Microsoft, GitHub, and the Power of Corporate Support of Open Source

Let me start by saying that I’m a massive advocate, contributor, and supporter of many open source communities, while also working in my role for a technology vendor who provides a commercial product that also supports many open source platforms.  The reason that matters is that I’m not saying this without an understanding of the inner workings of both the open source community (people), the contribution process for code, sponsorship, and more (process), as well as a growing knowledge of implementations and architectures which use and contribute back to open source tools (technology).

There is news (technically a rumor until a few hours from when this posts which will confirm the news), that Microsoft is buying GitHub.  What is also happening is the unfortunate rise in negativity around this purchase.

  • Microsoft contributes heavily to open source products
  • Microsoft staffers are also strong contributors personally to many open projects
  • Microsoft is using open source GitHub to create their own open source products!

What interest does Microsoft have in buying GitHub?  Well, to start with, how about the exact same interests that the GitHub founders and investors have, which is to build a platform which (as the mission statement said) is designed around people and the way the collaborate:

Code is about the people writing it. We focus on lowering the barriers of collaboration by building powerful features into our products that make it easier to contribute (GitHub Mission Statement – partial)

Nothing in there about being 100% open and never being bought by a large technology vendor, right?

Corporate Support is a Significant Factor in Open Source Growth

Many projects have succeeded, or at the very least gotten larger access to resources in order to grow as a result of great companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Google (Ummm Kubernetes anyone?), RackSpace, Juniper Networks, VMware, and others.  That support come in sponsorship of foundations that help us collaborate as an organization, for event hosting, meetups, and paying for developers to be able to contribute time to open source projects while being paid by these very vendors.

I won’t go further with justification or details.  You can easily research the adoption lifecycle and see where corporate support entered in, and where broader adoption occurred.  Even projects which may appear to not be influenced by “big tech” vendors have been supported by letting developers contribute their time, code, and advocacy, while those developers and evangelist/advocates are paid by Microsoft, Google, AWS and other vendors.

Microsoft today is not the Microsoft of the past.  Even Microsoft of the past was probably pale in comparison to what some other big vendors who are lauded for open source support have done which is counter to the apparent interests of open communities.

If you feel the need to get your code off of GitHub because Microsoft is buying them, I’m afraid you may not realize how much corporate backing is heavily responsible for the success of open source products, including the very ones you may be creating.

Sorry for the rant.  Happy to take this conversation with anyone to a podcast if you have strong opinions on it 🙂



2 thoughts on “Microsoft, GitHub, and the Power of Corporate Support of Open Source”

  1. Sorry, but anyone saying that Microsoft is just like any other random company supporting open source is completely ignorant of its history, both in terms of work “culture” (if you can even call it that) and official statements and wars it was fighting. Yes, maybe they are trying hard to change, but, why should WE now be the ones to accept that neutrally? THEY are responsible for their bad reputation around open source, not we are.

    • Valid point, and agree that culture is to be shown in how they integrate GitHub along with other open initiatives. I’m long on the hopes for Microsoft to keep the growth of GitHub and support of open technologies. The interesting thing is that many who are complaining about the move to bring GitHub in don’t realize that GitHub was not even an open company to begin with, and many commenters work for organizations which do not carry the torch for open communities and open tech.

      You’re right in that the reputation is known for a reason. Time will tell. I stand by your opinion in this. No reason for automatic acceptance without it being proven out.


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