Microsoft Buys GitHub – Meh

by Dave Michels

Microsoft hit an emotional nerve with its announcement of intent to acquire Github. The uproar has to do with Microsoft being a mega for-profit software company being incongruous to owning the emblematic safe-harbor of the open-source community.

Get over it.

Big corporations buy anything and everything that is 1) successful and 2) potentially synergistic.

It really isn’t that incongruous. Consider the following TalkingPointz:

  1. Microsoft has been targeting and working with developers since its inception.
  2. Microsoft tried to build its own GitHub alternative (CodePlex), but shut that down in March 2017. It has since become the largest corporate user of GitHub (and no one complained about that).
  3. Github is not just about open source. It is also used for prive code respositories and even has on on-prem “GitHub Enterprise” product that will now see a lot more servers.
  4. The price of the acquisition was $7.5 B (it was valued at $2 B in 2015). That should make any software developer sing.

Will Microsoft screw up GitHub? Quite possibly, but not necessarily. Minecraft and LinkedIn seem to be doing ok under Microsoft’s purview.

Yes, Nokia and Skype are perceived as failures, but there’s more to those stories. Skype was instrumental in helping Microsoft become a global UCaaS provider, and Nokia never made any sense – the last bold actions of a desperate predecessor CEO.

It’s important to note that GitHub wasn’t doing doing particularly well on its own. It has been struggling to find the right leader for months. GitHub founder and former CEO Chris Wanstrath will become a Microsoft technical fellow and work on strategic software initiatives. Wanstrath had retaken his CEO role after his co-founder Tom Preston-Werner resigned following a harassment investigation in 2014.

Yes, Microsoft has a checkered past with open source. I can safely say that it will have a checkered future with open source. The line between for profit and free is complex and continuously shifting.

I will say that over the past few years, Microsoft has done reasonably well with open source. Examples include PowerShell, Visual Studio Code, the JavaScript engine within Edge, and its Xamarin acquisition are all positive examples.

I think people get confused between open and free. Microsoft is not a charity, but it will embrace an open, vibrant community if/when it helps (true for any software company). The game is changing. Microsoft Azure is a platform environment that already offers lots of dev tools and will likely align itself closer to GitHub. Plus, applications are inherently platforms too as clouds tend to be stronger when integrated to other applications or customized in other ways.

It seems like every startup wants to stick it to the man, but the startups that become successful become the man. Like Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” was more appropriate as a startup (the term was officially recently retired).