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Collaboration, better coding themes dominate GitHub Satellite

GitHub released two new tools at its GitHub Satellite virtual event: GitHub Codespaces and GitHub Discussions. Both are meant to help developers collaborate and code more effectively.

With more than 50 million developers in its fold, GitHub wants the largest ecosystem of developers in the world to collaborate and work together more effectively.

That theme marked the company's GitHub Satellite 2020 virtual conference this week, where the Microsoft subsidiary delivered two new tools for developers: GitHub Discussions, which helps developers in open source communities have intercommunity conversations inside of GitHub; and GitHub Codespaces, a new tool that enables developers to join a project and launch a coding environment immediately.

GitHub Discussions, which is still in beta, is a place where developer conversations within their open source community are captured to create an evolving knowledge base.

" [Discussions] optimizes having really good conversations among community members -- having maintainers help out newcomers, welcoming them to their project," said Max Schoening, vice president of product design at GitHub, in an interview. "It has features that facilitate this kind of exchange of information."

GitHub wants to replicate a model that has success elsewhere. "Discussions is about building community, a la Stack Overflow -- a place to ask questions and get community provided answers in very simple terms," said Thomas Murphy, an analyst at Gartner.

"We recognize that community discussion is as much a part of development as coding, so discussion contributions appear in users' contribution graphs," added Shanku Niyogi, GitHub's senior vice president of product, in a blog post.

James Governor, analyst, RedMonkJames Governor

As GitHub broadens its collaboration capabilities, it could become a preferred alternative to some popular tools.

"GitHub Discussions is all about bringing more conversations together, into the repo," said James Governor, an analyst at RedMonk in Portland, Maine. "Features are coming like Issues turning into Discussions. Discussions should be great for project maintainers. I think Maintainer Experience ... is a space in its own right. One big question: Will some development team conversations begin to make more sense in GitHub than Slack?"

Codespaces automates your dev space

Meanwhile, GitHub Codespaces will spin up a fully configured cloud-hosted development environment in seconds to enable developers to begin working on projects immediately. The tool, which is also in beta, can be configured with all the code dependencies, developer tools and extensions the developer requires or is used to.

"Codespaces is about getting developers up and running with the environment they need," Murphy said. "It is providing in GitHub an IDE -- so you can work on things quickly, just in the GitHub environment."

One big question: Will some development team conversations begin to make more sense in GitHub than Slack?
James GovernorAnalyst, RedMonk

GitHub Codespaces includes a browser-based version of the full Microsoft Visual Studio Code editor, with support for code completion and navigation, extensions and terminal access, Niyogi noted in his blog post. It also supports use of a desktop IDE, he said.

These moves are natural but not guaranteed to garner mass appeal, according to Governor.

 "We've seen plenty of efforts in the past for browser-based editors fail to catch fire, not least GitHub's own -- but the Visual Studio Code products from Microsoft are very well liked, even loved, by developers," he said. "The balance between integrated end-to-end platform and developer choice is always an interesting one, so this will be fun to watch. But overall, the integration at least is slick and appealing."

Overall, GitHub is putting together a solid platform for developers in the GitHub ecosystem, he added.

"The combination of GitHub Actions, Codespaces and Discussions begins to look very powerful indeed," Governor said. "GitHub looks like a place where more and more collaboration gets done."

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