Sterling Ball, unlikely Linux guru.

C|Net has an excellent interview with Ernie Ball’s CEO, Sterling Ball. Ernie Ball is known as the world’s leading manufacturer of guitar strings, but now they’re becoming known as prime examples of the tremendous benefits that a business can realize from moving from Microsoft Windows to Linux. Three years ago, the BSA raided Ernie Ball’s offices, discovering that they owned a few dozen unlicensed copies of programs. (That’s about 8% out of compliance, on a total of 72 desktop compouters.) Microsoft came down on Ernie Ball hard, and they decided to settle for $100,000. (Note that there’s simply no way that the combined cost of that software was anywhere close to $100,000.) CEO Sterling Ball got pissed, and demanded that his IT folks remove Microsoft products from every computer and switch to something else. Now they’re running Red Hat Linux, OpenOffice, and Mozilla, along with some commercial (Linux) business applications. Here’s my favorite bit:

How has the transition gone?
It’s the funniest thing–we’re using it for e-mail client/server, spreadsheets and word processing. It’s like working in Windows. One of the analysts said it costs $1,250 per person to change over to open source. It wasn’t anywhere near that for us. I’m reluctant to give actual numbers. I can give any number I want to support my position, and so can the other guy. But I’ll tell you, I’m not paying any per-seat license. I’m not buying any new computers. When we need something, we have white box systems we put together ourselves. It doesn’t need to be much of a system for most of what we do.

But there’s a real argument now about total cost of ownership, once you start adding up service, support, etc.
What support? I’m not making calls to Red Hat; I don’t need to. I think that’s propaganda…What about the cost of dealing with a virus? We don’t have ’em. How about when we do have a problem, you don’t have to send some guy to a corner of the building to find out what’s going on–he never leaves his desk, because everything’s server-based. There’s no doubt that what I’m doing is cheaper to operate. The analyst guys can say whatever they want.

Funny how analysts never include BSA crackdowns or Microsoft extortion fees in the TCO of Windows. (Virginia Beach learned that lesson.) If I ever need guitar strings, I know where I’m going to get them.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »