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GitHub courts devs with unified GitHub Enterprise, free repos

GitHub wants to grow its base with its offer of unlimited free private repositories for users of GitHub's free plan and enhancements to the enterprise version of its hosting service.

GitHub, arguably the most popular hosting service for code version control, has changed the rules of its free plan and beefed up GitHub Enterprise to entice more developers.

Changes to GitHub's free plan enable users to have unlimited free private repositories, so developers can support private projects that are visible only to collaborators. The catch is the free plan will only allow a maximum of three collaborators.

This ceiling is fine for independent developers and small teams building projects, though it will likely restrict enterprise use to line-of-business teams that build limited projects or departmental teams that launch pilot or exploratory efforts. Enterprise developers likely use the paid enterprise versions of GitHub, which already provide private repositories, said Edwin Yuen, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) in Milford, Mass.

"This is more for very small projects that needed the private repos, possibly until they were ready to get into a more public position," Yuen said. "But I think the unlimited private repos are a great move for the broader community."

Edwin Yuen, analyst at ESGEdwin Yuen

In light of GitHub's acquisition by Microsoft for $7.5 billion last year, others see the new GitHub strategy as the hook to upsell developers into the Azure cloud service.

"Microsoft is reorienting [its] entire business to facilitate Azure and online services," said Richard Minerich, CTO of Safe Banking Systems, based in Mineola, N.Y. "You can see it almost across the board with their products. Microsoft dev tools aren't a core business; they're levers to facilitate other parts of the business."

Moreover, Microsoft wants to push GitHub into its installed base. Free is a good way to initiate enterprise adoption; If customers see value, they'll likely pay for it, but most Microsoft customers still must learn open source and GitHub, said Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research.

These license changes also show Microsoft's willingness to continue to support open source software development and make the platform more accessible to startups and small businesses, said Ryan Duguid, chief evangelist at Nintex, based in Bellevue, Wash.

Before GitHub proposed offering unlimited free private repositories, developers who used GitHub had to go to other services, such as Atlassian's Bitbucket code management system, to get something similar, which meant having to support two different platforms.

GitHub Enterprise stretches to the cloud

Microsoft is reorienting [its] entire business to facilitate Azure and online services ... Microsoft dev tools aren't a core business; they're levers to facilitate other parts of the business.
Richard MinerichCTO, Safe Banking Systems

In addition to the free unlimited private repositories, GitHub has combined its GitHub Enterprise product, which was essentially the on-premises version of GitHub, with its Enterprise Cloud, formerly GitHub Business Cloud, and Enterprise Server, formerly known as GitHub Enterprise, the company said in a blog post.

The unified service's support for Git and GitHub in a cloud or self-hosted configuration provides a hybrid option for enterprises.

"It offers businesses the license flexibility to use either model and possibly both or shift between the two," ESG's Yuen said. "I'm also hopeful that this means the two offers will sync up in terms of features and capabilities, which they currently do not."

That consolidated licensing model for hybrid deployments is something Microsoft has mastered in recent years, Duguid said.

"I expect to see these moves accelerate GitHub's growth and relevance to a broader market and in the process result in an increased investment in the platform over the coming years," he said.

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