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Yesterday GitHub announced pricing changes that give all paid plans unlimited repositories and change plans to a pricing-per-user model. Individual developers are the most likely customers to benefit from the changes, but many organizations will see an exponential increase in pricing.

GitLab, a competitor in the Git repository hosting space, immediately addressed disgruntled GitHub customers with a pricing comparison on the company’s blog. Co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij noted that the three main players in this space, GitHub, Bitbucket, and GitLab, all offer unlimited private repositories but that it doesn’t cost companies more to host additional repositories for a given user.

Sijbrandij attributes the change to the increase in the microservices model, a development approach that breaks software down into smaller, related pieces that communicate with one another via APIs.

“As more and more developers, teams, and organizations seek out the advantages of microservices, they’ll need more repositories to support this new code structure,” Sijbrandij said. “Basically, the more microservices you have the more repositories you’ll need. That is why it is not surprising that GitHub has announced free private repositories.”

Sijbrandij referenced several examples where GitHub’s pricing changes hit open source organizations hard, including Open edX, a non-profit with a large number of contributors, which posted the following on Hacker News:

I work for a non-profit open source organization that collaborates on github. We have lots of people who aren’t employees, but have signed a contributor agreement with our organization and contribute changes to our software. Our bill will go up from $200/month to over $2000/month with this new pricing. We can afford it (it’s still a small fraction of our AWS bill) but it will force us to look at other alternatives. Github’s code review tools are already pretty mediocre compared to other tools like gerrit, and we’ve long since moved off of GitHub issue tracking due to lack of features compared to JIRA.

Sijbrandij emphasized that the team at GitLab believes “everyone can contribute,” a mission which drives GitLab.com’s pricing structure to offer unlimited private repositories, unlimited contributors, and unlimited CI runners for free. The on-premises solution, which includes enterprise features and support, is what keeps the lights on at the company. GitLab.com, the free, hosted version, runs the same enterprise edition software but is, by Sijbrandij’s own admission, still struggling with sluggish performance.

Earlier this year when open source project maintainers confronted GitHub with an open letter on issue management, GitLab differentiated itself by responding to the situation with a new initiative focused on “making GitLab the best place for big open source projects.”

Nearly a month later, GitHub finally responded with an apology to open source project maintainers and a promise to address their concerns with a steady string of changes.

GitHub has not given any indication of reversing its recent decision to change its pricing structure. However, with competitors like GitLab putting on the heat, GitHub may be forced to make some changes to its paid plans. At the very least, it could inspire the company to address concerns about organizations having to pay for inactive users and perhaps spur GitHub to offer customers the ability to distinguish between collaborators on open source projects and users who simply need access to private repositories.

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