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GitHub launches Projects, ratcheting up dev ecosystem battle

GitHub Projects brings new features to GitHub developers, but users of other application lifecycle management tools such as Jira are unlikely to make the switch.

Microsoft's GitHub Projects enables development teams to integrate project planning and processes more fully, but migration roadblocks could limit the tool's utility to users who already work on GitHub for now.

Projects, released in beta last year and made generally available last week, adds an additional layer of functionality to GitHub Issues, a tool that helps developers track bugs, feedback, ideas and tasks in the code repository. Projects synchronizes team planning on GitHub, with automation handling mundane tasks such as issue updates. While Projects will likely attract GitHub users, developers who are using similar tools outside of the GitHub ecosystem such as Atlassian's Jira or JetBrains' YouTrack will be unlikely to make the switch, according to industry experts.

The general release of Projects implies GitHub's intent to further shift feature development left, building in more early stage development capabilities, said Jim Mercer, research vice president of DevOps and DevSecOps at IDC.

"GitHub wants to be a seamless platform for development and DevOps professionals," he said. "It started with enhancements to GitHub Issues to add project tables, and GitHub has continued to enhance the capabilities to enable prioritization, custom fields, boards, etcetera."

GitHub will get significant traction due to the added value that Projects brings to the table, such as saving developers from bouncing between tools, as everything is close to their code and where they work, Mercer said.

Mercer said he's already hearing about Project adoption or plans for adoption from development teams but noted that GitHub is entering a competitive market. Jira, released in 2002, has strong market penetration and offers more robust capabilities, which means that Projects doesn't pose an immediate threat to Jira's ubiquity, he said.

Migration is a major stumbling block

In addition to centralizing project planning, Projects includes organization features such as custom fields, board views and a spreadsheet-like table to enable teams to easily see what work has been completed and which projects are still in process.

These features aren't unique to Projects, and GitHub could face difficulty enticing outside developers onto the tool. Jira, YouTrack and Trello solve similar tasks -- such as collecting and storing ideas, enabling collaboration and status tracking plus the ability to share boards or individual tasks, said Leonid Ivankin, an Android developer at MTS group, a mobile telesystems company. 

Reconfiguring all these services and retraining employees is a very difficult and long process, even if there are migration tools from GitHub.
Leonid IvankinSenior Android developer, MTS Group

GitHub Projects also lags Jira when it comes to collaborating among disparate repositories, said Yegor Skornyakov, head of development at Alty, a product outsourcing company. While Projects is purpose-built for GitHub, Jira can integrate with repositories in GitHub, Bitbucket and GitLab, which is one reason why Alty uses Jira as its primary project management tool, he said.

Skornyakov and Ivankin agree that the logistics of switching to new platforms is difficult and inconvenient because employees may be too entrenched in other application lifecycle management tools.

For example, Jira may have penetrated deeply into a development environment along with integrated services, such as Slack -- a tool used for collaboration, Ivankin said.

Alty has also invested in the Jira ecosystem, relying on third-party apps from its marketplace such as Tempo for time tracking, Leave Tracker for vacation and sick days, and Clerk Invoices for billing and managing processes, Skornyakov said. Companies get used to using tools like these, which makes switching to a new platform more of a challenge, he said.

"Reconfiguring all these services and retraining employees is a very difficult and long process, even if there are migration tools from GitHub," Ivankin said.

However, if companies wanted to go through reconfiguration, there are no migration tools available in GitHub to help them do it. The only option currently is to start a project from scratch with a GitHub Projects template, according to GitHub. Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment concerning if or when migration tools would be available.

Ivankin said Projects may not be an attempt to directly compete against tools like Jira or YouTrack, given that developers working within other project management systems probably won't make the switch. Rather, it's a battlefield between ecosystems, the result of which is difficult to predict, he said.

Git open source commercialization

GitHub Projects and GitLab, another Microsoft-owned collaborative software development platform, have taken different paths to commercialize the Git open source project, Mercer said.

The two tools, which both offer free tiers, serve different purposes. GitLab is aimed at large DevOps and DevSecOps projects, while GitHub Projects within Issues is available for everyone working on GitHub from individuals to teams.

GitHub Projects also focuses on work management, while GitLab covers additional areas such as repositories and pipeline automation, taking a broader view of what exactly a "project" is, said Ankur Papneja, product manager at Contrast Security.

Mercer thinks that the biggest difference between the tools is more holistic. "GitLab has been working on project management and Agile planning for a while now and has more capabilities," Mercer said. "However, GitHub has more developers and code backed by Microsoft."

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