GitHub today is the largest hosting service of its kind for IT and blockchain projects. It stores the codebase of most crypto projects, including Bitcoin and Ethereum, Apple products, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Walmart, as well as those of NASA and the U.S. government. With 24 million developers, 85 million projects, and billions of open source lines, GitHub outperformed competing services from Microsoft (Microsoft CodePlex) and Google (Google Code). From the very beginning, the project was conceived as a "social network for programmers,” where one can not only publish codes but also participate in the discussion of other developments. The history of actions on GitHub is a "CV" of a programmer. At the same time, everyone can publish open source code to GitHub absolutely free of charge, but the platform charges for storing private codes, thus monetizing the service.
Rumors that Microsoft is going to acquire GitHub appeared on Friday and immediately aroused excitement among developers who fear changes in platform policy and have hastily started to abandon ship. On Monday, Microsoft confirmed that they are acquiring the repository for $7.5 billion.
Regardless of whether the worst suspicions of GitHub residents are justified, the service will no longer be the same as it was before Microsoft came along. And what was it like? A beta version of the platform for the joint development and hosting of IT projects was launched in early 2008, when programmers Chris Wanstrath, Tom Preston-Werner, and PJ Hayett sent out invitations to their friends and acquaintances. One of the first to place code on the platform was the Ruby on Rails framework. GitHub officially announced its launch on April 10, 2008. By that time, the project had 20,000 repositories and more than 2,000 users.
The position of CEO was taken over by Wanstrath, and the team worked remotely in coffee shops and from home for some time. GitHub only opened its own office in San Francisco in 2010. For four years, GitHub existed at its own expense, but in July 2012, it attracted the first investment from Andreessen Horowitz in the amount of $100 million. Then Wanstrath transferred management to Preston-Werner to concentrate on the technical development of the project, but in 2014, he returned to the post of CEO. Peter Levine, a partner of Andreessen Horowitz, who joined GitHub, noted that "despite not having a lot of people in sales and marketing," the project managed to grow into a company with more than 100 employees in four years, while "income grew by almost 300% per year, and the company reached a self-sustaining basis almost from the very beginning." In 2014, after a story with Julie Ann Horvath, Preston-Werner decided to leave the company (the former employee accused the head of harassment, which was not confirmed in the course of an internal investigation). In 2016, trying to solve financial problems, GitHub hired Mike Taylor, the vice president for finance of Tesla Motors, and in August 2017, Wanstrath announced that he would resign as CEO after he found a replacement, and will remain chairman of the board of directors. "As GitHub moves closer to 700 employees and more than $200 million in revenue, is accelerating in growth, and has more than 20 million registered users, I'm confident that the time has come to find a new CEO who will lead us to the next stage of development," Wanstrath said back then.
Now a new CEO has been found. After the completion of the acquisition procedure, the post will be given to corporate vice president of Microsoft, founder of Xamarin, Nat Friedman, and Wanstrath will move to the position of technical consultant for Microsoft. "You will be able to see how Chris and Nat imagine opportunities in a public presentation," said CEO of Microsoft Satya Nadella in an official statement concerning the acquisition of GitHub.
As Wired notes, any careless move by Microsoft (that is, any tough measures in the management of GitHub) will cost the company the relationship with the developer community that has been building up for quite some time. For example, in "recent history,” Microsoft positions itself as a complete open source advocate, releasing its own languages and programming tools, helping to adapt open source software to the Windows platform, and using Linux operating systems on its Azure cloud platform. In 2001, however, the company was marked by a sharply opposite policy: then former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called Linux "cancer" (because of the use of open source codes), and in 2007, Microsoft threatened Red Hat, a Linux-based software company, with a lawsuit. According to Quincy Larson, founder of the Freecodecamp educational site for programming, now Microsoft will establish links between GitHub and Azure so developers can launch their applications on Microsoft cloud services. And RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady notes that GitHub is a huge data store about the developers themselves and Microsoft can export data on the professional skills of millions of programmers to another of its services like LinkedIn.
All these are direct points of intersection of the interests of the "updated" Microsoft with the capabilities of GitHub. The sphere of conflicting interests of the two companies, however, is more extensive, and it is this zone that developers are afraid of. First of all, this is a matter of moderation. Microsoft will have to work out a policy regarding those repositories on GitHub that do not pass censorship or are direct competitors of Microsoft products.
The "problematic" issues are the so-called Xbox emulators. These programs allow one to "play the console" on one’s own computer. Microsoft owns the Xbox and loses profits when gamers, instead of buying their consoles, play on their computers. Such a paradigm of relations with competitors, however, can cast off Microsoft's reputation to the early 2000s, and some developers believe that this will not happen. The Czech provider of tools for developing, JetBrains, which does not plan to remove its project from GitHub or transfer it to other sites, has decided to give Microsoft a chance. "With this acquisition, Microsoft made it clear that it will continue to serve the GitHub community, as well as openness and collaboration, which are implied. While it respects this, we do not foresee any problems, regardless of whether JetBrains and Microsoft are competing in other areas," said JetBrains vice president for the protection of developer interests Hadi Hariri. Quincy Larson also decided to stay, as leaving, in his opinion, would mean a loss of the "network effect,” which makes GitHub so useful.
The next problem is censorship, both political and ethical. GitHub is a haven of many "controversial" codes. One of the repositories contains a code for faking "porn with stars" with the help of the "dip crack" AI technology: a method of deep learning allowing to synthesize human images of a high degree of similarity with the needed person. In addition, it can be used as a way of revenge or a dirty game of "faking" absolutely any person. But the code that allows one to create unethical content is not unethical in itself, and Sarah Roberts, associate professor of information science at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and content moderator, notes that censoring a code used to create controversial content is much more difficult than just banning such content (as, for example, Google and Facebook do by removing uncensored photo, video, or text materials). To remove one of the examples of unwanted content is not the same as "removing the code that could generate millions of such examples. The consequences will be different," says Roberts.
A separate problem lies waiting for Microsoft in the international sector, where "the new GitHub" will feel much less edited in terms of censorship because of Microsoft's own business interests. Like all sites containing user-generated content, GitHub has previously introduced complex moderation solutions. In 2016, the site removed the code of the Shadow Brokers team, which published information about hacker attacks carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA). The reason, however, was not the very nature of this data, but the fact that Shadow Brokers tried to sell access to additional data, which is a violation of the GitHub user agreement.
"GitHub is not an ideal defender against censorship, but it still keeps material on events in Tiananmen Square. But such materials are likely to disappear after the arrival of Microsoft," said Robert Graham, CEO of the Errata Security internet security company, referring to the article about student protests in 1989, also known as the "Tiananmen Square Massacre,” that is housed in one of the repositories in text form. It was in China that GitHub was first blocked in early 2013, but by the end of January of the same year, the ban was removed. In 2015, Errata Security released the results of a study that proved that the five-day DDoS attack on certain GitHub pages was initiated by China (these pages included the repository of the nonprofit project GreatFire, which helps circumvent China's internet censorship). And the next year, China "kindly asked GitHub" to remove some of the content, but the resource refused to do so. Now the developers are afraid that Microsoft will be more compliant.
GitHub was censored in several other countries where Microsoft's business interests lie, including Russia and India. Russia temporarily blocked access to GitHub in 2014 for describing methods of suicide. India, however, restricted access to GitHub and other resources for content allegedly published by ISIS (an organization banned in Russia).
And although at the moment, assumptions about Microsoft's future policy towards GitHub are theoretical (the company refused to disclose details until the transaction is completed), the developers have already seen what happened to a similar popular site, the SourceForge repository, after its acquisition by DHI Holdings. Because of this, many decided not to wait for Microsoft's actions. The competing service GitLab reported that by June 4, 50,000 projects had transferred materials to its platform. And on Tuesday, June 5, the most popular repository on GitHub was the "Evacuation Center,” which the very next day announced the "beginning of censorship by Microsoft”: the company removed the repository from the list of the most popular topics. "In the coming days, we plan to work together to compile a list of resources and guides on where and how best to move one’s project. The long-term goals are to create a resistance movement in defense of a free, open internet for people who serve the free and open world," the repository says.
"GitHub has always been a neutral platform that competes only with similar services such as Bitbucket and GitLab," said developer Andre Medeiros, noting that Microsoft competes with a wide range of companies that are engaged in cloud computing, browser makers, and other corporations. "I'm afraid that GitHub will no longer be neutral," said Medeiros.
A Note for the Future
The official announcement of the acquisition of GitHub by Microsoft said that "it understands the responsibility that rests on them with this agreement," and promised that GitHub "will retain its commitment to ‘the developers in the first place,’ and will continue to operate independently and will remain an open platform . . . that each developer can join and expand it." The company also noted that developers will still be able to use the programming languages, tools, and operating systems of their choice and upload their products to any cloud and any device. "We will always listen to the opinions of the developers and invest both in cornerstone and new opportunities," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.