Microsoft faces wrath of developers after GitHub acquisition

It’s official: Microsoft has bought open-source developers’ beloved code-collaboration site, GitHub, for $7.5 billion in stock…

…a figure that basically transfers into ~”free”~ if stock market watchers are reading it right, particularly when it comes to encouraging more of those 28 million GitHub developers to build more cloud applications.

Hello, Microsoft Azure! That’s Microsoft’s cloud computing service, where customers rent digital resources and applications on demand and where, as the Wall Street Journal notes, Microsoft is racing to catch up to industry leader Amazon.

Microsoft says that GitHub developers work on code that sits in 85 million storage spaces, called repositories, used by people in nearly every country, from mega-corporations to wee startups. In other words, it’s an insanely popular, cloud-based Git repository with lots of bells and whistles for managing collaborative, open-source software projects. GitHub offers a free version to developers who commit to sharing code, though it began charging for private storage on the service six months after its launch. It charges corporate customers to host and run software projects: a service that includes security and identity-management features.

Microsoft has come a long way in the past 10 years, since former chief Steve Ballmer called open-source a malignant cancer: the company now says that it’s the most active organization on GitHub, with more than 200 million “commits” – in other words, updates – made to projects.

Git and GitHub are pillars of the way that much of the world’s software is developed these days, but their roots lay in the open-source and anti-Microsoft culture. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that having the beloved site acquired by the former enemy of open-source code is inspiring a bit of developer kickback, fear and loathing.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said on Monday that the acquisition is about empowering developers. Here’s how:

  • Microsoft says it’s going to “empower developers at every stage of the development lifecycle – from ideation to collaboration to deployment to the cloud.” It’s keeping GitHub as an open platform that any developer can plug into and extend. Developers will still get to use “the programming languages, tools and operating systems of their choice for their projects – and will still be able to deploy their code on any cloud and any device.”
  • Microsoft plans to accelerate enterprise developers’ use of GitHub, with its direct sales and partner channels and access to its global cloud infrastructure and services.
  • Microsoft says it’s bringing its developer tools and services to new audiences.

Forget about that cancer thing! Microsoft wants to be judged on its recent track record with open-source: it’s all in!

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.

The response from an awful lot of the open-source community: HA!

The backlash has included hundreds of developers who’ve expressed their disappointment on forums and social media.

Slashdot talked to one software developer and student, Sean, who said that he doesn’t trust Microsoft and thinks that a deal of this size isn’t in the open-source community’s best interests.

[Microsoft has] shown time and time again that they can’t be trusted.

Sean and others think that it’s likely that sooner or later, Microsoft will start a telemetry program on the code repository so it can add tracking and possibly even ads to all GitHub sites. Maybe it will even try to use GitHub in order to push LinkedIn, which is another Microsoft company.

On Sunday, Ryan Hoover, the founder of ProductHunt, said that he’s hearing a lot of unhappiness about the sale:

But besides the many, many memes about Clippy, Microsoft’s long-gone, happy paperclip assistant, dropping in to comment on developers’ work…

…there’s also plenty of support for the move. On Hacker News, for example, EnderMB said they weren’t surprised at the news, given the way things have been going at GitHub:

Restructures, scandals, and some crazy comments over the few years has led me to believe that GitHub probably isn’t the same company that the development community embraced. For that reason, I can’t see Microsoft doing a “Skype” and merging GitHub into their platforms. Developers are fickle, and if Microsoft mess with GitHub then it’s not only a huge blow to the relations they’ve been trying to build for the past few years, it’s a guaranteed way to see developers flock to the next big service (i.e. GitLab).

Since Nadella took over from Ballmer in 2014, things have changed quite a bit, and it’s not too hard to believe in his statement about Microsoft being “all in” on open source. As Motherboard points out, embracing open source fits in with his plan to remake the company into a leader in cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

But no matter what Microsoft has done in recent years, this is a story about lingering attitudes toward the company. To the minds of many, Microsoft is evil and insecurity personified because of what it did in the 90s and early 2000s. In spite of its early 2000s security-first restructure – the Trustworthy Computing initiative – the company’s reputation for poor security is based on what went before that, so it’s 16 years old.

Gates followed through on his Trustworthy Computing memo (obviously, it took a while) and it’s been dialing up the security ever since.

One example is Microsoft’s healthier approach to privacy than Google or Facebook. In 2012, it outwitted its competitors with Do Not Track, both sticking to its intention of having Do Not Track on by default in IE10 and also being true to the W3C working group’s standard of not sending a Tracking Preference signal without a user’s explicit consent… and it did so by giving users an easy way to switch off DNT and thereby getting their explicit consent …and thereby sidestepping Google and Facebook’s opposition to DNT.

This has been a season of firsts in the Microsoft/open source evolution. As Linus Torvalds once famously quipped, “If Microsoft ever does applications for Linux it means I’ve won.” Well, back in April it was left to ZDNet’s Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols to point out – “He’s won” – as Microsoft, after 43 years, announced its first Linux product – a Linux kernel in the new Linux-based Azure Sphere.

Vaughn-Nichols pointed out that Microsoft has long been building applications for Linux: for one, in 2016, the company released SQL Server on Linux.

From ZDNet:

Microsoft has also completely embraced Linux on its Azure cloud. By late 2017, over 40 percent of all virtual machines on Azure were Linux. Today, Microsoft supports over half-a-dozen Linux distros on Azure. This includes CentOS, CoreOS, Debian, Oracle Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), openSUSE, and Ubuntu.

…and those are just some examples of Microsoft playing well with open-source projects. All these years of embracing open source must mean something. But there’s no doubt it’s going to take a long time to turn anti-Microsoft attitudes around.

As the reaction to the GitHub news goes to show, many developers don’t like change very much.

Readers, your thoughts?