How generous of GitHub to slash prices and make all its core features free. So what gives? Oh right, GitLab

No coincidence that new offer closely matches that from smaller rival

GitHub is giving away its core services for free and has slashed the price of its paid Team plan by more than half – from $9 per user to $4.

The offer is generous. Before Microsoft acquired the biz, the deal with GitHub was that public (in other words, open-source) repositories were free, but private repositories were paid. Shortly after the purchase in January 2019, CEO Nat Friedman announced that private repositories with up to three collaborators were free.

Now private repositories with unlimited collaborators are free, something previously reserved for a paid Team account. You also get 500MB of GitHub Packages (reusable software bundles) storage included, and up to 2,000 minutes of Actions, automated workflows for building, testing and deploying code.

The paid-for Teams plan still exists and provides 2GB package storage, 3,000 minutes of Actions, and GitHub support. The Enterprise plan, which adds security, compliance features and large quotas for package storage and Actions, is unchanged at $21 per user/month.

Friedman said that “every developer on Earth should have access to GitHub. Price shouldn’t be a barrier,” but this is not the whole story. Microsoft regards GitHub as a strategic asset that drives businesses to Azure, while at the same time insisting that it is not tied in any way to Azure. You can see Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella dancing around this sensitive matter at its last earnings announcement. “I think of what we’re doing between Visual Studio and Azure Dev Ops and GitHub as effectively coming together as a compelling developer SaaS solution,” he said, but added that “for developers who use our tool chains, they can target any cloud, any edge device,” and then, to reassure investors, “having this tool chain will help us overall” with “developers who are going to be in our ecosystem”.

GitHub has made strong progress with integrating CI/CD (Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery) into its platform, with the introduction of Actions in August 2019. At the same time, it has long trailed its smaller rival GitLab in this respect, a company that claims to offer “the entire DevOps lifecycle in one application”. GitLab already flogs “2000 CI pipeline minutes per group per month on our shared runners” and “unlimited private and public projects and unlimited collaborators” as part of its free plan. It also may not be a coincidence that GitLab’s Bronze plan, aimed at teams, is offered for $4.00 per user per month.

Both Microsoft and GitHub will be keen to dissuade developers from jumping ship. The plan seems to be to preserve GitHub’s position as the dominant code repository, a plan bolstered in March by the agreement to acquire the npm package manager.

Friedman’s announcement means that GitHub now matches GitLab’s pricing at the low end. While that seems to fit with Microsoft and GitHub’s strategy, it is also worth noting that customers who spend little or no money are not of great commercial value, though there is always the hope that they will grow.

Professional developers are more interested in the technical details and reliability of the services than in how much they get for free. GitHub is popular, but too many incidents like this one do not help in the reliability stakes and the company will need to get that right as well as tweaking its prices.

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