Mission vs Strategy: Github and Open Source
Published June 4th, 2018
Today, Microsoft announced it’s 7.5 Billion dollar acquisition of Github. I want to start with a congratulations to my friends at Github — I think this is a great outcome, and Microsoft is probably one of the best long term homes for Github.
I want to address some of the negativity about the acquisition. Parts of the open source community are worried that Microsoft is going to ruin Github. I think these concerns are misplaced at a tactics and strategy level. However, at a mission level, I think it is important to compare Github to an open source foundation like the Apache Software Foundation1.
I’ve been a long term user of Github and an advocate for using it for many years. I’m also a member of the Apache Software Foundation. These are two of the juggernauts of the modern open source movement. They both are trying to encourage contributions to existing projects, they are both trying to get communities to live and grow on their platforms.
I think parts of the community is missing something important: The ASF and Github are alike in so many ways, but they have massively different missions.
Github was a venture backed, for-profit corporation. Github has used tactics and strategy to create returns is based on growing open source communities. This means as an open source community, you had a short term synergistic relationship with Github. The Github product helped your community grow and be productive. This is great. Github also had other strategies that leveraged it’s open source popularity to create business services and an enterprise on-premise product.
Github’s mission, as a for-profit corporation, is to generate a financial return. VC backing, which also mandates the generation of a return, only reinforces this mission.
Apache is a non-profit 501(c)(3) foundation. Its tactics and strategy are to provide services and support for open source communities. Seemingly, not that different from a community point of view in the short term.
Apache’s mission however, is to provide software for the public good. It’s literally the first line on the ASF About Page.
A mission is important. When people in a place change, so will the tactics and strategy.
100 years later
In 100 years, I hope the ASF is still a relevant way to provide software for the public good. I think there is a decent chance of this.
In 100 years, I don’t know if even the Microsoft brand will exist, let alone Github.
Github was never a replacement for the ASF, and at the same time, the ASF should learn from it. Github massively widened who contributes to open source. They made contributions easier. They innovated on what open source even means. They built an amazing product that I use every day.
The communities I’m part of, I believe will outlive Github. Communities can benefit from these for-profit endeavors. Synergy between their needs and the tactics of a for-profit company are good for the community. But as a community we must understand that we are part of the product, There is a benefit to the company for helping.
Github’s strategy including building an amazing product, but don’t confuse the missions.
: I used the ASF as the primary example in this post, but you can swap ASF for Node Foundation, Linux Foundation, Free Software Foundation, etc. They all have broadly similar missions around producing software and supporting communities.
Written by Paul Querna, CTO @ ScaleFT. @pquerna