5th June 2018 — Adrian Cochrane

Microsoft <3 GitHub

tl;dr; Microsoft hasn’t changed but I don’t hate them, GitHub is fine, the acquisation isn’t a big deal, but the controversy is a good thing.

I just wanted to give my thoughts on the Microsoft acquisation of GitHub, the site which hosts all of Odysseus’s code as well this very blogpost you’re reading right now. I think you’ll find my thoughts quite nuanced. But at the same time I am not yet ready to announce what I’m doing about it beyond saying that if I do leave GitHub it’ll be a gradual process.

What do I think of Microsoft?

Many in the Free Software/Open Source community have a strong aversion to Microsoft, and for good reason. But personally I don’t view them as any worse than any of the other dominant companies in our field. I have no special hatrid.

But Microsoft wants us to think they’ve changed, which they have but in superficial ways. Fundamentally when it comes down to it, the ability collaborate isn’t what I value in releasing Free Software (that’s a very major nice-to-have) but rather the accountability it grants you over me. And Microsoft (as well as GitHub) appear to have their values the other way around.

Plus Microsoft wants to improve their image.

It’s very nice for others that they’re working collaboratively to improve and create developer tools, but the only thing I want to see from them is for the entire Windows source code to be available online. Instead they’re pivoting to the “cloud” which, and you may be surprised to hear this from a browser vendor, only makes their old issues with proprietary software worse.

The cloud, or as I prefer Somebody Else’s Computer(s)1, gives you no control over what software is running on it — you just have to trust the server operator. Plus it inherently spies on you. Whereas with native code you can build it from source yourself and perform a binary diff. Few do but it’s still a vital check-and-balance that the SEC doesn’t give you.

Which again isn’t to say I hate Microsoft, but that I’m not yet convinced they’ve changed. And it’s also not to say SECs don’t have their uses, but that native should be more trusted.

What do I think of GitHub

GitHub does have their faults, but overall I have no qualms about them. They may be a proprietary SEC, but as they’re a SEC I don’t care one bit whether they’re proprietary or opensource. It’s enough that we’ve got GitLab, CGit, Gitea, etc as opensource alternatives we can use if we want to self-host. And GitHub has great reasons to be an SEC2! Afterall they facilitate communication between us developers, and they do that well.

So the real problem with GitHub is not with their offerings. It’s the simple fact that we’re all using it! It’s the fact all of us developers have made it such a massive platform that Microsoft wanted to buy it. It’s that by doing so we developers have locked ourselves in a silo just as we’ve been trying to help others escape from their’s.

And it is a bit ironic that this all started from Linus Torvalds trying to escape from the constraints of his proprietary relationship to BitLocker for kernel development.

P.S. It’s worth remembering that GitHub has always been a freemium service, and as such business-wise we’ve always been just cheap advertising.

What do I think of the acquisation

Honestly I don’t think it’ll actually turn out to be a big deal. Microsoft wants to do well by us. They can’t afford not to.

But the controversy is a great thing! It’s driving people back out to smaller community sites (or GitLab.com. I love that it’s acceptable once again for projects like GNOME and FreeDesktop.Org to move back to their self-hosting. So in conclusion I must say Thank You Microsoft!

For the meantime I’m staying.

P.S. Please don’t let this acquisation drive another schism between us. I doubt it will though. P.P.S. Hey GitHub, the tight coupling of acquisation isn’t the sort of collaboration that happens here on GitHub.

  1. In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series, there was a concept of a SEP-field whereby you can hide even entire mountain ranges by making it Someone Else’s Problem. I think this parallel fits.
  2. What I consider to be a great reason to be a SEC is if it’s some sort of communication that can’t happen locally.

@ 2018-06-05 16:38:39 +0000

Talk Page for Microsoft <3 GitHub — Odysseus Development Blog