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Microsoft has acquired GitHub in a $7.5 billion stock deal, prompting the entire programming community to catch fire and speculate wildly. Depending on who you ask, this is either the end of days or a bright new beginning for modern programmers.
While GitHub caters overwhelmingly to coders, it is also the home to a vast variety of other creative projects. At the end of 2017, Github had over 24 million users, and despite the supposed turmoil, this number is still growing.
But what does all of this mean? What are the pros and cons of this buyout? And what changes can you expect as a GitHub user? Let’s dig in a bit.
What Happened? Microsoft Bought GitHub
After days of rumors of negotiations between GitHub and Microsoft, the merger was announced on June 4 through a statement on the Microsoft website. GitHub followed suit with a post on the official Github blog.
This paragraph quite neatly outlines one of the major points brought up about this merger: Microsoft has not been historically the obvious choice for involvement with a beacon of open-source software development like GitHub.
So does GitHub and its users have anything to fear from their new tech behemoth overlords?
It is, of course, impossible to say. The metaphorical ink is barely dry on the figurative contract. What we can do, however, is look at some of the possible good and bad outcomes of this high profile buyout.
How the GitHub Buyout Could Be Bad
Microsoft has a rocky history with open-source software development. Anyone familiar with the company’s practices of spreading FUD and propaganda to push its agenda might worry whether they can be trusted with something they appeared—until recently at least—to want to undermine.
Microsoft is widely believed to have been a significant player in the SCO-Linux dispute, for example, though their exact role was never conclusively proved.
Microsoft Abuses Privacy
Open-source philosophy and individual privacy frequently go hand in hand. It’s unsurprising that Microsoft’s privacy issues are a sticking point for some people.
A 2015 Ars Technica article outlined how even when a user has opted out of all data collection, it still finds ways to send your information to Microsoft servers. While much of this data is likely harmless, the exact nature of some of the data transmitted is not apparent, and this could certainly be worrying to some.
Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype was not without controversy either. Nine months after the takeover, service was embroiled in the drama surrounding the NSA’s Prism program:
This kind of behavior is not something that fits with GitHub’s way of working. With the sheer amount of data hosted on the site, security and privacy are legitimate concerns.
Microsoft Takeovers Haven’t All Been Smooth
Another aspect that may worry some people is Microsoft’s history of takeovers. In 2014 Microsoft took over Nokia in a €5.44 deal. Having worked with Nokia since 2011, it seemed natural to make the Windows Phone a real competitor to iPhone.
Things did not work out like that. Despite a small but loyal user base, the Windows Phone never took off. We stopped covering Windows Phones back in 2014 due to waning interest; this turned out to be a good call.
Microsoft cut ties with Nokia in 2016, selling the once $300 billion company back to its former employees for just £350 million. Following this, Microsoft closed the door to Windows Phone users, ending official support for the phones in 2017.
Microsoft’s takeover of Rare Games was a sore point for many lovers of the UK developer. While many argue that Microsoft Killed Rare, it is certainly true that the team which produced Banjo Kazooie, Conkers Bad Fur Day, and GoldenEye 007 amongst many others is no more.
There are several more examples like this. It might be unfair to say a Microsoft takeover is bad news, but skeptical GitHubers have reason be gloomy.
There are probably many other reasons why this merger is a terrible idea. Rather than list them all, GitHub XP: Home Edition covers it quite nicely.
Regardless of where you stand, this site is hilarious, and creator Gian Johansen wins the meme war for now.
Enough doom and gloom. This takeover could become a good thing too. Here’s why.
How the GitHub Buyout Could Be Good
Microsoft seems to be a very different company these days. Since CEO Satya Nadella took over in 2014, his attitude seems very different to previous CEOs. The company appears to be more involved with open-source and developer culture.
Whether this is an actual change of position or an attempt to woo potential developers back onto the Windows platform is unclear. Regardless of the reasons, Microsoft is changing.
.NET went open source in 2016, and Visual Studio Code is, perhaps ironically, available on GitHub in a public repository. Not only is the project open, but VS Code runs on Mac and Linux. This seems a far cry from the behavior expected from Microsoft of old.
The Azure cloud services Microsoft provide already work with most of the big Linux vendors, and recently announced Azure Sphere will run on Linux. This hardly seems believable when compared to the “Linux is cancer” days; maybe Microsoft really does love Linux after all.
GitHub’s Biggest User Is… Microsoft
One point that many who are upset seem to miss is that Microsoft is GitHub’s biggest user.
According to an analysis performed by Felipe Hoffa, Microsoft has 1,300 employees regularly working with over 800 repositories on GitHub. They blow everyone (including Google) out of the water, as you can see from the Data Studio report:
GitHub Was Struggling
GitHub has always sat in a strange place. Given how integral it is to development on all levels, you would expect it to be a huge financial success. Despite huge venture capital funding, GitHub lost $66 billion in 2016, and until the recent takeover had been without a CEO since 2017.
GitHub does not make money from public repositories, and the money made from selling private repository space to individuals and businesses is apparently not enough to make the company a success.
Some worry that Microsoft is going to meddle with the inner workings of GitHub. It is equally as likely that this takeover will mean the service remains more or less unchanged for the majority of users, with Microsoft taking care of the business orientated GitHub Enterprise.
Who Else but Microsoft?
If you are of the opinion that GitHub didn’t need buying out, then there is nothing which will soothe your fears, but consider this: GitHub was likely going to be taken over at some point. If not by Microsoft, then by who?
GitHub was also in talks with Google as a potential buyer, but would this have been a good idea given their internal policies which allegedly cause stagnation? Or it could have been Facebook, with their terrible history of privacy blunders, and perhaps worst of all, Farmville.
There are plenty of reasons to be happy or sad about the GitHub takeover, but one thing is for certain: it could have been much worse.
If all of the noise surrounding this story has your interest piqued and you are just starting out, we have an excellent resource for learning about Git version control. And if you are a seasoned pro who honestly feels GitHub has breathed it’s last, there is always BitBucket!