Monday’s announcement that Australian enterprise software firm Atlassian Corporation Plc. would be acquiring five-year-old New York City-based collaboration software startup Trello Inc. for $425 million USD has many users worried, but experts urging them to be cautiously optimistic.

While Atlassian presently offers a range of collaboration tools, including Jira for software developers and HipChat for group communication, Trello fills a niche of its own, adding reliable project and task organization platform to Atlassian’s toolbox, Constellation Research vice president and principal analyst Alan Lepofsky tells ITBusiness.ca – and the company’s history with previous acquisitions indicates it will remain free.

“Atlassian acquired HipChat in March 2012, and almost five years later there still is a free version available,” Lepofsky says. “So if history holds, I expect they will continue to provide a free version of Trello.”

In a Jan. 9 blog post, Atlassian co-founder and CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes emphasized the Trello development team’s “intuitive,” digital post-it note-based approach to task management as a key reason for the acquisition, noting that both companies are pursuing identical milestones: 100 million users.

“Atlassian’s mission is to unleash the potential in every team,” he wrote. “In Trello we found a group that is as dedicated to helping teams get stuff done as we are.”

Meanwhile, in a Jan. 9 blog post of his own, Trello CEO Michael Pryor called the acquisition an exciting new chapter in the story of his company, which currently boasts 19 million users, including such high-profile clients as Pixar, Google, the Red Cross, National Geographic, the U.K. government, and – full disclosure – ITWC, the parent company behind ITBusiness.ca.

A Trello board (not ITWC’s). Courtesy Trello/Atlassian.

“We’re excited about partnering with Atlassian because we both share a philosophy of empowering teams everywhere to work in their own style,” Pryor wrote. “We envision a world where hundreds of millions of people collaborate in teams however they like, with their imaginations being the only constraint for what they can accomplish.”

Not every Trello user was equally excited by the news, however, with more than one Disqus user reacting to Pryor’s blog post with skepticism, including one who simply posted a GIF of Michael Scott, actor Steve Carell’s incompetent manager from NBC sitcom The Office, shouting in panic.

Many users on Reddit’s programming board were skeptical as well, with more than one commenter admitting they were only using Trello because it was free, and that if the platform adopted a Jira-like subscription plan they would probably quit doing so.

Though neither company responded to ITBusiness.ca’s requests for comment, Atlassian’s Cannon-Brookes and Trello’s Pryor both emphasized on their respective blog posts that current Trello users, whether free or paid, would retain access to the program as a standalone service.

“I spent a lot of time with the founders of Atlassian to make sure they understood what Trello is and why people love it,” Pryor told the user who posted the Michael Scott GIF. “Your enthusiasm and support is super important to us and we (Trello + Atlassian) won’t jeopardize that. I’m sure you’ll want to see it to believe it, but give us a chance to prove it to you.”

Cannon-Brookes, meanwhile, promised that with Atlassian’s support Trello users could look forward to several improvements, including integration between Trello and Atlassian’s Jira and Confluence products, “in the near future,” a sentiment echoed by Pryor.

“In short, you can expect Trello to become even more awesome and more fun than it is today,” Pryor wrote. “We’re as committed to our original vision and brand as we were on launch day but we now have more firepower to fulfill that mission.”

For his part, Constellation Research’s Lepofsky says he looks forward to seeing Trello integrated into Atlassian’s platforms, particularly Jira tickets and HipChat’s real time communication, though his colleague Natalie Petouhoff sees reason to be cautious.

“Most acquisitions start out with the ideal that the product will remain pristine and nothing will change,” Petouhoff, also a vice president and principal analyst at Constellation, tells ITBusiness.ca. “It will be interesting to see if the acquisition of Trello by Atlassian will be the norm or the exception.”

Petouhoff acknowledges that while in today’s tech industry many firms such as Atlassian are more likely to buy other companies than encourage developers to create new software, the fact that Atlassian paid $425 million USD for Trello means it likely has a plan for making sure its investment pays off – and such plans rarely include keeping acquired software free.

“I am skeptical, but hopeful… that Atlassian will keep its word and Trello will remain free,” she says.

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