GitHub's new features aim for business and open-source users

Its CEO says feature development isn't an either/or problem

GitHub, the popular code repository service, has to serve two masters. It's well-known for hosting popular open-source projects, but it's also working to acquire more large and small business users to privately store and manage their proprietary code.

Those different constituencies sometimes need different things. But Chris Wansrath, the company's co-founder and CEO, told the company's annual user conference this week that building new features into GitHub isn't a matter of helping only one or the other.

It showed in the new features introduced at the conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. One was Code Review, which lets users add comments to code that people want to add to a repository. It's designed to make it easier to manage discussions and help teams ship better code.

GitHub also launched a lightweight project management feature called Projects and revamped the Profiles feature to make it easier to see how a user's contributions to a project have evolved over time.

The company isn't above building features that primarily serve business customers. Wednesday's updates also included features like the ability to keep some parts of a company's source-code repositories off-limits to services that integrate with GitHub.

For example, a tool that's only for managing issues can be written so that it doesn't ask for access to the source code in a repository. In a similar vein, organizations will be able to limit the repositories that a service integrated with GitHub can have access to.

There are also some security enhancements coming for administrators, like the ability to force all the contributors working for their company to have two-factor authentication turned on. In the future, GitHub will also allow organizations that use its cloud-hosted service to use SAML for logging in with a single-sign-on provider.

Prior to the conference, GitHub held a closed-doors meeting with a group of its large enterprise customers, who were excited about the new capabilities. Todd Berman, the company's vice president of product engineering, said in an interview that some of the features those customers were excited about were the same ones that open-source contributors had been looking for, like code review.

What's more, unifying those tools across corporate and open-source environments may help businesses work with both open and closed-source software.

"Given that open source is now being used in enterprises to a much greater degree, having features that work the same for private or public use makes a lot of sense," IDC program director Al Hilwa said in an email. "This means the same set of developers can work on different projects and leverage their skills."

But it remains to be seen whether GitHub's feature development will drive enterprises to adopt it, especially when it's competing against other products. Most large enterprises already have systems in place to manage code bases and development, and it's hard to know whether they'll be willing to rip those out and replace them with GitHub.

Tom Murphy, a research director at Gartner, said in an email that he doesn't think the changes will lead organizations to abandon their current systems. But Hilwa believes there's opportunity for GitHub because it's a good bet many companies haven't implemented modern source-control software.

Does all this translate into a good business?

Most things that people encounter every day are touched in some way by code that's been worked on in GitHub, Wansrath told the conference. But Murphy at Gartner said building developer tools isn't exactly a path to wealth for a company.

"I believe GitHub has a lot of use, I don’t believe that corresponds into account control or revenue," he said. "Developer tools … is a commodity business.”

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