Goodbye, Skiff Desktop

Goodbye, Skiff Desktop
Photo by Alexander Grey / Unsplash

Hey there, I don't usually write these type of posts, but well.. this isn't a usual circumstance. I apologize for the "rawness" of this post.

As you already probably know, Skiff got acquired by Notion less than a month ago. This came as a massive surprise to me as the primary developer of the Skiff Desktop app for Linux. While it was never "official", it might have well as been, as it was the only option available and we were in talks with the Skiff team to get the app handed over to them.

The project started out when I stumbled across Skiff, and I came to really like the service. I also fell for the "open source" branding, more on that later. My partner and I wanted to switch over, with the only blocker being the lack of a Linux app. Thus we threw together a simple Python WebKitGTK wrapper in a night, which was the start of all of this. I eventually ported the app to Vala (still with WebKitGTK) using our libhelium GTK platform library, and threw it on GitHub.

The app was able to provide some well-needed, in-the-wild testing for libhelium, which is still actively in development. As such, we caught some rough corners and bugs, which I'm pretty happy about. Eventually, we published the app on Flathub and it seemed to have done decently well. No insane numbers, considering the intersection of an already niche app and platform, but well enough.

A graph showing installs over time of the Skiff Desktop app on Flathub.

During this time, I was in decent contact with members of the Skiff team.. and they all seemed like really nice people. I eventually proposed to transfer the app to them, that way they could have an official option for Linux. This never came to full fruition due to the shutdown. Members in the Skiff community were also really nice, and I still talk to some of them today. :p

Now, time for my first mistake. After looking at the skiff-apps repository, I realized that the license they were using.. wasn't open source, but rather the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. I sorta assumed from the beginning that it was an actual OSI-approved license from their website, but well, I guess I didn't look hard enough /shrug. Additionally, even when disregarding the non-free aspect of the license... CC licenses (with the exception of CC0) don't even make sense for software. The best I can assume is the team wasn't too knowledgeable within the ✨ magical world of open source ✨. When the team was questioned about this by community members, it seemed like there was some hope that it would improve through adopting a true open source license, or at the very least, lead to the removal of the misleading branding. And.. as you can probably see where this is going, none of that happened. Yet, I decided to put my faith that they'd eventually do the right thing, as my interactions with the team had been very positive so far. (See related petty fedi rant about source available software that brands as open source.)

A couple of days before the acquisition™️, blissfully unaware of what was soon about to happen, I had shipped notification actions in the desktop app. They had even retweeted my teaser post about them on Twitter... a few days before the announcement of the acquisition, ouch.

Twitter screenshot of Skiff retweeting my teaser for notification actions.

And, when the acquisition finally hit.. I felt betrayed. Obviously, there was no formal agreement between myself and them, but I just couldn't feel otherwise. I felt as all of this work had been for nothing. It's not even as someone could have "revived" Skiff using the frontend, reimplementing the backend component. The licensing of the frontend would have prevented anyone from getting rewarded for their effort.

Honestly, at this point, I would have appreciated an acknowledgement or "thank you" for the app. Sure, Linux wasn't a large portion of Skiff's userbase, but a Linux desktop app was pretty well requested feature.. and well, we gave it to them :p. I guess it's my fault for hoping for that type of thing, it would have meant so much to me though. (yeah, I know it sounds like I'm huffing the copium HARD)

In a desperate attempt, I decided to email Andrew to ask if they'd be open to relicensing their frontend, and possibly opening up their backend too. I thought I might have had a chance of getting some sort of response considering my prior communications. Sadly, I didn't get anything back.

Hey Andrew,

I’m the maintainer and primary developer of the Skiff Desktop app for Linux, you (or some of the team) might recognize me from when I was sharing development of the app in the Discord and other communications with the team. First of all, I want to say congratulations on the Notion merger, Skiff was an amazing product and I’m glad that Notion was also able to see the value in it. As the Skiff product is shutting down, I was emailing to ask if Skiff would be open to relicensing the currently source-available repositories to an OSI-approved license. This would allow the community to learn and tinker from the Skiff codebase, allowing Skiff to live on, even though Skiff, the formal product, is now defunct. Additionally, I’d also like to ask to open source the currently closed server component, albeit, I do understand that’s probably a much harder ask. There’s an opportunity here to allow the amazing work of the Skiff team to flourish and live on, I really do hope you consider it.

I also CCed the support email and pinged on Twitter, as I’m unsure if you still have access to this email.


yeah, it looks desperate in retrospect

Anyways, that leaves us in the present. First, I want to say to the users of our desktop app: I'm sorry, especially to those who patiently helped us debug issues within the app, even when I wasn't all too responsive. Please try to get your data out of Skiff ASAP. I've heard good things about Tuta if you need an alternative. Second, we'll be archiving the GitHub repo and EOLing the Flatpak shortly. And finally, please try to verify the open source product you're using is really open source. I was foolish for having faith in them even when proven otherwise, please don't repeat my mistake.

P.S. If you're building an open source email service or otherwise need help/consulting with Linux in any way, please hit us up. I'd love to chat with you :3

as a wise friend once said: "It's Joever."