Microsoft’s $7.5 billion GitHub acquisition: Good for the IoT?
Microsoft Github aquisition
From left: Chris Wanstrath, Satya Nadella, and Nat Friedman

Microsoft’s $7.5 billion GitHub acquisition: Good for the IoT?

Microsoft has agreed terms to acquire leading software development platform GitHub. The move will see Microsoft grow the enterprise use of the platform and expand the audience for Microsoft’s developer tools and services.

Google was reportedly in the running to purchase the platform before Microsoft stepped in.

The terms of the agreement state that Microsoft will acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion in stock, likely by the end of the year, assuming the deal passes regulatory review.

GitHub’s 28 million users are chiefly developers who come together to learn, share, and collaborate on projects. The platform aids version control, project management, code sharing and integration.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella commented on the announcement:

Microsoft is a developer-first company, and by joining forces with GitHub we strengthen our commitment to developer freedom, openness, and innovation. We recognise the community responsibility we take on with this agreement, and will do our best work to empower every developer to build, innovate, and solve the world’s most pressing challenges.

A Microsoft news release reinforced the message by clarifying that, “developers will continue to be able to use the programming languages, tools, and operating systems of their choice for their projects — and will still be able to deploy their code to any operating system, any cloud, and any device.”

Nat Friedman, open source veteran, Xamarin founder, and Microsoft Corporate VP, will take on the role of GitHub CEO, while GitHub’s current CEO, Chris Wanstrath, will become a Microsoft technical fellow.

Wanstrath said:

Their focus on developers lines up perfectly with our own, and their scale, tools, and global cloud will play a huge role in making GitHub even more valuable for developers everywhere.

Reassuring words. But will everyone be convinced?

Internet of Business says

In 2001, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously declared “Linux is a cancer” and wasn’t afraid to voice his dislike of open source software. The company may have ditched the embarrassing and aggressive Ballmer – who allowed Google and Apple walk off with the mobile market on his watch – and replaced him with the subtle, conciliatory, and more effective Nadella, but this deal will remain divisive.

One reason is that – even under Nadella – Microsoft has a track record of using the platforms it acquires to push Microsoft product and marketing messages at its users, often in the most persistent and intrusive ways. LinkedIn is merely the latest and most obvious example, with daily ‘news’ feeds stuffed full of Microsoft advertorial.

Microsoft has never learned to get out of users’ way like Google and Apple have, for example, as anyone forced into a Windows OS update knows all too well. Asking it not to push messages in customers’ faces is a bit like asking Oracle to be less sales driven.

However, Microsoft’s major acquisitions have also painted a picture of an increasingly diverse and open-minded Microsoft, which recognises that it is no longer the only kid on the enterprise block.

The appointment of Xamarin founder Friedman as GitHub CEO will reassure many developers, while Microsoft’s acquisition and integration of Xamarin hints at an ability to do likewise with GitHub – if the company can learn not to turn its own customers into adversaries.

However, despite Microsoft saying all the right things about preserving GitHub’s open ethos, it’s difficult to imagine that it won’t want to exercise some control over the code repository. Given its open nature, GitHub harbours all manner of code – not least emulators that allow Xbox games to be pirated and played on PCs.

And the issue of Microsoft’s deep-seated proprietary culture will be lurking in many users’ minds for the foreseeable future.

GitHub is also a popular host for blockchain projects, including those of Ethereum and Bitcoin developers. The announcement is arguably at odds with the decentralised, open fundamentals of distributed ledger technologies. And we’ll likely see some of those who use GitHub for its ethos, as much as its features, look to other repositories.

Yet current GitHub CEO Chris Wanstrath is adamant that any persistent view that “open source and business mix as well as oil and water” is a false dichotomy. Ten years on from GitHub’s inception, we live in a world where enterprise computing is increasingly cloud based and Microsoft is the repository’s greatest contributor, with much of the code being open source.

Wanstrath has said that GitHub is about enabling collaboration, regardless of whether the code is public, private, or something in between:

From ‘Code to cloud and code to edge’, GitHub’s mission is to help every developer – regardless of experience level – learn, code, and ship software effectively.”

As a melting pot for innovation, GitHub is vital to the Internet of Things, and progress in the IoT world is dependant on developers sharing their knowledge, skills, and code – helping start-ups bring their ideas to fruition. Yet it’s also dependant on large corporations, with deep pockets and secretive R&D departments, driving progress.

If Microsoft comes through on its promise to preserve GitHub’s culture, it could finally start fixing its reputation at grass roots level. But until Microsoft proves otherwise, it’s hard to avoid the impression that it can’t help getting in people’s way.

Additional commentary: Chris Middleton.