Open Sourcing of Obsidian

I’d like to add my observation that for consumer apps, open-sourced applications are most often sub-par compared to close-sourced ones.

The most popular, well designed, well tested, and well supported consumer applications are almost always close sourced:

  • Microsoft Office and Google Docs are universally used, and stuff like Notion is becoming increasingly popular, as opposed to LibreOffice.
  • Outlook and Google Calendar. I haven’t heard of any popular open sourced alternatives.
  • Adobe Photoshop, the gold standard of photo editing, as opposed to something like GIMP.
  • Sketch and Figma. I haven’t heard of any popular open sourced alternatives.
  • Windows and macOS, both having huge market share for consumer desktops, as opposed to Linux.
  • Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, takes up pretty much most of the market. There are great open sourced alternatives but none of them are popular, and most you have to setup your own hosting.

The rare good open-sourced consumer apps usually have huge corporate backing, and are often ad-supported or makes the company a lot of money in other ways. I’m talking about things like Google Chrome/Android (Google makes billions of ad money form those indirectly), and Facebook’s family of products (also ads).


It’s easy to make a lot of the same arguments for the other side as well.
E.g. I don’t know how Obsidian exactly is developed but I reckon it’s quite easy for a competitor to decompile and therefore to steal the code. So being closed source doesn’t really help you here.
However you can make the same argument for the people like me who want the app to be open source. Just decompile it and have a look (this propably isn’t fully legal).

And your last post, well quality can mean many things not just a pretty UI.

Anyway, in the end I think it’s best that you close this thread and we agree that Obsidan have made up their mind about this matter.


I apologize, apparently I did a poor job explaining what I had in mind with my “ethical” comment–it seems to be understood differently than I intended, I didn’t want to guilt-trip anyone, sorry it came across that way.

I don’t want you to go out of business either. Your application and services are excellent so I’d love to see Obsidian succeed for the long term and be able to rely on it myself for the long term. That’s why I want to pay you for them!

To consider the examples you offered, I’m not so sure they accomplish the task of showing a proprietary advantage to users or companies.

Office and Google Docs… I’d question that Notion. :slight_smile: For something comparable there is (based on LibreOffice) or its online integration with (and there are commercial services apparently succeeding around these)

Outlook and Google Calendar, there’s Evolution and a variety of other good clients, including web-based ones that are as good/useful, sometimes more elegant too. NextCloud again is an example incorporating web-based calendaring in its suite.

Photoshop, like many old proprietary applications, is truly in a dominant position with a huge privilege in the market that makes it difficult for others, equally including proprietary applications to gain a footing. Gimp nonetheless is a pretty impressive testament to open source rising to the occasion even if it still is not 100% on par. Don’t discount other impressive graphics-oriented applications that are dominant in their space like Blender, which is open source.

Sketch and Figma, I’m not familiar with so can’t address those.

Windows and MacOS… MacOS you may recall only exists because it was built on the basis of copying the open source BSD operating system and incorporates a huge amount of open source software. These companies also have a headstart and practice unfair competitive tricks. Microsoft famously was sued about that. Yet, Microsoft’s trend is increasingly to open source applications and incorporate more open source software into its products.

Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box… I don’t know about all of those but Google is a heavy open source user and contributor. The company is built on Linux servers. Again NextCloud comes to mind where you can pay for a hosted service from a provider or do it yourself (though there are others).

The Obsidian application itself exists due to the open source Electron and open formats like markdown, etc. Even its web-based services rely on open source technologies and standards. There would be no Web without those.

Being a well-supported consumer application is not equivalent to being a closed-source application. Companies can and do provide well-supported consumer applications that are open source–I’m pretty sure your own services make a good case for how that could be possible. Open source does not mean non-commercial.

Fundamentally, if you operate from the perspective of a business framework, you’d want to provide what paying customers seek. As you mentioned, you’re giving the software away for free. So you want to make money by attracting more users to pay for your services. I will absolutely pay once my right to use my computer and applications is safe and respected within my control. That right cannot hurt any user, whether they care about open source or are oblivious to it. Yet you gain, as a business, by serving an increased user population that could pay for your services. Fundamentally, your commercial interests and model would align better with increasing users by open sourcing your application.


E.g. I don’t know how Obsidian exactly is developed but I reckon it’s quite easy for a competitor to decompile and therefore to steal the code. So being closed source doesn’t really help you here.

This does stop ethical competitors. In addition to being wrong, decompiling and copying closed-source code is a significant step that creates contract and copyright liability. Sensible, ethical competitors won’t do that.

But if you were to slap an MIT license on Obsidian, then guess what? Those ethical competitors would absolutely take that code, because you would have allowed them to.


There’s a huge difference between ‘non-commercial’ and ‘a viable project that can survive’.

Let’s take Zettlr for example. That open source software reached 100,000 downloads earlier this year (source). That’s pretty good!

Yet there are only 4 people who contributed more than 10 commits in the two years that this project is old (source).

So the project is not a success in terms of a lot of contributions and help from external people. Perhaps this project is a success financially?

Well, Zettlr only has 109 patrons (source), which against the average tier of €5.17 per month is €563.53 per month (before taxes and costs). In some countries that might be a full-time income, but Zettlr’s main developer lives in Germany, which is an expensive country.

So from a community contributions and financial perspective, Zettlr’s open source model is a failure. The only way the application is still in development, is that its creator works on this project out of love, while sacrificing his free time and other activities.

Does that sound sustainable to you?


Well then use a decent license like the GPL and force them to give you their changes back. Your ethical competitors would have to follow that.


And who says they would survive if they were a business?

I reckon what he meant is actually that you can charge for software and still provide it as open source or charge for services like Obsidian already does.
Everybody always thinks Free Software has to be gratis.


Sorry, it’s not clear to me what the rationale could be for comparing Zettlr as a commercial entity. Zettlr is not trying to be that.

I would argue that it’s akin to discussing how to make money from running a hotel and claiming that a community homeless shelter proves you can’t make money by offering people a place to sleep. Yes, people can spend the night in both however the scenario and goals of each establishment are completely different. Perhaps there are things they can learn from one another but there’s no sense comparing them as commercial business models since only one of the two fit that description.

An interesting comparison that might be apt however, would probably be something like Standard Notes ( I don’t know a great deal about them (so maybe the comparison would break down at some point) but they’ve certainly been around for while, are focused on longevity, and provide a free and open source note / kb application while operating within a commercial business context (albeit the StandardNotes model provides different services than Obsidian’s).

There are business models that rely and operate on open source but the concept or practice of open source itself, is not a business model.


Not if the competitor’s product was online-only SaaS, but yes, you could use the Affero GPL variant to address that. However, as one of the handful of people on the planet who has litigated the GPL, I can tell you the GPL has a lot of warts, and I never recommend it even when the business case aligns with it–which, here, according to the actual founders and owners of Obsidian, it doesn’t.

Cheers and have a good weekend!


Thanks you as well.

I think the discussion has drifted a bit so I wanted to post a reply specifically supporting this option ( does not mention anything yet.). I am happy to pay for Obsidian if I find it to fit well into my workflow. Everyone lecturing @Silver on how to develop a product should look at Evernote, Notion, and Roam, which seem to be doing well. I want the same for Obsidian (both because I am rooting for @Silver and @Licat and because I want the tool I will use for many years to be sustainable and supported). Note that all of those tools not only keep the source closed but also have a proprietary note format.

For the context, I am a paying user of Dynalist Pro (I am assuming @Silver == Erica at, thank you for Dynalist!) and I am making small donations to for that exact reason: I want to know if the company loses interest in the project (either financial or just sells the company), I will not be left with a broken workflow. I especially became conscious about this after spending quite a while migrating CI scripts from Travis across all my OSS projects to GH Actions (unfortunately, they are way more powerful than Gitlab CI and some projects cannot simply move from Github for org reasons but it’s good to know there is an open alternative). This reminded me that free lunch does not last forever.

This! 1000 times. If you want to see the difference, try asking for support on a large OSS project (I myself have mastered how to say no politely: “Thank you for filing this issue! I am focused on other things right now but I will be glad to review and merge your PR.”). Then sign up for a paid account on Dynalist and ask Erica for help! Night and day!


Very interesting discussion. I would just like to say that @Silver and @Licat have earned my trust. What they have offered this year is paradigm changing. I cannot imagine the personal risks they are taking, but the quality of their responses here makes me willing to assume some risks too. They have eliminated or mitigated most of them for my use cases anyway.
I apologize for the tone here: I cannot arrive at a position that involves disrespect to me as a user from @Silver or @Licat.
My best wishes to all for a post covid '21…


I really like this to be open-sourced since I like to customize and make my own vault, while I see that they made this for commercial usage and they want to make a profit from it (it’s totally okay)
I could use Zettlr and try to build upon that, or just go from scratch but I think contributing and making it open source would boost obsidian and will be created faster. like this people could develop and contribute to the project (request updates) while the main team could offer commercial usage and team support if they pay. right now obsidian is free for personal use and I appreciate that, and if they are going to make it stay like this I think giving the source wouldn’t cause harm, while the devs could spend time on support for bigger clients and online infrastructure for sync, cloud and privacy

(and no, foam doesn’t work well for me)


It would absolutely cause harm as anyone could fork their work and develop competing products. This has been addressed in the thread.

I want Obsidian to stay closed source because I want the devs to keep developing their product and stay in business. It’s their right, they have expressed that they won’t go open source, and I am glad of their decision. This code is their invention, their hard work and their property and they are free to use it as they see fit. There are other open source projects on the market.


There are a few open source projects build on VS Code. Especially Memo. Check it. It is almost as good as Obsidian (just lacks the graph view and of course the plugins and maybe the block references).

The features missing in the Memo can be added as extensions from the VSCode market - like for graphs there is an extension, even for todo there is a extension that works on md.

If you are a developer, you can even contribute there to make it even better :slight_smile:

Other than that, there is are other tools as well on VSCode like FOAM and dendrite (or dendron, sorry?), I found MEMO better than both ans much similar to Obsidian.

Just in case Obsidian goes paid, I was searching for alternatives which support Obsidian like linking and even the [[ | ]] pipe syntax.


This is one of my favorite projects and a cornerstone of my structure. I would love to be able to help develop it and have no problem supporting it. I do believe open-sourcing it would accelerate its development and maybe create some alternatives based on it (not great for business). The forks question could be addressed with the license and I believe more than enough people will be using the sync and publish functions which would be invaluable for some. An open-source business model that comes to mind is red hat.

I’ve been looking for a project like this for years now and I’m so happy to have finally found one, being here since the early days. The only obstacle in sight is it not being open source. I’m incredibly thankful for Obsidian and development has been unbelievably rapid. I’m here to offer my support for open-sourcing it and making it the go-to knowledge management system of the future. :slight_smile:


There are issues with open source. If the “community” does not get excited and take it up it dies. There is just no incentive to add new and exciting features. Just go to GitHub and look at all the open source projects no one updates. KillerWhale is right, Obsidian belongs to the Obsidian team. Why would they make it open source, just to have some company swoop in and make money off a spinoff; VSCode. I know what you’re going to say, “VSCode is free”. You don’t think MS is making money off VSCode? No one works for free. You want to help support the project, help the developers? Toss a bit of coin their way. Just my two cents.



One doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the other.
Closed source companies fail as well you just don’t see their remnants out in the open.

Beside they would still develop the product on their own. It being Open Source just would allow the community to help. No one so far argued that Obsidian should become a community project.

And as it was said before:

  • Open Source software doesn’t have to be gratis
  • They could choose a license which would permits them to keep the code.

It’s interesting how this biases are always coming up.


I love the idea of free and open source software. I find that in many cases open source products are better for me than proprietary. I have been using Linux (mostly Mint, MX) on all my PC’s for many years because it’s superior in many ways to OSX and Windows. I use Thunderbird, Firefox, Nextcloud over Google Drive or One Drive, Bitwarden for passwords, etc.

But in some cases open source is not better and cannot deliver what’s required, for my purposes, in the time I need it. As an example, my favorite note taking app, prior to finding Obsidian, was Joplin. It’s really great, has excellent developers, great community and features are added and refined regularly, even quickly. Despite that, after years of waiting it still hasn’t manged to deliver what I need. I’d still rather use Joplin than Evernote, Onenote, etc despite the missing features.

In many cases, I will choose a product with less features in exchange for privacy and configurability. Its not the closed source nature of many products that make them ‘bad’ but the ethics and philosophy of the developers. In the case of Obsidian, it may not be open source, but it is a superior product made by people with great ethics. Their philosophy and ethics are not just given lip service on their website but are unmistakably present in the product, in their design decisions and community involvement.

Capitalism is not going away anytime soon, what we need are more pioneers like the Obsidian team, proving that businesses can be successful and ethical at the same time.


I don’t see any reason why the company should give up all the hard work they did.
The notes are in standard format, no one is stopping you from making a competitive product (if you can figure out how to make money on it).