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Microsoft's former archenemy Linux is defending the $7.5 billion GitHub acquisition: 'We have all grown up' (MSFT)

Matt Weinberger
jim zemlin linux
  • Microsoft's plan to purchase GitHub for $7.5 billion doesn't sit well with a lot of programmers, who are uncomfortable with the tech titan owning a startup that powers a lot of the open source software world. 
  • But Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation — which was once at odds with Microsoft — says that the deal could be a good thing for everybody. 
  • Microsoft has gone on a charm offensive over the deal, with future GitHub CEO Nat Friedman going on Reddit to reassure users that he's committed to winning over the cynics.

When Microsoft announced earlier this week that it was buying GitHub, the startup at the center of the open source software movement, it didn't sit well with many programmers

The tech titan had spent much of the reign of CEO Steve Ballmer competing fiercely with the very notion of open source — especially Linux, the free and open source operating system that posed an existential threat to the dominance of Windows on desktops and servers alike. 

So it's a telling sign of just how much the modern Microsoft has changed under current CEO Satya Nadella that Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation, actually defended the GitHub acquisition in a blog entry published on Thursday.  

"The bottom line:  This is pretty good news for the world of Open Source and we should celebrate Microsoft’s smart move," Zemlin wrote.

Zemlin writes that any anger at Microsoft is probably misplaced, and that the company has really come around on the notion of open source. For instance, one of the first things Nadella did in his role was declare that "Microsoft loves Linux," and indeed, this year, Microsoft announced that it was building a version of Linux of its very own.

In fact, Microsoft is a financial backer of the Linux Foundation itself, and contributes to some of its projects. All told, Zemlin says, there's no cause for concern: Just because Microsoft owns GitHub doesn't mean it owns the software hosted there. And the company has the resources, and the incentive, to take GitHub itself to the next level.

Xamarin Nat Friedman

Xamarin

Still, Zemlin acknowledges that there are "small pockets of deep mistrust of Microsoft in the open source community."

"I will own responsibility for some of that as I spent a good part of my career at the Linux Foundation poking fun at Microsoft (which, at times, prior management made way too easy). But times have changed and it’s time to recognize that we have all grown up – the industry, the open source community, even me," writes Zemlin. 

The Microsoft charm offensive

Zemlin is a big name to have won over, given his position. Not everyone is convinced, though, and so Microsoft has been on something of a charm offensive. 

Also on Thursday, Microsoft VP Nat Friedman — who will take over as CEO of GitHub when the acquisition closes later this year — did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) Q&A session, with the goal of allaying some of the biggest fears and conspiracy theories around the acquisition.

Would Microsoft use its ownership of GitHub to pry into the code of competitors like Google and Facebook, who host some of their software projects there? Will Microsoft turn GitHub into an ad-supported business? Does Microsoft plan to cut support for Atom, GitHub's popular code editing software, in favor of its own Visual Studio Code? 

No, no, and no, Friedman assured GitHub's users. 

Friedman also acknowledged that for some developers, winning their trust will be an uphill struggle, and that some hardliners moved their code from GitHub to competitors like Atlassian BitBucket and the upstart GitLab as soon as the acquisition was announced. 

"Developers are independent thinkers and will always have a healthy degree of skepticism, but I admit I was sad to see that some felt compelled to move their code. I take the responsibility of earning their trust seriously," wrote Friedman.

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