Should CDOs Worry About GitHub Buy?

Microsoft’s USD 7.5 billion acquisition of GitHub is creating ripples in the developer community.

Announced on June 4, 2018, Microsoft framed the acquisition as a good step forward for the GitHub community. Developers, however, are not too sure.

GitHub is already one of the largest reservoirs of code repositories--85 million of them in one place. Developers from startups to large enterprises continually use the platform to interact, collaborate and co-develop various codes.

“Great tool for developers to manage code updates, copy code trees and become a central repository for code through project types. Everyone uses it because of its ease of use and the ‘Pull Request’ capability,” Luis Gonzalez, a senior developer based in Asia, said.

Companies like SmartBear depend on GitHub for projects of all sizes.

“We are a major contributor to, and sponsor of, open source initiatives such as Swagger and SoapUI, and many of our users are familiar with GitHub and regularly use it as a code repository,” Ryan Lloyd, Vice President of Test and Development Products, SmartBear said.

For Microsoft, the buy opens up new opportunities. It adds GitHub’s 28 million active coders into the company's fold.

Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft claimed in his blog that his company is already the most active organization on GitHub with two million “commits.".

The buy will shore up the development strength around the company’s cloud services. It can also allow Microsoft to integrate Visual Studio Code products, Diego Lo Giudice, Vice President & Principal Analyst, Forrester said.

Overall, the acquisition signals a bold tactical shift by Microsoft to go “all in” for open source after years of targeting open source platforms under former CEOs.

“Microsoft developers will enjoy GitHub integrations with Visual Studio Code products, code analysis, etc.,” Lo Giudice said.

“Microsoft is in the position to democratize the access to source codes; not just limiting to IT or developers, but also business users who wish to partake in the development of software that meets their requirements,” Chris Zhang, Research Manager, IDC Singapore said.

For GitHub, the acquisition brings much-needed cash to shore up its own services. How it will use the new financial muscle of Microsoft to its advantage remains to be seen.

“Our hope is that Microsoft will be able to help GitHub accelerate and strengthen their marketplace and provide even more value to open source initiatives moving forward,” Lloyd said.

"GitHub developers will enjoy more innovation; with Microsoft's big muscles behind [GitHub], they will accelerate innovation," Lo Giudice added.

Some developers are not waiting to find out, however.

Rival GitLab observed a seven-fold increase in orders since the acquisition, said its founder Sijbrandij Zaporozhets. The alternate developer repository company counts Alphabet Inc’s Google Ventures, Y Combinator and Khosla Ventures as its investors. Lucrative discounts can explain part of the exodus.

A key concern is that Microsoft is a major competitor.

“GitHub developers will probably be concerned about the acquisition, and so will enterprises and software companies investing (enterprise) projects and resources into GitHub, but the acquisition, as plans get executed, will also represent a major threat to ALM and platform competition players,” Lo Giudice said.

But for the short-term, there is very little to worry. Lo Giudice sees Microsoft more interested in leveraging the vast developer community and making it prosper, "rather than have it run away."

"The hefty price tag paid by Microsoft underscores its commitment to ensuring the long-term success of the community. Deep pockets of Microsoft's will drive further innovation and improvements, i.e., wider set of development tools, cloud-native development, and presence of a worldwide sales force will drive subscriptions; also not forgetting the influx from a ready pool - enterprise developers from Microsoft," Zhang said.

There is some danger that the developer community will fragment over the respository destinations they will choose, especially with the likes of Apple throwing its support behind GitLab.

"I think fragmentation will be inevitable. GitLab reported in a day a move of over 250,000 projects to GitLab from GitHub. Of course, it depends on what the relevance of those projects is, but it is a significant movement. However, Microsoft might try to avoid the fragmentation, attempting a sane 'coopetition' and collaboration among existing and new rising alternatives," Lo Giudice said.

Zhang noted that competition will happen "no matter what." "[The move to GitLab] is more like an emotional reaction than a rational response," he said.

However, Zhang argued that digital leaders who are tapping on open source technologies should be less wary with the change of ownership. “The involvement of Microsoft will provide a confidence boost amongst enterprise developers and projects,” he added. 

Lloyd does not see any fragmentation. “We do not believe that this will result in fragmentation - our view is that Apple's GitLab announcement will result in additional options and choice for development teams, which is a good thing,” he said.

Microsoft is also a different company. "Remember that Microsoft is no longer the company we used to know a decade ago," Zhang said. 

Embracing open source and becoming "developer-first" are the new mantras in Microsoft, especially with the native support for Red Hat OpenShift on the Azure cloud.

Mostly, the ball is in Microsoft's court. What it will do next will determine GitHub's fate.

“Developers are different from business folks like from LinkedIn. They would run away fast,” Lo Giudice said. Microsoft bought LinkedIn for USD 26.2 billion in 2016. 

Even raising subscription fees will not be easy.

"GitHub is not a piece of software or platform (i.e., LinkedIn or Minecraft), it is an open source community. I don't think Microsoft would want to risk alienating a 28-million developer community by introducing higher subscription prices," Zhang said.

Gonzalez also pointed out that development is changing.

“In the end, the value of code is no longer in the algorithms but on the learnings from data. Therefore, I believe the world will be using GitHub for a long time,” he said.