Why is Atom closed source?

After the NSA revelations I think we should make an effort as a community of software developers to make/use all free/open source software when possible. A text-editor it’s a really important piece in my software stack and having closed source components, specially the core, it’s a huge downside.


Won’t touch it if not Open Source, already made that mistake with TextMate 1, and we all know how that went.

Right now I use Vim, and I would only switch for a better open source alternative, your Text Editor is your hammer, you shouldn’t let your hammer fall in the hands of only one company… (Other technology comes and goes… text editing is here for the long run).


I assume that the limitations are mostly going to be surrounding the branding. I get the impression from @mojombo’s answer that GitHub are ok with people having access to the code, but don’t want someone else selling “Atom”.

The interesting part will be how they deal with Atom-compatible editors. The core of Atom seems like a good candidate for a competing open-source implementation, because the well-defined API provides a starting point for re-implementation.


Sounds like GitHub wants to prevent others from forking Atom?

I thought they liked the Fork button.


It seems like it was a mistake to keep it closed source until it’s out of beta. That means the community can’t help in making design decisions that would later be very difficult to reverse.

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People who want something like Atom except open source, will probably be interested in brackets.


Yeah, or also ICEcoder (ICEcoder)

TextMate 2 is opensource and is a really good piece of software.
If atom decides to go for closed source, then people could easily port things that are missing to brakets or something else…

At the end it’s just an editor, it’s not rocket science… They may invest some designers time or something else, but it still the same platform and APIs can be replicated (see Android vs Oracle legal dispute about that).

Github will have a better winning point if make this full opensource under some license like “GPLv2” (if you care about company assets in case you want to sell it to oracle or Atlasian someday - You don’t have to really sell it, but this will make your investors happy to know that only you can close the code, and add a contributors license like Chef did)…


Funny, I was immediately reminded of the exact same thing: https://twitter.com/asz/status/439348689199726592

I know of two projects that do/did similar approaches.

Transifex - they gave up and went fully closed source now.
Cloud 9 - struggling, currently not able to publish a version of their source that’s worth contributing to.

The reason why they struggle is because they get the worst of both worlds:

To have some parts of your code open and other parts closed, you got to modularize your software. And you have two targets, which need to be able to run in some form.

That cost is real, and interestingly high. Transifex actually tried and failed (tests don’t pass in their latest OS version without the non-open code), and just pulled. c9 only ever publishes code once their closed system runs, and then factor stuff out, it seems. Which means that they’re alone during the times when it’s hard work.

Which brings me to the bad parts of open, you hardly get any contributions. Because people can’t contribute to the thing you’re working on, very few actually do.

It doesn’t help the extension ecosystem a lot either. Yes, you can test your plugins locally, but you can’t test them in the environment that other people want to use them in.

Let’s hope the githubbers found another way to make this constructive for them.

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If being open-source mattered at all, people on OS X would be all over this fine editor: https://github.com/vicoapp/vico (It really is very, very good. No-one uses it.)

If it can’t be free, something like, MIT license but:

1 Anything you make with it is ours
2 You can make edits and such but they must own Atom to use it
3 We can sell it

Or something like that would be pretty good. It should be OS but to use it you need to pay. I guess that would be Ideal. Pricing wise, A low rate for all-updates of atom would be ideal

You have to realize that to not release this under the GPL is rather insane right?

What’s your business called “Github”, the first part is Git an application built by Linus Torvalds under the GPL license. You see how successful Git is, okay write that down, “git is GPL licensed” and then write down “the basis of our business is something GPL licensed”. Okay, so why not release it under GPL and let it grow into a mega-beast of an app?

They released the source code to TextMate 2 on your service “Github” under the GPL 3. And Emacs and VIM are both fully FOSS in every sense of the word as are the countless editors on the Linux platforms. You can’t compete against free fully open-source editors and expect to have any meaningful market-share. The Wordpress guys did this and it worked for them too. Then there’s Google with Android and Chrome and how they release it as fully FOSS but under an alternative license.

You guys have been living on “Apple Island” for too long and need to see where the ecosystem is going and how FOSS will dominate every aspect of it…


Why is it rather insane? Is it because you say it is?

The primary reason that Linus wrote Git was because Larry McVoy pulled the licensing agreement from Bitkeeper (which was closed source) from Linus and the rest of the kernel team. Prior to that Linus and the team used Bitkeeper for 3 years. In fact Linus stated this in an email after it happened:

So I just wanted to say that I’m personally very happy with BK, and with
Larry. It didn’t work out, but it sure as hell made a big difference to
kernel development.

Textmate 2 is open source but even their license policy states this:

We may charge for updates after 2.0 (even 2.1) but when/if we release a paid update, we will make it free for anyone who bought within the last 6 months.

Version 2.0 of TextMate is being developed as open source. This doesn’t change that TextMate is a commercial product, and while current prebuilt binaries work without a license key, they may need one in the future.

I personally like VIM but Emacs can crawl back under the rock from which it came. Having said that, I like VIM for using on servers. Mainly because it’s generally there. I spent years customizing VIM for my own use (we did use it to build SourceForge.net) but in the end it’s not what I want for everyday use.

I would say that Atom can compete against free fully open-source editors and can still get meaningful market share. To which; how does one define market share for a text editor? I mean I use VIM, Sublime Text 2/3 and Atom on a daily basis. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I probably use VIM less than 5% of the time, ST probably 60%, and Atom about 35%. So who wins there? Is it VIM? Probably not.

Every time I hear someone state and how FOSS will dominate every aspect of it… I throw up a little. It reminds me of how every year since 2000 has been the Year of the Linux Desktop. It also reminds me of how zealous people in the community are.

Now before you throw stones at me realize that I’ve been working on and in Open Source since 1996 which is about 18 years now. I was one of the co-founders of SourceForge and count many Open Source luminaries as close personal friends. I believe in Open Source. I promote Open Source. I also don’t believe that everything in the world needs to be completely open and that proprietary software is evil.


Seriously, “throw up a little”? I think you misunderstood. I’m not one of those zealots. What I’m referring to is purely practical and rational. It’s more sustainable to build a community around something with a convenient license. Also, Github is associated with Git and therefore it’s brand image is perceived as very FOSS and modern-web oriented. Many important FOSS projects use it as hosting. It’s main business is also selling subscriptions to online accounts and not selling software.

The current arrangement seems to be totally out of alignment with the greater goals of Github as a product and brand. What would make sense is to make Atom and it’s core fully FOSS except for a few proprietary bundles that integrate with premium Github web-services. That way one of the main selling points would be upgrades to Github accounts to enable added features or group collaboration for professionals. It’s the longer term benefits of building a massive community and user-base and then having those users upgrade to paid Github accounts.

The vast majority of SublimeText installations that I’ve seen never turn into paid accounts even in institutions and organizations. There’s a single developer for that product. Atom has several paid developers. The product might make a profit but it won’t be nearly as great as the profits to be made from people upgrading Github accounts to integrate with a FOSS tool that’s become a solid part of their development workflow and that they have come to rely on.

It just makes sense unless you just want to deal with the hassles of going into paid app business.


Fascinating. Whatever they do, it will be an interesting experiment in the realm of making money while being open.

It’s not really an experiment. I know some projects that are sold and have their source code published… like Textual (irc client). I don’t know how many people build it and how many buy it… but I guess not everybody wants to build the software whenever there is an update available.

I guess there will be more people on linux building it, and more people on windows buying it :slight_smile:

Vico may be an awesome editor. For me, the deal breaker is hackability, or customizability. If I have to learn the ‘Nu’ scripting language to modify it, screw that. I already know JS, et. al. which makes Atom really great plus the ease of adding modules, snippets, etc. If, in the end, I don’t like or disagree with anything about Atom, I’ll just go back to Sublime or (insert your other editor here) and call it a day.

That’s the real issue here. The Atom crew may alienate a large group of users if they don’t do this release carefully and thoughtfully. But after all, they wrote it and they can do whatever the heck they want with it.

I bother to complain because Atom was closed source, so at least I will bother to say THANK YOU GITHUB!

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Since it’s open source now, I’m going to close this Topic.

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