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Around one month ago, Microsoft was confirmed to be willing to buy the giant software development platform GitHub for $7.5 billion. News which made the open source community around the world afraid on the future of the platform and the projects hosted on it.
It appears that many folks still do not trust Microsoft for its hostile history against open source. Steve Ballmar, the former CEO of Microsoft and one of the company’s historical figures called Linux a “cancer to everything it touches”, and GPL as a “rubbish” back in 2001. Comments which seem to be still in the memory of many folks in the open source community.
Additionally, Microsoft used to be (and still) one of the main pushers behind the proprietary software camp. Back in the days, almost all Microsoft software were proprietary and the typical stereotype for Microsoft in the minds of open source software developers was not friendly at all. Most Microsoft proprietary software still do not support Linux till this day.
Things which changed a bit after Satya Nadella became the CEO of the company and confirmed on a “heart change” regarding the company’s policy toward open source and Linux. Today, Microsoft has a huge open-source portfolio on their GitHub account containing around 2000 repositories, and according to 2016 stats, it’s the largest contributor to open source on the platform:
In 2017, it was the second one after Google.
Although of all of that, it seems that Microsoft still holds the hate given to it from the open source community. Following the announcement, thousands of users were screaming on Reddit, Twitter and all other online platforms about what’s going on:
In the following days of that announcement, thousands of repositories moved from GitHub to other platforms. But was the movement continues, rational and well-researched, or just riding up the trend? And what can we expect so far from the Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub? Should the community really be worried?
Fleeing From GitHub to Others
Many of you may not know that despite being the largest platform of open source software in the entire world, GitHub itself is not open source. GitLab is an open source alternative to GitHub, and also provides a self-hosted version of its platform. It appears to be one of the biggest competitors to GitHub so far.
Following the announcement, thousands of open source software developers moved their projects from GitHub to GitLab. The latter provides an automated tool for migration from GitHub, so in just few minutes, you can transfer your entire project to GitLab with no hassle.
Additionally, GitLab has been facing crashes and 50x errors since the announcement due to the huge traffic it was receiving. It’s absolutely hilarious to see that a competitor’s website is crashing just because the main competitor was just sold:
GitLab is not the only alternative to GitHub. Bitbucket is another popular software development platform and has thousands of customers and enterprises working on it. It provides free and paid plans, and its website currently ranks in the 900s over the most famous websites on the Internet. You can clearly see on their main web page how they market for their own GitHub importer too. Everyone is trying to get his own part of the GitHub’s cake.
But do these angry reactions do any harm to GitHub? Hardly. The GitLab stats (before they were discarded) were showing around 250K repositories that were imported from GitHub during the weeks when the news came. But GitHub has around 67 million repositories, so the number of repositories that moved away from GitHub is actually less than 0.01% the total of GitHub repositories.
The migration to GitLab from GitHub video, despite being redicously shared on Reddit and all over the web, got only 37K views. It seems that the media has been enlarging the migration process from GitHub quite a lot.
Of course, there’s no way to measure the quality over the quantity here; some repositories may be really large, and some of them may be really trivial. Also, there’s no way to distinguish how many of these are actually leaving GitHub and how many of them are mirrors, or how many of them are just for testing purposes and whether any of them will come back.
GitHub has a huge profile and is a really large company. There’s a reason why it reached the $7.5 billion price tag. Its 2017 report shows that the platform has 24 million users, 1.5 million organizations, 100 million merged pull request per year and around 45% of the Fortune 100 companies in the USA use GitHub enterprise. It’s highly unexpected that it will be anyhow affected by few dozens of free GitHub repositories fleeing away from the platform.
It is also important to note that GitLab is not that angelic solution either. GitLab is a for-profit company which will be going soon toward an IPO according to its CEO. And they have showed through the last years many cases where they failed to handle all of the eggs they have; starting from the 2017 data loss and passing through the countless number of 50x errors. There are doubts about the platform’s ability to continue providing high quality service for its current users.
Was Moving Out Needed?
In the last few years Microsoft bought Nokia, LinkedIn, Skype and now GitHub. Despite people that you see all over the Internet yelling that its acquisitions have always failed, the stock of Microsoft has been on a steady increase after Nadella became the CEO of the company and earnings are increasing quarter by quarter. In just 4 years, it went from $37 to $100:
Microsoft is growing very well in the last years, its contributions to open source are huge and with the last acquisition of GitHub, the company will become a key player basically everywhere; If you’d create a professional profile, you would use their LinkedIn. If you would make video calls or interviews, you would use their Skype. If you would want to develop software, you would use their GitHub. Nokia is also planning to get back to the smartphones market with new Android phones (which, of course, are powered by Linux). Microsoft is already a huge key player in the cloud with Azure.
In the past few years, Microsoft has opened tons of its software. You can browse its open source portfolio at opensource.microsoft.com.
That being said, it is very weird that anyone moves out from the platform before even the deal is made; Microsoft still doesn’t own GitHub, and won’t until the end of this year when the deal will be officially made. Without actually seeing what Microsoft would do with GitHub, there’s no reason for moving out yet. What was happening in the few days following the announcement is objectively over-reacting and trend riding. For GitHub, everything is normal as it was.
As a software developer, you could host your own code like many organizations do on your own instances. But it will take a lot of time and money to keep everything on track, and you would also lose visibility and easy discovery and participation that platforms like GitHub provide. Instead, we suggest providing a mirror.
What Would Microsoft Do with GitHub?
In an AMA on Reddit, the future CEO of GitHub Nat Friedman confirmed that the company will continue to support both Atom and VS Code. GitHub login is confirmed to stay too. No ads will be served on the site as well.
His response on people moving to GitLab was the following:
Developers are independent thinkers and will always have a healthy degree of skepticism, but I admit I was sad to see that some felt compelled to move their code. I take the responsibility of earning their trust seriously.
OTOH, I think it’s great that git gives developers the flexibility to move their repos like this, and I hope those who have tried out other Git hosts in the past few days will keep an open mind and consider moving back once we’ve demonstrated our commitment to openness and made GitHub even better. If they choose not to move back, that’s their prerogative and we celebrate developer choice even when developers don’t choose us.
That said, the GitHub team reports that the set of users who have migrated or closed their accounts is extremely small, and this is more than made up for by the surge of new signups and new interest in GitHub this week.
The company will try to push the enterprise plans even better to get the best out of it. And it sounds that everything will remain normal in GitHub, there’s no need to think that Microsoft would intentionally destroy GitHub or scare its users to move away from the platform.
For those of you who don’t know, Nat is a co-founder of Xamarin; A cross-platform framework for creating applications with C#. Microsoft bought the company back in 2016 and open-sourced its code, and Nat has been part of the company ever since. Nat also initialized $5000 grants for open source AI projects back in 2017, and he also worked on developing a lot of open source projects. A platform like GitHub couldn’t be in safer hands.
Open source projects which are hosted on GitHub shouldn’t really fear anything. I definitely recommends creating a mirror on other platforms like GitLab or a self-hosted Git just as a backup, but there’s no need to worry in this situation. The open source community should put aside the drama and hope the best for the sake us all.
Of course, Microsoft does have an interest in GitHub, otherwise it wouldn’t have paid $7.5 billion for it. But this interest, according to what we have seen in the past few years from Microsoft and according to the new CEO, won’t be a hassle in the way of the open source projects on the platform.
The Bottom Line
Microsoft is becoming a more important key player in the open source world day by day. The old-fashioned mentality of viewing Microsoft as “pure evil” versus the open source camp should no longer be used. Things have changed a lot in the past 10 years.
GitHub will remain as it is today but with more new features and integrations between Microsoft’s services and the platform. And it’s very unlikely that it will fall low in the few coming years.
Meanwhile, the community can just hope for the best.