Gits

How come I’ve not yet commented on the announcement that Microsoft is buying Github?  OK, pure laziness.  Same reason so much else slips by unblogged.  You’ve got me bang to rights there.

Actually I have commented, albeit elsewhere and not in public.  The question posed to us was whether we had any reaction to it, and the answer was No.  Or at the very least, not yet.  A change to the terms and conditions would call for a reaction.  A change to the user interface and APIs likewise, especially if it involved loss of functionality such as, for example, any tie-in to the new proprietor’s choice of tools.  But a change in ownership doesn’t in itself call for a reaction.

Of course, this is not no-change.  It is a change to the risk profile of using github.  In the past it was VC-backed, and their business was to build a business of real value in the market.  To do that, they had to develop a service of real value to its users (i.e. us), which they did over the years.  But an eventual buyout by some bigco was always on the cards, and in retrospect Microsoft was indeed a likely candidate.  With Microsoft the risk is that it could fall victim to a hostile or misguided corporate agenda.

Microsoft itself has assured us of its good intentions.  I believe those assurances are meant sincerely: the value of Github is its developer community, and they have nothing to gain by alienating us.  They know that a proportion of the userbase will abandon them in a knee-jerk reaction: I guess they factor that into their plans.  On the other hand, no matter how good their intentions, a company the size of Microsoft inevitably encompasses multiple views and Agendas, both good and bad, and internal politics.  I can’t quite dismiss the conspiracy theory that the intention of setting back the github community and a lot of important projects exists somewhere within MS!

On techie discussion fora (e.g. at El Reg), a lot of folks are taking a different view: MS will destroy github as we know it.  They cite MS acquisitions such as skype and linkedin, and others going further back.  Skype is indeed a troubling example, as they have abandoned so many platforms and users: a course of action that would certainly sound the death-knell for github.  But skype was always closed and proprietary, and it’s likely the whole thing was also thoroughly unmaintainable long before MS acquired it.  MS may have been facing an unenviable choice with no satisfactory options (abandoning the whole thing would also create unhappy users, though it would shorten the pain all round).

Taking the longer history, back in the 1980s I was reasonably happy with MS stuff.  Word seemed good at what it did.  MSVC had the huge virtue of decent documentation, in a world where the existence of TFM was a rare thing!  They first really p***ed me off around the turn of the decade, in part with Windows, but much more so when I found myself the victim of proprietary and closely-guarded software[1].  The zenith of their evilness came later in the ’90s with “Embrace and Extend”, the deliberate breaking of published standards, subversion of the ‘net, and unleashing the first great wave of malware on their own users.  Around that time they were not merely a company without innovation (they acquired new things by buying companies from Autoroute to Hotmail after others had proved an idea), they were actively smothering it.  Some think they were also behind the world’s most preposterous software company SCO’s attack on Linux, although they weren’t the only company linked to that by circumstantial evidence.  A track record that left them very short of goodwill or trust among developers.

But that was then.  Again from uncertain memory, the first indication I had of the winds of change was in 2006 when a senior MS man gave a presentation at ApacheCon in Dublin.  This was someone seeking to build bridges and retrieve something from the ashes of its reputation.  Open Source was now on the agenda, and MS – or at least some within it – genuinely wanted to be our friends.  Signals since then have been somewhat mixed, but it seems clear at least that MS is no longer the deeply Evil Empire of twenty years ago.  Indeed, I’m sure that if it had been, such great people as my Apache colleagues Gianugo and Ross would never have joined them.

From that seed (one hopes) was born the company that is now buying Github.  This will be a real acid test for their relationship with open source.  I don’t think they want to fail this one!

[1] As I recollect it, an upgrade left me with some important Word documents that simply couldn’t be loaded, and even transferring to another machine with the old version was no help.  I couldn’t even do what I’d do today: google for any discussion of similar problems, or for relevant tools.

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Posted on June 10, 2018, in free software, github, microsoft, open source. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I actually quite like Microsoft at this point. Sure, they charge through the nose, they produce a bewildering suite of products of labyrinthine complexity with scant documentation and no visible means of support, they gather uncomfortable amounts of data on their users, they lock in their customers by means fair and foul, they obscure simple functions behind layers of needless obfuscation, they make arbitrary and infuriating changes to their user interfaces…

    … But then, many of these complaints also apply to their rivals. At least with Microsoft you get to be the customer, not the product. You keep control of your own data. You have a reasonable degree of assurance that your product will continue to be “supported” until the end-of-support dates published well in advance. And you don’t have to spend days configuring it. I installed Windows 8.1 on my home computer in – well, in the time it took to read and unpack a disc.

    (But not Windows 10. “Relinquishing control of the support/upgrade cycle” is a deal-breaker for me. Which gives me until January 2023 to migrate to Linux, or such other alternative as may be attractive nearer the time.)

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