Jay Little - Software Obsessionist
Microsoft buys Github: Whhhhhattt?

06/08/2018 17:20:44

Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably have already heard the big tech news of the week: Microsoft is buying GitHub for 7.5 billion dollars. Wow. That's a lot of pennies.

Rumors of this began swirling on the Internet last weekend and the official announcement was made on Monday morning. As you may or may not know Github, despite the closed source nature of their software and services, actually provides a lot of free services to the FOSS community in the form of hosted git repositories and the associated web accessible functionality required to work with those repositories in a reasonably efficient manner. In addition you probably need to know that I myself am I paying user of Github as I host client source code in private repositories on the Github platform.

FOSS advocates and Linux users were understandably upset over the news. At least initially. The first question we should answer is, "Why?" Well for starters Microsoft is a company that makes money by the truckload. They seem to be pretty good at doing that. By all accounts, GitHub actually wasn't very good at doing this as there is a lot of credible information floating around which indicates that they were actually going to be insolvent by the end of the year. Now if you are a FOSS advocate who understands how much value Github services actually provide to the community, your knee-jerk reaction will involve imagining a scenario in which those free services are removed from the equation. That's scary. It's even more scary when you consider the buyer in this case has a long and sordid history of waging war on the FOSS community, its products and its users.

Looking past that, let's take a moment to consider Microsoft's history of acquisitions. The results are not pretty. In fact, it's a pretty safe bet to make that ultimately this acquisition will not work out for Microsoft. Why is that? Well let's chat about a few of my favorite examples:

  1. Rare (2002)

    Most gamers are likely well aware of this one. Prior to Microsoft's purchase of Rare, they were responsible for putting out some wonderful games. A few years after Microsoft purchased them, that track record came to an abrupt end. Most of their IP was ignored and left to rot. A true tragedy in the history of gaming. Brought to you by the morons who ran Microsoft at the time.

  2. Connectix (2003)

    While you likely won't see this one on anybody else's list of failboat Microsoft acquisitions, it definitely made mine. You see, I was a paying Virtual PC user when Microsoft bought Connectix, the company responsible for the product. After Microsoft bought it, the product literally was put out to pasture. To this day, I have no idea why they bought this company because they effectively stopped putting any effort into any of their products. While they did release a subsequent version of Virtual PC, the reality is that in a year or two they weren't really updating it anymore and it began to lag behind competing products that offered features like 64 bit guest hardware support.

  3. Lionhead Studios (2006)

    Another game development shop, another tragedy. Microsoft effectively ran it into the ground after pumping out a few very uninspired sequels to Fable. Six years down the road, the company virtually disintegrated when a number of veterans decided to quit without notice on the same day.

  4. Danger (2008)

    Out of all the items on this list, this one might be the most applicable and ultimately disturbing one. Within two years of being acquired, most of the employees had left and all of the products Microsoft inherited from them or developed using their tech were cancelled. But that's actually not the worst part. I'm going to quote a rather large section on this topic from Wikipedia:

    In early October 2009, a server malfunction or technician error at Danger's data centers resulted in the loss of all Sidekick user data. As Sidekicks store users' data on Danger's servers—versus using local storage—users lost contact directories, calendars, photos, and all other media not locally backed up. Local backup could be accomplished through an app ($9.99 USD) which synchronized contacts, calendar, and tasks, but not notes, between the web and a local Windows PC. In an October 10 letter to subscribers, Microsoft expressed its doubt that any data would be recovered.

    The customer's data that was lost was, at the time, being hosted in Microsoft's data centers. Some media reports have suggested that Microsoft hired Hitachi to perform an upgrade to its storage area network (SAN), when something went wrong, resulting in data destruction. Microsoft did not have an active backup of the data and it had to be restored from a month-old copy of the server data, totaling 800GB in size, from offsite backup tapes. The entire restoration of data took over 2 months for customer data and full functionality to be restored.

    The Danger/Sidekick episode is one in a series of cloud computing mishaps that have raised questions about the reliability of such offerings.

    While most people don't recognize the name of "Danger", they probably should. If you want to understand why I fear the cloud and ultimately the massive corporations who control large swathes of it, the aftermath of that incident should prove educational.

  5. Skype (2011)

    When Microsoft bought it, Skype was one of the most valuable communication services in the world. While it's still a thing nowadays, virtually nobody uses it as their go-to messaging service. A lot of this has to do with how badly Microsoft screwed up and continues to screw up the client software, how incapable Microsoft seems to be when it comes to developing their acquisitions and how Microsoft's brain-dead marketing department has managed to dilute the Skype brand by re-branding their protocol incompatible Lync messenger as "Skype for Business". What a joke.

    In fact I just used Skype yesterday for a video conference. It was buggy as shit. When we tried to connect the call, the actual clients (one Windows, one Linux) kept dropping the call. Eventually all of the participants had to switch to using Skype within Chrome to get anything working reliably.

    How far the mighty have fallen. After spending $8.5 billion, you'd think Microsoft would at least make a token effort here. At least Skype is still a semi-functional entity though. Which is more than I can say for a lot of the other items on this list.

  6. Yammer (2012)

    Microsoft bought it for $1.2 billion and it effectively ceased to be a viable force within short order. I remember when I first worked at Paylocity in early 2015, we used Yammer briefly until more rational heads prevailed. Nobody missed it. Neither will the world at large when it finally enters the void that it so obviously deserves.

  7. Nokia (2013)

    Out of all the items on this list, this one is certainly the biggest in terms of the resulting financial disaster. Microsoft bought Nokia to ensure that they would continue to produce Windows Phone devices as rumors were swirling that they were about to dump WP in favor of Android. A few years later, Microsoft wrote off the entire purchase price of $7.2 billion heralding the final nail in the coffin of the Windows Phone platform.

  8. Mojang (2014)

    On some level, the acquisition of Mojang (makers of Minecraft), was actually one of Microsoft's most successful acquisitions. For starters, Mojang is still a cogent entity and most of the original employees still seem to work there. However they haven't done anything to develop beyond milking the franchises fan base for a few extra bucks here and there. Nevertheless, at $2.5 billion it seems clear they overpaid. I guess it could be worse though. At least I can still run Minecraft on Linux. Since the original version of Minecraft is still getting free updates, I guess that makes this the best $10 I ever spent ;)

  9. LinkedIn (2016)

    The most notable thing about this acquisition is how much Microsoft overpaid for it. 26.2 billion dollars to be exact. Like Yammer, LinkedIn is a social network of sorts, though its ultimate goal differs somewhat. Unlike Yammer, LinkedIn actually has a viable revenue stream. The best news about this acquisition is that LinkedIn has neither evolved nor degraded considerably since it happened. I still use it. I still hate it. If you disagree with hating it, you are wrong.

    On a side note, I can't help but to feel bad for Microsoft employees looking to leave the company. Must be awkward to have to use your own companies product to facilitate your departure, eh?

Okay so that's a list with a lot of failures and few passable results. However there is another side of the coin here. The reality here is that Microsoft has actually been doing some really great stuff recently. A lot of that stuff revolves around FOSS community interaction as well. Between .NET Core and Visual Studio Code, part of me still remains a fan of Microsoft. Both of those products are Free and Open Source and they are awesome.

When it comes to Microsoft's acquisition of Github, the real question that I can't yet answer is: Which Microsoft is buying Github? Is it the same Microsoft that screwed up all of the acquisitions on my cherry-picked list? Is it the same Microsoft that spent decades playing whatever dirty tricks they could to mercilessly eradicate any and all competition for the sake of increasing their own revenue? Is it the Microsoft that sues Android OEMs in an effort to get a cut of every Android phone sold? Is it the Microsoft that continues to shove a half-baked spy-ware infested product like Windows 10 down the throats of their customers? Or is it the Microsoft that is building great tools like .NET Core and Visual Studio Code and willing to work with the community in a way that benefits everybody?

Only time will tell. Personally I'm hoping for the later. As for my Github account and service, I'll be sticking around for the time being as I got about 10 months left on the year of service I recently purchased. Switching to another Git provider isn't hard, but I want to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt here and I think that you should too. At least until they give us a real reason that proves otherwise.

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