Alcides Fonseca

40.197958, -8.408312

The impact of Microsoft acquiring Github

Microsoft has bought Github. This solves two problems for MS and two problems for GitHub.

The most insignificant improvement for Microsoft is that now they have expertise in git to solve the Windows mega-repository nightmare. The more important change is that they now have a piece of the development ecosystem that they have lost since Microsoft Visual studio became a boring concept (The recent Xamarin acquisition was the prequel for this move, more on this later).

For Github, this move has given them financial stability, as well as a new CEO. Why is this important? Well, a couple of years ago there were a string of harassment complaints at Github, including the CEO’s wife. Tom has since resigned. The new Ex-Xamaring New-Microsofty Nat comes from an open source background and has had quite a good run with Xamarin and its integration with MS tooling.

The hot question right now, is about the impact of this move on the Open-Source community, especially after a surge of project migrations to gitlab. Developers are afraid of what MS will do with Github, and are migrating to a more Open-Source alternative. While Github contributes to the community (libgit2, Atom, etc…), Gitlab develops its platform in open source (only the enterprise edition is closed source). This allows people (like me and my University) to host our own Gitlab instance, keeping all our (and our student’s) source code in-house. In case ever closes, this is a better safe, than relying on Github to survive for ever.

What I am more concerned is the impact of developers migrating to Gitlab on the community. These migrations can go either smoothly (keeping a mirror on or abruptly by deleting the repository on Github. I believe most of the cases will be the first, but I will consider the second for the sake of preparing for worst case scenario. Here’s what is going to break:

  • Github-hosted pages (within GitHub subdomains)
  • Other repositories that have the migrated repository as a sub-repo.
  • Homebrew formula’s that build from source. I assume other source-based package managers will also suffer from this (emerge, Portage and pkgsrc).
  • Python’s Pipfiles that depend on Github’s repositories will break. I assume the same for other language-level package managers.

Breaking the Cool URLs don’t die rule has a large impact on the community nowadays. A similar problem arised when _why committed online suicide and deleted all his repositories. All the ruby gems that depended on his were now broken. In his case it was an option, but you might be forced to migrate out of Github (it might close down one day if it goes out of business, or MS decides to go in other direction).

So how can one protect themselves against being too dependent on Github/MS or GitLab or whatever new fancy service? Well, it requires some DNS work. You should always own a domain that you use in your own repositories. This requires special support by Github/lab, similarly to DNS support by GitHub-pages, or what Tumblr or do. This way, you can always change git provider (assuming you have a compatible Issues API, which Gitlab does and you can migrate public keys and access). This way you can migrate safely to another provider, without breaking all the dependencies on your code. Of course, just like backups, this has to be planned ahead of time, before announcing your git repo.

Surprisingly, this is not a new problem. Back in 2009, when considering the dubious Twitter management moves, people were thinking about how to move their micro-blogging to a distributed platform, so they could have different providers. Standards were developed and in the meanwhile, most of Twitter users moved to Facebook, an even more proprietary platform.

In conclusion, just like in the past, I don’t expected anything to change. I can’t see Microsoft closing down Github or even screwing it up. I assume they will merge Atom and VSCode, which share a common Electron code-base, which is really good news for Github, because Atom was lagging behind VSCode lately. MS and Github were already collaborating on Git VS/Windows tooling, and I expect that to continue. Git hosting will stay the same for MS, probably with an EE edition on Azure. I can’t really see this going wrong over the next 7 years.