Open source lovin’ Microsoft to acquire GitHub: But to what end?

Open source is starting to hurt its competitors, and these same competitors know it.

At least the largest (former) proprietary tech vendor of all, Microsoft, acknowledges this, and its CEO Satya Nadella has strived to undo years of aversion towards open source since taking over in 2014; ex-CEO Steve Ballmer had called Linux a cancer in 2001. Fifteen years later in 2016, Ballmer changed his tune, but the damage was already done.

Since 2014, there is a long list of friendly Microsoft overtures towards open source and Linux – bringing Ubuntu to the Windows Store, enabling Visual Studio Code and SQL Server database on Linux… the most open source-y initiative Microsoft embarked upon however, is contributing very huge amounts of code to GitHub, a leading software development platform and host to over 80 million repositories.

GitHub is the largest host of open source code, and Microsoft has recently announced it is going to acquire it.

An open source repository does not make Microsoft an open source company, so what is the Redmond giant’s end game?

A majority of observers haven’t forgotten Microsoft’s anti-competitive behaviour over the years and are proclaiming the death of GitHub.

Only The Next Web has taken an opposing view, saying that Microsoft’s tendency towards openness now “has been beneficial both from a PR perspective, but also in terms of restoring its position as most innovative company.”

The article also reported:

Microsoft’s not about to undermine that by messing with GitHub. If it did, it would lose all the goodwill it’s garnered over the past four years,

I say, Microsoft might have a very different idea of what constitutes as goodwill; it is an extremely loose term especially if shareholders have anything to say about it.

The Open Source competition

Open source is an innovation catalyst. Microsoft recognises this as evidenced by their recent actions.

But to date, Red Hat is the only company that is successfully making profit from open source.

Back to my little chat with Red Hat’s APAC SVP and GM, Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen (DP) in San Francisco last month, nearly four weeks before Microsoft announced their GitHub acquisition.

DP had said, “We have to stay focused on customer success and customer satisfaction. The business model we have is modelled around adding value.

“And we compete with the incumbent proprietary tech vendors by taking their market share and creating new opportunities for our customers.

“Our competition is having a hard time keeping up with it, because of the nature of our business… it’s hard to compete with something that is free,” DP said emphasising that every company Red Hat competes with right now are competing with their intellectual property.

“We don’t have any (intellectual property),” DP concluded.

There are no firm reports yet, about what Microsoft has in store for GitHub or why they had acquired it at all.

But in the next few weeks to months, the open source world and IT industry at large, is likely going to find out what Microsoft’s definition of ‘goodwill’ is.

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