Microsoft's GitHub Acquisition And The Consequences for the OpenSource Community

Microsoft & Open Source:

What to Expect After the GitHub Acquisition

Microsoft's GitHub Acquisition And The Consequences for the OpenSource Community

  • 18 November 2019

How is Microsoft Dealing With the Open Source Movement?

Microsoft put the cat among the pigeons of the open source community on 4 June 2018. The vendor used its internal news portal to announce its takeover of GitHub for US$ 7.5 billion. The responses ranged from panicked accusations of commercialization to delight at the possible professionalization. This controversy is understandable from a historical perspective. Many active developers are deliberately seeking to put distance between themselves and the industry giants like Microsoft, its Windows operating system and the matching Office suite.

It is currently impossible to predict precisely what plans Microsoft has for the platform. Everyone involved in the deal is at pains to stress that the open source philosophy will continue to range right at the top. But if the programmers and their code remain, the corporation will certainly have the opportunity to drive the development of its own products and open source strategies. It remains fair to ask nevertheless: Will all roads in the open source segment eventually lead to Microsoft, at least in the medium term?

Why is Microsoft’s Expansion in this Field Relevant?

Increasing numbers of companies are investigating the issue of open source software, whether for reasons of cost or of security. But the idea is equally relevant at government level, as shown by the example of Schleswig-Holstein, a federal state in Germany where the switch to and use of open source software is being prepared for rollout in 2020. The foreseeable potential (“it cuts costs”) is the principal driver here. But the fact that there are also inherent risks – for instance the legal venue – makes the plan to start migration in just two years a fairly ambitious target.

Naturally, this phenomenon is observable beyond the borders of Germany as well. A recent survey in Switzerland, for example, interviewed companies about their attitudes toward open source software. The findings indicate that one third of the respondents believe that open source software has an increasingly important role to play.

GitHub’s own business model makes it unlikely that Microsoft will attempt to access these companies through the back door and distribute its user interfaces in a slimmed-down form.

So What Does it Mean for Companies?

Professionalization in this field would be a bright prospect. Microsoft could dismantle potential obstacles by introducing clear structures and licensing rights. On the other hand, though, the idea behind investments in this magnitude is rarely charitable, and users of the platform are certain to believe, at the back of their minds at least, that the giant from Redmond will attempt to sell its own developer software.

The takeover will automatically mean an enlarged business field that can bring significant progress for knowledge workers, as well as in regard to code resources.

And the opportunity to address a new – so far generally skeptical – target group might contribute significantly to Microsoft’s future efforts in the area of open source. But only the coming months will show what precisely the acquisition will mean for developers and companies that use the code.

Nonetheless, it is important to clarify the potentials and risks at this stage already, especially if a company is considering the use of open source software as an alternative to Microsoft products. In this case it would be well worth the effort to analyze the requirements that are placed in the software and its licensing terms as early as possible.

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