Acquisition by giants
Yesterday, Microsoft acquired GitHub. I don't think GitHub is in any immediate danger of becoming obsolete or feature bloated. But we should think about what this acquisition, one of many; means.
I say many, because GitHub isn't by far Microsoft's first big acquisition. Think of Skype and Nokia a few years back, or Linkedin and Minecraft more recently. Who can blame them? It's only natural that a company continues to look for ways to improve their market footprint, especially in the tech world.
But now what? GitHub becomes one of the many products swallowed by tech giants. It will become even more difficult for smaller products to stand a competing chance. Should we, the tech industry, be worried about big monopolies growing larger and larger?
Embrace, extend, and extinguish
What better way to look at the future, than to look at the past? Many will say Microsoft isn't deploying their "embrace, extend, and extinguish" strategy anymore; but are they?
Here's what this strategy means, from wikipedia.
- Embrace: Development of software substantially compatible with a competing product, or implementing a public standard.
- Extend: Addition and promotion of features not supported by the competing product or part of the standard, creating interoperability problems for customers who try to use the 'simple' standard.
- Extinguish: When extensions become a de facto standard because of their dominant market share, they marginalize competitors that do not or cannot support the new extensions.
It sounds like a smart strategy. It may not be called like this anymore but it seems reasonable that, if Microsoft still wants to grow; they must look at how to outgrow their competitors.
We've seen them embracing a lot of technologies and platforms recently. Think of open sourcing .NET, developing VSCode, embedding Linux etc. Microsoft is doing a lot of good for the open source community lately, but you can't help but think they are also serving their own agenda while at it.
It's only guessing what Microsoft will do to extend GitHub, but we've already seen a lot of nice features added to other acquired products. Growing them to, indeed, part of the standard.
Let's not forget the obvious example though: VSCode, a direct competitor to GitHub's Atom editor. Both are built on the same technology: Electron, managed by GitHub.
So will the tech community allow a giant to extinguish all its competitors? Time will tell.
The drive for innovation
Thinking back 20 years ago, the browser wars were raging. There was a lot of competition, and with that competition came innovation. We must not forget that it was this period of rivalry between many different players, that lead to the web platform we have today. And it's a platform that grew beyond the wildest expectations of these first pioneers.
So we must wonder: what if there's less and less competition in the tech world? What if the giants, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook; only grow larger and larger? What does it mean for innovation?
It's worrisome to see that in the startup culture, it's actually one of the biggest questions right at the beginning: "what's our exit strategy?" The goal of almost every startup, from the start, is to be absorbed by a bigger company, in just a few years.
The drive for innovation gets replaced by the need for money. But we cannot afford stagnation. We must be aware that this, still very young, industry has very large odds of becoming the same as so many others.
To me, these are the thoughts behind GitHub's acquisition. And yes, they are scary.