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Scott Guthrie, the man in charge of Microsoft’s cloud strategy, speaks at Microsoft Ignite 2016. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

It’s probably the central question surrounding Microsoft’s $7.5 billion purchase of coding repository GitHub: how will the owner of the world’s second-leading cloud infrastructure service treat GitHub users who prefer to run their code on other cloud providers?

In the wake of Microsoft’s announcement of the deal, everyone at Microsoft and GitHub promised to play nice to the cloud computing community, which includes rivals Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. “No matter your language, stack, platform, cloud, or license, GitHub will continue to be your home—the best place for software creation, collaboration, and discovery,” said Chris Wanstrath, GitHub co-founder and CEO, in a blog post. Wanstrath will be joining Microsoft as a technical fellow once the deal closes later this year.

Speaking with GeekWire via phone this morning, Wanstrath declined to detail his discussions with Google or Amazon about the acquisition of GitHub by Microsoft.

“I can’t get into the specifics of the conversations, but open source and open platforms are a winning business strategy,” Wanstrath said. “I think that’s what Microsoft is putting their brand and all their resources behind, and that’s what GitHub has believed for a long time.”

At the same time, in a blog post released alongside the announcement, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Microsoft “will accelerate enterprise developers’ use of GitHub, with our direct sales and partner channels and access to Microsoft’s global cloud infrastructure and services.”

The key question there is what Microsoft means by “access,” and there are good and bad interpretations of what that might entail depending on your particular view of Microsoft.

After all, with around 28 million users, GitHub usage is actually higher than the estimated total number of software developers in the world. In other words, the only way Microsoft can “accelerate” GitHub use is to get existing users to use it even more; if you’re developing software for fun or for money, you probably have a GitHub account.

Representatives for AWS and Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on their Github strategies following the announcement of the deal. Despite the rivalries, there’s actually a fair amount of overlap between products and services among the cloud rivals already: AWS supports several Microsoft technologies, including Windows and SQL Server, on its cloud. And everyone has embraced Kubernetes, the open-source cloud-orchestration project that was originally developed at Google and it still driven by many of Google’s engineers.

It seems unlikely that Microsoft will turn around and make Azure the “preferred cloud” for GitHub any time soon, based on the statements above from Wanstrath. Not only would that anger GitHub users who are using a different cloud provider for any number of reasons, it would be a breach of the trust between Microsoft and developers that the company has worked so hard to develop after more than a decade of treating software developers as a captive audience.

A Microsoft Azure data center. (Microsoft Photo)

Because developers using GitHub always have an up-to-date copy of the code they’ve developed on their local machines, and because it’s easy to sync hosted code back to those local machines, it’s actually pretty easy to switch services should Microsoft pull anything shady. Companies such as Gitlab and Glitch also offer hosted code services based on the Git open-source project, and judging by their reactions Monday morning, they’re preparing themselves for an influx of developers by throwing just the right amount of cold water on otherwise congratulatory announcements.

But what if Microsoft decides to offer developers smaller incentives to use Azure, such as granting free services up to a certain amount of usage or making it much easier to deploy code to Azure? At the most basic compute level, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between cloud services, and developers using AWS or Google out of inertia might be tempted to switch.

AWS and Google both use GitHub as a home for open-source projects they’ve contributed to the community, and offer services for customers who want to run the open-source Git project on cloud infrastructure for managing version control for their development efforts. One clear response to the Microsoft-GitHub deal would be to bolster those services in hopes of drawing Github users on AWS or Google to check out a different code repository, should they be worried about hosting their code with Microsoft.

Until Microsoft spells out exactly how it plans to work with Github users that are working with rival cloud vendors, it’s hard to know for sure how AWS and Google will react. But the deal could have kicked off a new competitive angle in the cloud wars, one that could see code move closer to the cloud vendor of one’s choice depending on what’s being offered.

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