- Microsoft's $7.5 billion purchase of GitHub isn't sitting well with a vocal subset of developers.
- GitHub is the center of open-source software development — but Microsoft spent the Steve Ballmer years competing fiercely with open source, and many have never forgiven it.
- Some GitHub competitors say they are already seeing a rush of renewed interest in their platforms.
- Still, Microsoft has made a serious commitment to open source, and CEO Satya Nadella has urged the GitHub community to give the company a chance.
When it comes to the $7.5 billion acquisition of GitHub, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella urged software developers to "judge us by the actions we have taken in the recent past, our actions today and in the future."
From Microsoft's and Nadella's perspective, GitHub fits right into the master plan. Microsoft has been investing heavily in open source in the four years since Nadella took the reins. In fact, Microsoft is the single biggest corporate contributor to open-source projects on GitHub, edging out competitors like Google and Facebook. Microsoft even uses GitHub internally to build some of its products.
And yet if Nadella sounds defensive, it's with good reason, as not everyone in the tech industry loves the deal. Some GitHub users are already even decamping to competitors like the venture-backed GitLab and Atlassian Bitbucket before the deal even closes.
"Microsoft buying GitHub feels like Exxon Mobil buying Greenpeace," the investor and entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky said on Twitter.
The announcement of the deal struck a nerve with developers, who haven't so soon forgotten that Microsoft spent much of the '90s and '00s trying to quash Linux and other open-source technologies. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer once went so far as to call open-source software a "cancer," though he later chilled out about it.
The Nadella-led Microsoft has spent the past several years trying to improve its image and show the world that it's a kinder, gentler company — one more willing to play nicely with others. Now, with the fourth-largest acquisition in Microsoft's 43-year history, Nadella's makeover will be put to the test as he tries to convince the GitHub community that it can trust Microsoft with such an important asset.
Some, like the longtime coder Jacques Mattheij, are concerned that despite Nadella's public commitment to open source, Microsoft hasn't really changed its stripes and will use GitHub only to its own advantage.
"I'm sure you'll be able to tell I'm a cranky old guy by looking up the dates to some of these references, but 'new boss, same as the old boss' applies as far as I'm concerned," Mattheij wrote in a blog entry after news of the acquisition broke. "Yes, the new boss is a nicer guy, but it's the same corporate entity."
Others have more immediate concerns. Microsoft doesn't have the best track record when it comes to making the most of its acquisitions. The Nokia buy turned into a total fiasco, and many users believe Microsoft has mismanaged Skype since buying it in 2011. Now, developers are concerned that Microsoft will interfere with all the things they like about GitHub.
"What I really love about this is that M$ realize the product's users are tightly wound to the brand's identity, and are hostile to M$'s," one person wrote in a comment on Hacker News. "They know they're buying a 'lifestyle brand' and that they have to keep it hip and unencumbered by a corporate behemoth or it'll become worthless."
Yet another criticism is more abstract. GitHub hosts the source code for millions of pieces of software, from personal passion projects all the way up to Facebook-created app front-end development tools. Having a $781 billion company in control of all that software is making some uneasy.
"I think what bothers me about this announcement is that anyone owns GitHub; that is, a tech giant with a lot of influence in the software world owning the largest repository of code in history," another person wrote on Hacker News. "Something feels wrong about it. I'd be as uncomfortable with it if Google or Facebook or Apple owned it."
Developers are doing something about it
In response to the acquisition, at least some developers are rushing to move from GitHub to its competitors. GitLab and the $15 billion Australian software giant Atlassian both released charts on Monday showing a surge of developers moving to their respective code-hosting services in the hours following word of the acquisition. SourceForge too says it saw a bump.
GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij told Business Insider his company had seen 100,000 code repositories moved from GitHub since Bloomberg reported on Sunday on the imminent announcement of the Microsoft-GitHub deal. In general, GitLab says it's seen about 10 times as much upload activity than normal in that time.
Sijbrandij said that for "a lot of people, this is a wake-up call." While both companies are built on the open-source Git technology — hence the similar names — GitLab offers a free open-source version of its software, and GitHub does not. In that sense, Sijbrandij says, GitHub is a little hypocritical: It supports open source but doesn't offer any back.
Those competitors aren't being shy about shading Microsoft over the deal either. In particular, GitLab has gotten the Twitter hashtag #MovingtoGitLab going, encouraging users to tell their stories of ditching GitHub.
"We compete with Microsoft across many products and have been very successful with a unique bottoms-up business model," the Atlassian exec Jens Schumacher told Business Insider. "We invest heavily in R&D to build great products that customers choose to use instead of being forced to."
Still, GitLab at least isn't writing off GitHub entirely. While Sijbrandij believes GitLab offers developers a superior toolkit, he acknowledges that Microsoft is always a powerful competitor.
"For sure, we're not underestimating it," Sijbrandij said.
The good news for Microsoft
When Business Insider spoke with Chris Wanstrath, the outgoing GitHub CEO, earlier Monday, he said the success of the $26.2 billion LinkedIn acquisition and the $2.5 billion buy of Mojang, the creator of "Minecraft," gave him optimism that Microsoft has gotten its act together regarding big-ticket mergers.
The good news for Microsoft is that several people in Silicon Valley also share Wanstrath's outlook. There's no doubt there are still many pessimists out there — but it's a sign of the times that Microsoft has its boosters too.
"Since this decision involves our — and that also means Microsoft's — livelihood and the open-source ecosystem as a whole, I'm sure that Microsoft won't f--- this up, and it will remain the GitHub we all know and love," Resi Respati wrote on the Practical Dev blog.
The popular InfoSec Twitter account @SwiftOnSecurity tweeted: "Hot take: What people do not account for is that the GitHub they love would of had to make changes to become profitable. You and the community were getting a very expensive service for free. That would not have continued forever. Microsoft is potentially the best outcome."
And for Microsoft, there seems to be an understanding that there's an uphill battle to be fought to win over the hearts and minds of a significant portion of the community. In a very immediate sense, Microsoft is already willing to commit to never force GitHub users into using Microsoft technology.
"Skepticism is totally understandable, but we're on the right path," Wanstrath told Business Insider.
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