​The Developer Community Reacts to Microsoft's GitHub Acquisition

Microsoft confirmed that it is acquiring Code Repository and collaboration service GitHub in a deal valued at $7.5 billion, making it the third largest purchase in Microsoft's history behind LinkedIn and Skype.

In a press statement, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella explained, "The era of the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge is upon us. Computing is becoming embedded in the world, with every part of our daily life and work and every aspect of our society and economy being transformed by digital technology. Developers are the builders of this new era, writing the world’s code. And GitHub is their home."

Rumors that Microsoft was in talks to buy the popular service, which is the largest code repository in the world, had been circulating for a week, so the news did not come as a total shock to the developer community.

But given GitHub's popularity and Microsoft's history and position in the market, the fact that there were whisperings of a GitHub-Microsoft marriage didn't mean that developers had nothing to say about the acquisition after it was officially announced. They indeed did.

Some, not surprisingly, were skeptical if not downright concerned. Many of those expressing displeasure with the acquisition pointed to Microsoft's history, which include, among other things, its anti-trust battles and its former CEO, Steve Ballmer, calling Linux "a cancer."

"Microsoft is not a company that ever contributed to my life as a Linux user and open source contributor for years. In fact, it always made life harder for me," one Hacker News commenter stated. Some also expressed concern that Microsoft might ruin GitHub, pointing to the software giant's handling of Skype, which it acquired for $8.5 billion in 2011.

Because of its past, Microsoft's relationship with the open-source community has always been a complicated and sometimes tense one, and that already appears to have translated into some user attrition. Hours after the deal was announced, GitHub alternative GitLab reported that it was seeing ten times the normal daily number of repositories being migrated from GitHub to its service.

A Different Microsoft

While it's too early to predict just how consequential any concern over Microsoft's purchase of GitHub will actually be in terms of GitHub's popularity and position in the marketplace, despite Microsoft's past, a lot of industry observers, including developers, were warm to the deal.

Some suggested that if GitHub needed a buyer, which it apparently did, Microsoft was, from the perspective of the developer community, a better suitor than other companies such as Google would have been.

Others were quick to point out that Microsoft isn't the same company and is today a lot friendlier to developers and open source. In 2014, for instance, it open sourced much of the .NET runtime and in fact, Microsoft is currently reportedly the largest user of GitHub among companies with more than 1,000 employees.

In his statement about the acquisition, Microsoft's Nadella specifically called attention to the company's embrace of open source. 

"Microsoft is all-in on open source," he stated. "We have been on a journey with open source, and today we are active in the open source ecosystem, we contribute to open source projects, and some of our most vibrant developer tools and frameworks are open source. When it comes to our commitment to open source, judge us by the actions we have taken in the recent past, our actions today, and in the future."

Nadella says that Microsoft is committed to being a good steward of the GitHub community and aims to "empower developers at every stage of the development lifecycle." To that end, he has promised that GitHub will remain an open Platform that developers can use regardless of the programming languages, operating systems and development tools they use.

On the whole, it would appear that at least initially, many if not most are accepting that commitment at face value.

Of course, Microsoft will almost certainly use GitHub to directly and indirectly promote its developer tools and cloud platform, which will make the coming weeks, months and years a lot more interesting. After all, if developers truly are the builders of this new era, as Microsoft's Nadella believes, GitHub might prove to be Microsoft's most important acquisition ever if properly leveraged.

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