Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Monday, June 25, 2018
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MS-GitHub Deal: Open Source Moves Center Stage 

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Microsoft’s reassurances notwithstanding, the software giant’s acquisition of GitHub, the project collaboration platform, has raised concerns about the future direction of open-source software development.

Skeptics are taking a wait-and-see approach toward the deal to determine whether the software giant makes good on its promise to promote open-source development while raising the status of developers within technology and scientific organizations.

Others were more sanguine about the implications of the all-stock transaction valued at $7.5 billion.

Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, noted in a blog post that “folks seem to conflate ‘buying GitHub’ the company and development platform with somehow buying ‘open source’….” The two of the fastest growing Linux Foundation projects—the Kubernetes cluster orchestrator and the Node.js JavaScript runtime—were developed on GitHub. “Microsoft does not own Kubernetes or Node.js as a result of this transaction,” Zemlin said. “Project copyright owners retain their ownership of their code.”

“I expect generally good things,” Zemlin added. “Microsoft has the means and the expertise to make GitHub better.” Zemlin also praised Microsoft’s decision to name Nat Friedman, former CEO of Microsoft’s Xamarin unit, as chief executive of GitHub.

In announcing the deal on June 4, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) pledged to retain GitHub’s “developer-first ethos,” adding that the new unit would operate independently to “provide an open platform for all developers in all industries.” Microsoft backs the Linux Foundation, the Apache Software Foundation, the Open Source Initiative and other open-source efforts.

The company estimates more than 28 million developers use GitHub’s collaboration platform, that includes more than 85 million code repositories.

In a statement released after the GitHub acquisition was announced, David Nalley, the Apache Software Foundation’s vice president of infrastructure, said the open-source group “is happy to see that Microsoft has pledged its support for the many communities that are established at GitHub.

“Many of our project communities make use of GitHub’s services and tools as part of our mission to provide software for the public good, and we look forward to their continued support,” Nalley added.

The GitHub deal generated some grousing among web developers about potential conflicts of interests and concerns about changes in the way the GitHub operates. Nevertheless, some, especially scientific users, said they were willing to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt.

Observers noted that the deal highlights the reality that open-source development platforms like GitHub are entering the mainstream. Indeed, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted that accelerating enterprise use of GitHub was among the rationales behind the acquisition.

Another, of course, is driving greater use of Microsoft Azure Cloud computing resources, observers added.

Others pointed to the key role developers are playing as companies deploy agile new microservices that enable frequent updates of distributed applications. “The way developers produce, deliver and maintain code has changed significantly in the last ten years and we applaud GitHub for being a driving force supporting the vast independent developer community through this evolution,” said Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of GitLab.

Zemlin of the Linux Foundation argued that the GitHub deals completes Microsoft’s transition from a seller of proprietary software to a champion of open-source development. “If you haven’t noticed, Microsoft has been opening up a ton of code and has been hiring top developers who are deeply engaged in open source,” he noted.

 

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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