The avalanche of press surrounding the acquisition of GitHub by Microsoft has ranged from near panic to exuberant optimism. While Microsoft’s transformation from the days of “embrace, extend, to extinguish” to Platinum Supporters of the Linux Foundation certainly leaves much room for skepticism, the inexorable forces of the open source movement are driving this outcome. Indeed, as software moves towards a commodity basis, with technological complexity demanding collaborative, large-scale teams, it is services that will ultimately prevail in the software market.
At Kitware, we have long promoted the strategic benefits of open source for scientific computing, the production of high-quality software through the platform strategy, and the value proposition that open source brings to customers. While we are reaping the benefits of this strategy through consulting, customization, integration, and collaborative R&D services, there remains services that a small company cannot easily provide. Namely these are large-scale computing infrastructure such as cloud storage and computing, and yes you guessed it, DevOps and project hosting services that GitHub provides.
So what does the mean? Is Microsoft becoming an open source company? Or is this a nefarious plot to extinguish the open source world? Well there is no chance of stopping the open source movement now and we all know it, including Microsoft. (The pervasiveness of Linux and derivatives is truly breathtaking – I just bought a car recently and seeing all of the open source licenses in the user manuals made me very happy.) Instead, we view this move by Microsoft – to their credit – as taking a bold step to deepen the inevitable market push towards services. I expect a deepening integration of the Company’s services, tools, and cloud infrastructure into all aspects of the software world. For example, here at Kitware we have worked alongside Microsoft to better integrate our CMake tools into Visual Studio.
For me this turn of events is good news: since even the biggest companies must adjust to the imperatives of open source. While some concern remains that GitHub may devolve into an advertising ghetto or slowly languish in capabilities, as open source developers we know that if Microsoft doesn’t deliver, the open source movement will go elsewhere; and if needed, build new tools to keep the revolution going strong. Yet it also may be that we have a new ally, and with the resources that Microsoft brings, this may be a key step towards a whole new shining era in open source software development and support services.