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Developers, developers, developers

3 min read

I enjoyed the contrast between Microsoft's GitHub acquisition announcement and Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference keynote.

Over the last ten years, GitHub has become the central hub for most developers. Although open source projects can use it for free, and therefore are the most visible use of the platform, many companies of different sizes use it to manage their private code, too. Git, the underlying technology that powers the whole thing, is open source, and GitHub have been pretty good stewards.

For this reason, I think it's good news that it made money. It started out bootstrapped, but over time took around $350M in venture funding. Microsoft is buying it for $7.5B in an all-stock deal - which, given that GitHub was valued at $1.5-2B not all that long ago, is a pretty good return for shareholders.

I was pretty public about my approval on Twitter, and since then I've had a few conversations about how venture capital extracted value from open source communities. I worked in open source for over a decade in total, including founding two large projects, so please understand that I love openness and the four freedoms when I say that I don't think this is true in this case. Git remains open and decentralized; projects have the ability to take their code anywhere; and I genuinely think GitHub added value over the top, through innovations like pull requests. GitHub doesn't extract value from the labor of open source contributors. It adds value to their work and makes it more discoverable, while also making the process of open source collaboration more efficient.

Do I wish GitHub was open source and community-owned in itself? Sure I do. Do I think that's a necessity for it to add value to open source communities? No. Do I think GitHub needed its $350M venture funding given its $66M loss in 2016? Yes; I do, and I also think open source communities need to come to terms with the idea that the platform it uses was made possible with this kind of funding. There's a parallel universe where GitHub continued to bootstrap, but the service would look markedly different.

Finally, I also think the funding makes further investment in open source tooling more possible, which is good news for everyone. Microsoft's stewardship will ensure its continued existence - it may or may not screw it up, but that would also be true for any incoming CEO (which the company has been on the hunt for).

In short, I'm bullish. Let's see if I'm right.