Should we trust Microsoft with GitHub?


After a nod from EU, Microsoft has completed the acquisition of GitHub, the world’s biggest code-sharing and collaborating platform. Nat Friedman, the co-founder of Gnome project and Xamarin will take over as the CEO of GitHub on Monday.

The news of the acquisition was welcomed by the leading figures of the open source community. However, there was some skepticism towards this move.

Embrace Extend and Extinguish

Three words that we still hear from the critics of Microsoft are Embrace, Extend and Extinguish. It used to be Microsoft’s policy to embrace a competing project, extend features and functionality with Microsoft products leading to the extinguishing of the original project. The good news is open source, by design, is shielded from triple E.

  1. Microsoft itself is a user of open source technologies. Now Linux is powering networking switch of Azure cloud and it’s also the kernel used in Sphere OS, a secure platform for Microsoft IoT products. Today, Microsoft cares about the health of Linux as much as it cares about Windows NT. The reason is simple, Linux has become the foundation of next-gen Microsoft products. Just like Red Hat, SUSE and Google Microsoft would very much want Linux to remain healthy.
  2. If you know how open source works, you would very well understand that it’s immune to triple E. No single player can extinguish a project that is maintained by a diverse community of smart developers. A community that comprises of talent from companies that also happen to be Microsoft competitor. It’s naive to think that companies like Red Hat, Google, Facebook, SUSE, Canonical, IBM, etc. will let Microsoft hijack their project. Not in a billion light years. It’s an invalid fear, don’t worry about it.
  3. Even if the actual stakeholders, who are using these open source technologies in their own products, do fall asleep and let Microsoft hijack it, then you can always fork the project and regain control. The fork is the beauty of open source.

So, in either case, EEE is an invalid concern.

Microsoft may turn GitHub into a biased platform

Some critics are worried that GitHub might develop a preferential treatment for Microsoft tools and technologies. I don’t know why Microsoft would do that unless they want to kill GitHub. On the contrary, it works in favor of Microsoft to build platforms that are vendor agnostic. We live in a multi-cloud world and Microsoft knows that its success relies on the fact that DevOps engineers can us its platform with whatever tools, languages and services they prefer. A good example is Azure. As I was told by Microsoft, more than 50% virtual machines in Azure runs on Linux.

Instead of turning these users into Windows user, Microsoft has worked on creating an even playing field for developers using Linux. Microsoft baked Linux support in Windows, so Linux developers can use their native tools in Windows 10 without any compromise. Microsoft also brought their own tools like PowerShell to Linux. What it means is that more developers can now work on their Linux VMs using whatever tool they use on their local machines. GitHub won’t be any different. Microsoft would very much want everyone, irrespective of the language and tools of choice, use GitHub.

Microsoft can’t be trusted given its past

That is the reason, we can trust GitHub even more. Given its past, Microsoft is aware that every move they make will be scrutinized. A misstep will undo all the good work they have done towards becoming a good open source citizen. A small mistake will break that trust. In my opinion, Microsoft will do everything to earn more trust from users. I won’t be surprised if Microsoft open sources the code-base of GitHub itself.

GitHub will become less accountable

Till Now GitHub was funded by VC money. VC funded firms don’t have any accountability. They are at the mercy of VCs. VCs invest in a company to extract as much profit as they can from their investment. They invest for a while and then start extracting. If they don’t see enough ROI on their investment, they force companies to make decisions that are bad for the community.

GitHub has escaped that dilemma as now they have stable investment form Microsoft. At the same time, being part of Microsoft there is a higher level of accountability than there ever was. Why? As I explained above, Microsoft’s own goodwill is at stake.

Talk is easy, show me the code

Microsoft is becoming one of the biggest contributors to open source projects. It’s true the company is investing in the project that it uses in its own products, but that’s the case with every other open source player – all the way from Red Hat to SUSE. You contribute to the projects you use. That’s how you bring value and specialization to a project.

Now, the company has also joined OIN and made available all of its patents to the members of OIN. Microsoft can no longer use its patents against other Linux vendors.

The point is, we do see a change of heart. There is no emotion behind it. The new Microsoft under Satya Nadella is very realistic and pragmatic. It’s evolving with changing time. And that’s a Microsoft I can trust. So can you.

So, don’t trust all those armchair YouTubers and bloggers who are screaming that the sky is about to fall. It’s not.

It’s bright and shiny!