO Magazine, IBM Data Management Magazine, RFID Journal, and Electronic Design. He has also written columns for The Economist's Business Intelligence Unit and PricewaterhouseCoopers' Communications Direct. John has authored several books on business technology topics. His work began appearing online as early as 1983. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he wrote daily news and feature articles for both the CompuServe and Prodigy online services. His "Behind the Screens" commentaries made him the world's first known professional blogger.

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