In a different epoch, before the pandemic, I’ve done a presentation about upstream first at the Siemens Linux Community Event 2018, where I’ve tried to explain the fundamentals of open source using microeconomics. Unfortunately that talk didn’t work out too well with an audience that isn’t well-versed in upstream and open source concepts, largely because it was just too much material crammed into too little time.

Last year I got the opportunity to try again for an Intel-internal event series, and this time I’ve split the material into two parts. I think that worked a lot better. For obvious reasons I cannot publish the recordings, but I can publish the slides.

The first part “Upstream, Why?” covers a few concepts from microeconomcis 101, and then applies them to upstream stream open source. The key concept is on one hand that open source achieves an efficient software market in the microeconomic sense by driving margins and prices to zero. And the only way to make money in such a market is to either have more-or-less unstable barriers to entry that prevent the efficient market from forming and destroying all monetary value. Or to sell a complementary product.

The second part”Upstream, How?” then looks at what this all means for the different stakeholders involved:

  • Individual engineers, who have skills and create a product with zero economic value, and might still be stupid enough and try to build a career on that.

  • Upstream communities, often with a formal structure as a foundation, and what exactly their goals should be to build a thriving upstream open source project that can actually pay some bills, generate some revenue somewhere else and get engineers paid. Because without that you’re not going to have much of a project with a long term future.

  • Engineering organizations, what exactly their incentives and goals should be, and the fundamental conflicts of interest this causes. Specifically on this I’ve only seen bad solutions, and ugly solutions, but not yet a really good one. A relevant pre-pandemic talk of mine on this topic is also “Upstream Graphics: Too Little, Too Late”

  • And finally the overall business and more importantly, what kind of business strategy is needed to really thrive with an open source upstream first approach: You need to clearly understand which software market’s economic value you want to destroy by driving margins and prices to zero, and which complemenetary product you’re selling to still earn money.

At least judging by the feedback I’ve received internally taking more time and going a bit more in-depth on the various concept worked much better than the keynote presentation I’ve done at Siemens, hence I decided to publish at the least the slides.