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The Startup

Let’s unpack Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub

If you are involved in open source development, you have probably heard about Microsoft’s recent acquisition of GitHub. However, if you have not, here is a quick recap of what happened.

The backstory

Let’s start from 2014. In February, Microsoft announced that its new CEO would be Satya Nadella, a cloud-focused developer that would steer the company in a completely new direction.

As the years passed, Microsoft became more open and transparent about its software development process. In 2016 Nadella even proclaimed that “Microsoft loves Linux” and went on to become a platinum member of the Linux Foundation.

This radical shift in Microsoft’s strategy — a company that once refused to embrace open source software and harshly criticized Linux — explains why the recent announcement of the Redmond giant’s acquisition of GitHub was met with relatively little surprise.

Now, let’s try and understand what this means for various concerned groups.

The open source community

As an open source developer, I am quite confident that this acquisition will have mostly positive effects on the open source community.

For starters, Microsoft has embraced open source in the last few years and has even became the most active contributor on GitHub (with almost 2 million commits). So they will probably listen closely to the concerns and requests of developers that are active on GitHub.

Furthermore, this will probably mean more integration between GitHub and Microsoft services.

What would have once been a joke is now a reality

A clear example of the path the two could follow to achieve further integration of GitHub in the Microsoft’s ecosystem is the release of the App Center in the GitHub Marketplace. This is a plug-in that allows developers to push new builds of their software to various app stores without even leaving GitHub.

Windows developers

For those who develop for the Windows platform, the acquisition will not change much. Microsoft has already many example repositories on GitHub, and its developers are very active when it comes to responding to issues.

That said, I expect to see more incentives for publishing an app’s source code on GitHub and more integration with Visual Studio — I’m talking about the classic version, not Code, which works perfectly with GitHub.

The overlapping products

Microsoft and GitHub businesses overlap more that you may think. In fact, Microsoft offers an alternative to almost every service GitHub offers.

For example, Visual Studio Team Services and GitHub itself are competing in the version control market. Visual Studio Code and Atom are pitted one against the other. And Microsoft’s recent push for Progressive Web Apps may be in conflict with Electron’s vision. Let’s analyze these cases one by one.

Visual Studio Team Services was born to solve the biggest issue with Git for large enterprises: its eternal waiting time for big repositories. For this reason, I expect both services to stay alive and well until one day when they will be completely integrated and finally become one product. However, I expect this day to be far ahead in the future.

Microsoft started developing internally VSTS because of Git’s eternal waiting time for the primary Windows repository. Source: Windows development session at Build 2018

Since its first public release in 2015, VS Code has come a long way. And for many developers, it has completely replaced Atom in their workflow.

Furthermore, Atom has various drawbacks (for example the fact that it can become painfully slow when encumbered with too many plug-ins). Also, VS Code developers now have access to a wide range of extensions (previously one of strongest advantages of Atom). And so I would say that GitHub’s solution will be the one that gets abandoned.

With the latest feature update of Windows 10, Microsoft introduced Progressive Web Apps support. Many saw this as an attempt to replace GitHub’s Electron, a framework that allowed apps developed with web technologies to run on desktops as if they were native apps.

Despite the fact that the two solutions may look similar, I think that they target two very different markets.

What I mean is that Electron continues to be useful for those who write their apps in JavaScript but want them to run only as native (for example, if they need some native feature not yet accessible by browsers).

Wrapping up

This deal between Microsoft and GitHub would have been unbelievable just 5 years ago. But now Nadella’s Microsoft is much different from the old company. Its acquisition of GitHub may be some of the greatest news for open source in years.



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Samuele Dassatti

Tech entrepreneur and award-winning UX designer. CEO at Igloo and creator of Fluently. Windows Insider MVP.