Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
🎵 The song for this post is Still More Fighting, by Nobuo Uematsu, for Final Fantasy VII. 🎵
Acquisition was inevitable
GitHub raised $350m of that explosive-growth VC money. When a bank gives you a business loan, they expect it back + interest over time. But Venture Capital wants giant wins, and they want them soon. Unless you failed to notice that GitHub plays the Hot Tech Company playbook (become a market leader and make unit economics work later, use VC money on ergonomic chairs + stickers as if you were already hugely profitable), this shouldn't surprise you. You either get acquired by a titan, or you IPO, but that second path requires transparency about your financials and even with the pricing changes two years ago I really doubt it would have been the right play. Besides, with Blue Apron's disaster IPO and Snap's volatile IPO fresh in people's memories, it's pretty unlikely GitHub would have. It's not the popular move.
So! The game becomes less "oh no they got acquired! 😱" and more "given that they had to get acquired by a tech titan, what does it mean that it was Microsoft?"
I'm pretty glad it was Microsoft
Microsoft has committed many evils, but I've liked a number of strategic decisions they've made in the last few years. VS Code succeeded at what Adobe initially tried to do with Brackets and a similar thing to what GitHub tried with Atom: releasing a cross-platform world-class text editor that's hackable with web technologies. It's dead-easy to get Ubuntu on your Windows 10 box. For a while they were in the "top contributor" category of Linux contributors.
Even in the Terrible Days, Microsoft has cared about longevity, archivability, and backwards compatibility more than any other company I can think of. Software you wrote for Windows 95 still runs on Windows 10. You can upgrade from the original Windows all the way up. Compare this to Facebook capriciously shipping breaking changes to their API in its first few years (Ian Bogost wrote one of my favorite articles about this), or Instagram and Twitter neutering their APIs, or Apple deprecating OpenGL and letting their proprietary method be the only way to draw a triangle on a Mac. Google killed Google Code, Google Reader, Google Wave, Google Buzz, about 200 messaging apps, recently almost killing a ton of games on the Internet. Microsoft is widely viewed as mismanaging Skype post-acquisition, but it still runs, and I still use it regularly without too much issue.
All this to say, in a world where Facebook sucks so much at privacy (hey, new story today), Apple continues to close every door they can, Amazon accumulates $100b of wealth for their CEO while their fulfillment center employees pee in bottles and makes their white-collar workers cry at their desks, and Google creates a culture of the Damore memo while fumbling around uselessly… there are issues with Microsoft, but I'll take them over the others.
I also like that this may help/enable Azure, so we can have more competitors in the cloud computing space. AWS won't "lose" anytime soon, but I like having more options + competitors.
Lastly, Microsoft has historically developed many of the best and most powerful programming tools on the planet. Visual Studio is a joy; with this corpus of data I have a lot of confidence they can build some amazing tools.
I don't love GitHub
Many are afraid this will make them change, and I truly hope they do. Their product decisions are a big part of why maintainers burn out. One person getting much richer in this deal than most of the people who've toiled at GitHub for years is a toxic co-founder who heinously mismanaged a personnel situation. The company also mismanaged an employee who's worked very hard to make open source more humane. GitHub is where much of the shitty "Meritocracy" culture comes from.
(it's complicated. I know a lot of good people there too)
I have faith that appointing a new CEO can help with some of these things. I beat this drum regularly: the leadership of most VC-backed startups possess the properties required to want to start a company, and the properties to acquire VC (mostly being White and Male, being charming, having good networks), but they're not necessarily great at running companies. Microsoft might put an adult in charge now.
GitHub's product choices also alter the way we use the tech. A benign but simple example that I love is "Merge Pull Request" considered harmful, which shows another collaboration flow around Git. The reason "PR" is more-or-less synonymous with what used to be called "patch" or "changelist" is because of GitHub. There's also the myriad of takes about how we made source control distributed, only to centralize it all in one place.
Most things won't change
Eventually, we might start to see Azure integrations with GitHub. I think this will be exciting and I look forward to that later. Some folks are migrating, just like the Facebook deactivators in light of the last year, and like those migrations, it won't change much. In the short term, both sides will be focused on a making sure the transplant is accepted by the host.
So you're happy?
I'm never happy!
I joked with this initial impression:
tired: migrate your repos to GitLab!— 💣 b∀BГO 💣 (@SrPablo) June 4, 2018
wired: switch to Mercurial, re-ignite the 2008-era DVCS war, host on Bitbucket
inspired: host your own code server 😎
inspired (alt): do it all in Fossil
Most of the angst I observe is people using this event to confront realities they didn't confront at the same time before:
- Wow, GitHub consolidated a lot of power.
- Wow, these companies are in this to make money.
I wish we did more to diversify our story around version control and code hosting. I don't think GitHub solved a very wide spectrum of problems; most of us shrank our solutions to fit in the GitHub-shaped hole. I suggest you take this as an opportunity to play around with something else.
If you want to keep using Git, but want a different hosting provider:
Bitbucket has been around for years, supports Git and Mercurial, and provides largely the same functionality. It's owned by Atlassian, and plays well with JIRA and Trello if that matters to you.
GitLab is where everyone seems to be going.
If you want to host your own:
You can host your own GitLab instance, since it's open source. Alternatively, gitea.
You can try Fossil lol.
Host your own git server!
If you can stomach a PHP + MySQL installation, you can host an instance of Phabricator.
If you want to try a new DVCS:
Fossil, as above
Give Mercurial another shot, it's really pretty pleasant.
The web is supposed to be distributed. While I think we need systems-level changes to incentives and legal frameworks to truly enact change, it doesn't hurt to also, in our small way, remove power from these centralized platforms. I might take this opportunity to throw up some repos on one of my instances 😛
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