Open Sourcing of Obsidian

What’s the simplest explanation for why Obsidian is closed-source?

There a few posts of the devs in this thread.
This is one of them.

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I remain subscribed because I enjoy a piece of over-entitled open source self-parody as much as anyone.

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I think it’s a bit ironic. Because Obsidian developers do a lot of things right by the community, the benefits are reminiscent of what in general only open source products offer. I’m guessing that’s why so many people want it to be open sourced (“so close to my ideal, but no cigar”).
But if Obsidian had started like every other proprietary product out there, e.g. as a walled garden like Notion, either these users would not have bothered with Obsidian or they would just quietly accept its closed-source nature.
I think that Obsidian is charting a new way here–and I’m ok with it as it increases the incentive for this product to remain top-notch.

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How many of you have a job and donate all of your salary/income to the customers of your employer? If you don’t then you believe you should be compensated for your labor. Apply the same standard to the creators of Obsidian.

When you create software it is the creator’s choice how to license the software. It is THEIR labor and creativity and so the choice is only THEIRS. I understand various concerns people have but Obsidian has a free version that is way less restrictive than most commercial software that have “free” versions. The creators are generous in respect to giving FULL capability of the product for free. Instead of politely asking them to change, send them your thanks for giving you this gift. RESPECT their choices.

If you don’t like the licensing terms and the lack of the product being open source you have other options. I’ve used pretty much all the other options and Obsidian and the folks behind it stand out.

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I created an account just for this. Seeing how the developers likely won’t change their minds, I’ll be moving away from Obsidian to logseq and similar open-source projects. Obsidian is extremely feature-rich, and fits my use case perfectly, but using it as a second brain (which means writing extremely private notes, journals and thoughts) would be ridiculous, since its closed-source nature means the only guarantee that my notes are truly private is the dev’s words. “We keep your data private and secure” is also what Microsoft, Google, Apple and Facebook claim; the only difference is that those companies have already been proven to collect user data, while in Obsidian’s case, there is absolutely no way to know one way or the other, besides blind trust.

There are people who want open-source for reasons such as better documentation, or community development. This, however, goes against the interests of the developers.
I want to paint a picture where Obsidian goes open-source with the objective of providing transparency, so that the project can be rightfully trusted by privacy-minded users. This approach would be in the devs’ best interests, and their reluctance to go this route means they’re either collecting data, or misunderstand the situation. I don’t mean to imply they’re maliciously selling data, nor insult their intelligence; that said, the points below show that making the code public would be a net positive, and thinking otherwise would not be logical.

  • Having the code open-sourced for the sake of letting people know it’s not collecting user data doesn’t imply taking bug reports, pull requests, or interacting with outside devs. The Obsidian developers would keep their workflow and Obsidian would be under their control; nothing would change.
  • Their business model would not be affected at all, since the revenue comes not a paid app, but paywalled additional features, namely syncing. That’s not affected by open-sourcing the project.
  • Their number of users would increase (more like skyrocket, but I’m sticking to objective language), since more and more people are becoming concerned about privacy and valuing open-source projects. There’s already a huge potential customer base that would switch to Obsidian in a heartbeat if they could verify its trustfulness, add to that the snowballing effect of those users, plus the fact that more and more people will otherwise leave the project as people get better informed about privacy. Add to this, even if Obsidian doesn’t interact with the open-source community in terms of pull requests and such, going open-source will cause it to get recommended by said community, since it’s a superior app, now usable by FOSS users.
  • I am not knowledgeable enough about software licensing to justify talking about it, but I do want to echo what other people said: propietary licenses offer absolutely no benefit when compared to non-propietary ones, regarding illegal copying of code.
  • I don’t know if there’s an open-source license that does not permit copying source code; in that case, it would offer good protection against snippet copying and forking. Not complete protection, not without lawyers, but enough of a legal threat to turn people off from doing it, to the point where the concern of people grabbing features from Obsidian would be actually much smaller than originally depicted. If such an OSS license exists that is.
  • Grabbing features from a completely different project is not an easy copy-paste, and in some cases, may actually take more work to adapt into one’s own program. In the end, this concern is valid, but less significant that it would appear at first.
  • Forking is also a valid concern, but Obsidian is not just its source code; there’s not only Obsidian Sync, but also the developer support, community, and popularity. Unless the company made a suicide move, it would not be replaced by a fork. As another user said, if users want Obsidian, they will choose Obsidian.

This approach of just releasing the code to be publicly audited, and ignoring the other aspects of open-sourcing such as accepting pull requests, has only the downside of letting people fork and use bits of Obsidian (which is not as big a problem as it would initially seem, read above), while, on the upside, gaining enormous support from the open-source community, in the form of publicity, a giant influx of new users, and many paid subscriptions.
If the Obsidian team fails to do this, eventually the project will fall behind, since other applications are already starting to compete in terms of features, while also reaping all the benefits of being open-source, not community development, but something key that Obsidian is lacking: transparency and a proper way to earn its privacy-concerned users’ rightful trust.

I will check back every now and then to see if this ever goes open-source, although many users are going to be lost to open-source alternatives, and those users may or may not come back even if this gets opened. I love Obsidian, and the sooner it becomes usable, the sooner people come back to it, the sooner it stops losing users, the sooner it will truly be able to thrive as a business for personal note-taking. I don’t believe; I know this is the best for both the devs and us users, It’s just a matter of how soon the team can realize this.

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I’d love to hear about these other projects because I myself moved away from the open source Joplin project precisely because Joplin was falling behind Obsidian.

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Or maybe they just don’t agree with your assessment?

They might be wrong. Or maybe you are wrong? Think about that!

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We have freedom of choice because of one of Obsidian’s focus on local markdown that the user controls and can use whatever tools they want to process outside of the app and take with them. I have used most of the open source apps and too many don’t keep your content as yours and have a need to “export” to get your notes not markdown and often some formatting or other nuance is lost. If you used Joplin you get this issue.

Obsidian has 4 key pillars to me:

  • content is all local and in markdown. Just local files.

  • there are hundreds of plugins and there is one to do just about anything you need

  • ObsidianI is very, very feature rich and works well cross platform (win, mac, linux, ios, android) and has a great UI.

  • it is unopinionated about how you can/should work/do knowledge management/etc

I looked at logseq and it seems to be very opinionated and uses a lot of non-standard stuff in the notes. I can see that Obsidian could add the idea of blocks into the app, but logseq seems to insist on that way of thinking (my personal view and you cna feel free to disagree). If that is your preference, great. If you want freedom and flexibility, well…

I dispute that the user base would skyrocket if Obsidian was open source. yes, many new users would be added, but i suspect most of those are more technical and the open source issue matters less to the broader market than free, feature rich and “my data is mine”. I started as a free user and decided to pay because Obsidian just delivers so much more value with less hassle and in a friendly, user oriented way.

To me the biggest issue with Obsidian is that the API changes without providing backwards compatibility and therefor breaking any number of plugins. It is hard to iterate quickly with lots of great new features AND keep API compatibility, but since the plugins are so powerful and a KEY element of value, the team would be well advised to not break APIs.

For the record, this is exactly why Obsidian is still considered beta. Locking down the API is a key step for Obsidian 1.0.

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Yeah it seems that the API is in alpha stage. Which makes sense for a brand new platform. Now, Obsidian core devs can look at the plethora of existing plugins and their needs and come up with something great rather than have locked into poor decisions early.

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Just registered to make a point regarding this being a closed source project.

I was looking for a knowledge management program and have investigated several options, as there are plenty available.

At first, I just naturally assumed Obsidian is open source. Upon further investigation, I could not find a link to Github or any alternative. Apparently it is not open source, according to what has been said in this thread.

I will therefore dismiss this program as an option for me, mainly due to aspects like the ones @bloom already summarised.

In addition to that, there are plenty of open source options available. Why would I pick this closed source one, then?

Let me be clear: I am not against closed source. I use closed source programs all over the place.

However, this program is inherently about private & personal things and you cannot make something like this closed source. It’s just not trustworthy that way.
Now, we also have plenty of open source options available, so there’s no point in using this one.

I felt like it was important to say this, because people on this forum mostly use this software for obvious reasons, so you barely can detect people like me, who glance over this and just dismiss it right away. You don’t even know how many people you have lost, because they did not engage in this community in any way. I am just one of many, except I chose to speak up about it.

Think about how much you are losing and how it does not make sense to release a closed source app, which whole point is to note people’s private thoughts & personal situations.

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I just want to chime in with my two cents, because this thread is genuinely tiring as it is, and the points made again and again tired.

Maybe I need to bold this message.

Obsidian not being open-source will not change with yet another non-invested person chiming in with their newly-created forum account.

As a theme dev who significantly prefer to offer my time and energy and work with other theme devs who have more permissive open-source licenses on their themes (like MIT or BSD or MPL over GPL), and is in the camp that open-sourcing has its benefits, I really think this is out of hand. I think a lot of the entitlement re: Obsidian being not open-source has to do with the fact that Obsidian provides a lot of what a FOSS project does, but for free. No one would have ask the same from the likes of Roam, or Notion, or Word. Perhaps some introspection here is needed.

If you think Obsidian being closed-source is a problem, then you are honestly, free to use another program. I personally think it’s really bang out of order to ask Licat, Silver, and now Liam, to destroy their own source of income (let’s face it: open-source licenses are weak and it relies on other devs not being a dick) to placate some people’s open-source fetishes which have been very evident in this thread.

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Roam and Notion are not good examples because they are web based. Word is not a good example because it’s old. Practically legacy software. It came to prominence before the public understood how invasive software can get. People using that software either don’t know, or don’t care about privacy concerns. A sentiment that is more and more prominent, and in part why make this case at all.

Today privacy is a serious concern for discerning people. Evernote lost it’s dominance because they violated this publicly. The publicly part is important because companies know to obfuscate this stuff as best they can.

Obsidian’s greatest value is the local first, presumably private, fantastic interface for your local file system. Even the sync service is end to end encrypted.

So far I trust the Obsidian team. Seems good, and I want all developers to have a thriving business. I’m not a crazy privacy wonk. I just don’t wont telemetry in a writing app. I don’t want another Evernote situation. I don’t want “helpful” contextual features based on my usage, or content. I can use google products for that. That is what open source represents to me. That doesn’t seem like an entitlement. It seems like common sense.

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I understand all pros (for community) and cons (for the dev team) of opening sources. As I am a software developer, I use Obsidian a lot, and actively participate in Obsidian plugins. You can check my activity on GitHub. Lately I did tons of Obsidian plugins improvements. However, there are some things that are impossible or at least very difficult to do in plugins, without actually correcting the Obsidian’s source code. I would love to have an opportunity to pitch in to Obsidian. But, the team said they have no enough resources to review pull requests. So even if the open sources and I fix some issues, the rest of the world won’t see it anyway.

If I really-really want to make a fix, I can just deobfuscate Obsidian’s source code, make my own changes and use it locally. I do this reverse-engineering sometimes if I am working with Obsidian plugin that requires some API that Obsidian didn’t publicly expose yet.

I love Obsidian a lot. I would love to even pay to the dev team to give me sources sources so I could fix some bummers that annoy me in Obsidian and then even pay for the developers’ time to review my PRs. I am ready to sign NDAs to ensure that sources won’t leak. Maybe with this model, Obsidian Developers can get an external development help from those inspired people like me that are skilled enough to actually help Obsidian to get greater

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@mnaoumov

There are a handful of devs that do what you do and often contribute to the definition of the API.
I think it’s best you just join discord and and ask your questions/run your proposal in #plugin-dev
https://discord.com/channels/686053708261228577/840286264964022302

Look for pjelby or nothingislost in the chat.

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Oh no don’t speculate on things you don’t know. I am moving away from Logseq to Obsidian. Obsidian is thriving and, all things considered, is having a brighter future than Logseq.

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Always when developers try to hide their code using the dumbest of excuses, its opensource counterpart appears. I like obsidian, but as soon as I find anything in opensource, even bad quality, I’ll switch to it

Logseq is open source. Bye!

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Wow, that looks really cool. Thanks for the recommendation! It even has Russian, and runs without installing (a nice little thing). It’s disappointing that it uses Lisp for development, but that doesn’t mean that the program is bad. I’ve been using it for a couple of days now and I am really happy.

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