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Ernie Ball - Model For Open-Source Transition? 869

fr0z writes " Ernie Ball is a company that makes guitar strings. After being raided by the BSA in 2000 without warning and fined $100,000 for a few unlicensed copies of software, CEO Sterling Ball vowed not to give another cent to Microsoft and within 6 months, according to CNET News, had the whole company switched to Red Hat Linux,, Mozilla, and other free software."
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Ernie Ball - Model For Open-Source Transition?

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  • by ChiefGeneralManager ( 600991 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @07:42AM (#6753131) might just be me, but is that a Windows 2003 Server ad that appears on the page along with Ernie Ball's story?
    • by digitalunity ( 19107 ) <{digitalunity} {at} {}> on Thursday August 21, 2003 @07:47AM (#6753151) Homepage
      Interesting that they even advertise here. Doubt their click-through is very good :)

      On a more serious side: The BSA is good motivation for people to quit the Microsoft Endless_Upgrade suite of software. Most (people/companies) will use whatever works, until it doesn't work. When you are fined $100K, it doesn't seem to be working very well. All a person needs is one good reason...
      • by onyxruby ( 118189 ) <onyxruby@[ ] ['com' in gap]> on Thursday August 21, 2003 @09:55AM (#6754063)
        Probably not as bad you think. This is a fairly large site with excellent penetration into the tech community. It's also read predominently by people who use Windows - despite the open source slant. I don't have access to the site logs, but I know I have heard CmdrTaco tell that a good majority of the page views here are on Windows boxes. Strange as it sounds, this is probably one of the best places Microsoft to advertise and reach a critical target market - the people that are the backbone of IT. Although I do have to admit the first time I saw a MS ad here I took a screen shot for posterity. Before you flame me, I'm not defending MS, I'm just saying that their ads here make sense.
  • by cjcormack ( 689855 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @07:43AM (#6753133) Journal
    Maybe the BSA should carry out more raids and "convert" more people to Linux!
    • by Zemran ( 3101 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @07:46AM (#6753147) Homepage Journal
      At $100,000 each raid it would still be more profitable for them than producing reliable software.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 21, 2003 @07:57AM (#6753198)
      Definitely. If everybody got to experience the downside of restrictive licensing personally, then open source would really shine. Selective enforcement is keeping an excessive copyright system alive.
  • RAIDED!!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by dcw3 ( 649211 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @07:44AM (#6753138) Journal
    After being raided by the BSA in 2000

    Hey, I knew we went overboard with the Patriot act, but when did the BSA (Boyscouts of America) start doing raids?!?
    • Re:RAIDED!!! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:20AM (#6753335)
      when did the BSA (Boyscouts of America) start doing raids?!?

      A friend of mine got "raided" once. In Holland, they
      do this by saying that they will charge them with a crime. If the victim doesn't happen to know that the BSA is a commercial organisation and therefore doesn't have that power, the victim will let them in and they will gather evidence which will then be used in a civilian lawsuit. If you don't let them in, nothing happens, because they know that the public prosecutor is not going to bother with these cases and they don't have any other way to force you to reveal the incriminating information.
  • by cibus ( 670787 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @07:44AM (#6753140)
    ...I'd like to know what Accounting software they use... gnuCash?

    Anyways - my axe wil be enjoying openSource crafted strings from now :-D
    • by PerryMason ( 535019 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:13AM (#6753281)
      Well you could use Accpac [] for example. They've got full Linux support. In my last job I migrated a client's smallish business from a pure Windows shop to pure Linux (they ran Accpac on Win before moving to Accpac on Linux). Its honestly getting to the point where you can do it unless you have specific software requirements. With Evolution, StarOffice and the other drop in replacements for MS software retraining is relatively minimal. My boss was ultimately annoyed though because we lost a fair bit of revenue from the client which used to come from the Windows desktop support.
    • by Talthane ( 699885 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:19AM (#6753332)

      I found his answer to the question (paraphrased) "did you find everything you needed from open source?" was a good point; that most OSS is developer-centric. Check out SourceForge for the number of PHP content management systems, for example. Yikes, what's an OSS advocate to do...

      On the other hand, where I work (UK public sector) is desperately short of money, composed of lots of small organisations who can hire one or two developers each at most, and yet very tight-knit - there are partnerships going on all the time. One of the things we're after is records management - document management on stereoids, if you like. Unfortunately, there's no OSS equivalent for me to recommend to others in the partnership.

      Are content management systems all that exciting to code? I dunno (and I've written one)..but I think the OSS world needs to branch out into other markets beyond the "let's fork another HTTP server and put Linux on an iPod" type of project - surely the only way to reduce Microsoft's ubiquity is to be a ubiquitous alternative yourself? How about some OSS records management, workflow, online forms, asset management, planning applications, licensing apps?

      PS: If anyone knows of such OSS projects, advice gratefully accepted... :-)

      • by phurley ( 65499 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @09:01AM (#6753614) Homepage
        But you are both missing the point. The vast majority of OSS developers write software for their own needs and wants. When I write free code, it is for me and/or for my friends. If you want a record management package - pay for it. Now the question is how it gets paid. If there is a real need then the organizations that want/need it can fund a developer(s) to write and customize it for them. OSS does not mean you can make me change my hobbies and interests to do free (as in beer) work to meet your needs.

        The real power of OSS is that you get to build on the wants and needs of everyone else - you can be (you are welcome to assist too) a free loader if everything you need is already done. If not you can ignore OSS because the package(s) you need are not sitting out there (and turn around and pay for closed source packages) or you choose - either on your own or in concert with other people of similar needs to develop the base. In the long run, I believe virtually all general purpose software will have powerful OSS choices available as will most niche software, but this will take time - and first adopters will out of necessity contribute more so their own needs are met. Eventually more stories like this one by bigger and bigger companies will develop.

        I am still waiting for a huge company (e.g. General Motors) that has clout to pull its suppliers along with it to make a long term commitment - the cost to a really big company when they do decide to upgrade their platforms (say from Win98 to WinXP) is enourmous - and the software cost is only a small part of that - at some point they will add it up and realize that they already have 99% of the support infrastructure in place they can save millions of dollars a year (which can fund internal or external development of they applications and customization that they require) and gives them long term control of an integral part of their business that they currently give to Microsoft.
  • by bunyip ( 17018 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @07:45AM (#6753143)
    Yep - hauling out my piano and dumping it. It's time to learn to play guitar.

    I wanna support these guys and I'd feel pretty silly just buying strings.

  • So... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Channard ( 693317 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @07:48AM (#6753158) Journal
    1. Get raided for using unlicensed software.

    2. Switch to Linux et al.

    3. Profit.

    Other companies have likely done similar but it's the publicity that counts more than anything - an actual success story with Linux from a company with clout should turn a few heards in the direction of open source.

  • by CGP314 ( 672613 ) <(ten.remlaPyrogerGniloC) (ta) (PGC)> on Thursday August 21, 2003 @07:49AM (#6753163) Homepage
    I don't care if we have to buy 10,000 abacuses

    I bet Abacus Inc is pretty pissed at the Red Hat right now. That's one big contract to miss out on.
  • Oh come on (Score:5, Interesting)

    by panurge ( 573432 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @07:52AM (#6753179)
    The BSA went after him because he was well known and too small to fight back. They wanted publicity. I wonder how much of the illegal software was actually being used?

    If is true that if you have to pay the legal expenses of the BSA while they prosecute you, then it is time for a flood of feeble "In Soviet America" jokes. Perhaps someone who is a lawyer could explain the situation?

    • Re:Oh come on (Score:5, Interesting)

      by 2Bits ( 167227 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:34AM (#6753403)
      Oh yeah, I can tell you that in all the companies that I've worked for, small (from 10 people) and large (up to 20K people), every company has a ton of illegal softwares running around.

      I recently worked for a large british corporation (recognizable if you read news!) as a technical consultant. I was working on a project, and I need to write documentation for the customers, and with it some pretty tedious diagramming. And I asked my boss to purchase a copy of Visio and she was like, what the fuck are you talking about? No question about spending money on software. Here, take this copy of Visio2000, the S/N is in there. I asked where did she get the copy from, well, it was from one of her friends, who copied from her company's CD, which is copied from another employee's friend CD. And who knows that CD orginally came from. And that's not the only piece of softwares required in that project we didn't buy: we didn't buy Sybase, we didn't buy JBuilder, and we didn't buy Merant JDBC driver either (coz two DBs, sybase & ms sql, must be supported), and we didn't pay for MS SQL either. Oh, did I tell you WinXP on that laptop has no valid license too coz someone insisted that we upgraded to WinXP from Win2K? I proposed to do the project with Emacs + Ant + JDK, and no need of JBuilder, and the boss insisted on JBuilder, coz it looks "professional" (she couldn't even read a single line of code!). You might think it's just my boss who is too cheap, but as far as I know, other people in other groups do that too.

      And that's not the only company I know which did that.

      And we were professionals (as in software professionals) and we were supposed to know better (or at least, know the license better). And that's what we did. Now imagine the guy who is not in the software industry.

      I'm not saying that as an excuse, as I'm not proud of that. I tried to get valid software licenses, but when you got shot down everytime (even by the boss's boss, and higher), and you have everyone's breadth on your neck about that project, you do the god damn thing. Good thing I'm out of there fast.

      But as far as I know, I never heard of the big guys (think HP, IBM, GE, P&G etc) got raided. Why is that?
    • by Daniel Phillips ( 238627 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @12:06PM (#6755355)
      The BSA went after him because he was well known and too small to fight back. They wanted publicity.

      They got it too, but it wasn't the kind they were hoping for.
  • by Alkarismi ( 48631 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @07:58AM (#6753207) Homepage
    We have a number of medium sized enterprises *fully* migrated to Open Source software, and running *way* better on it.
    Our best known (in the UK at least) case study is here [].
    In fact the Group consider Open Source to not merely be a 'substitute' for Microsoft Software, but to have delivered far more real, measurable business benefit than they ever received as a Microsoft Shop.
    I am glad Ernie Ball are receiving this great press for their *complete* migration, but they are by no means the first (or the last!) decent-sized enterprise to have done this.
  • Don't.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by SushiFugu ( 593444 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @07:58AM (#6753208)
    Do not taunt Happy Ernie wait, wrong ball.
  • by mattr ( 78516 ) <mattr@t e l e b> on Thursday August 21, 2003 @07:58AM (#6753209) Homepage Journal
    If we have things like the Perl Foundation which can afford to pay computer scientists salaries, and legal defense from the FSF or perhaps funded by RedHat, it is not a great leap to recognize the possibility of advertising for open source business solutions paid for by the community.

    Mr. Ball sounds like a practical businessman, he sounds passionate and as if he enjoys what he does. I wonder if he would be receptive to a business proposition in which he would be featured in commercial advertisements and perhaps provide more precise figures about what it costs him (as he said that analysts are too pessimistic).

    As more people like Mr. Ball speak out, the open source community is gaining more people who understand business and can convince other businesses. This man understands that free software can still cost money, and he has the personal experience and business acumen to be able to boil things down to the most important, concise points. He mentiones several important points in his interview, and probably has tons more knowledge that would be useful to making open source a better business solution, and making open source profitable.

    It might not be such a bad idea for companies and individuals who are considering funding open source projects to listen to such people when considering project goals. And it would not be so difficult for free software organizations to initiate commerical projects including creating advertisements and articles based on solid, no-nonsense business cases for open source featuring real-world successes like Ernie Ball.

    • You're correct - communicating the benefits of OSS in business terms it *precisely* what is needed to bring about acceptance in the enterprise.
      You and I are already convinced. Business people don't think in the terms we do, nor do they see why they should. If GNU/Linux and OSS are to achieve the position we all know they should we are going to have to learn to talk this talk.
    • A smart company would find people like Mr ball and talk to him at length. What features does he want, what parts do his users find good bad etc. Linux is good but not perfect, lets talk to the folks who use it as a desktop for end users and see what they need. I see an opertunity here for some one if they are smart enough to take it.

      For example it sounds like we need better accounting software. There is a place where someone could do some useful work. (With luck someone who knows something about accounting)
  • Actually (Score:5, Insightful)

    by N8F8 ( 4562 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:01AM (#6753222)
    I would blame the software vendors for making proof of ownership too difficult (for over a decade most people tossed the software packaging). They changes the rules midgame and the politicians let them get away with it.

    Most businesses being small businesses or starting out as small businesses' aren't that savvy about IP law. Or the DCMA. In the end the market will react either by the software vendors backing off, the law changing, or people doing what this guy did and choosing alternatives.

    Show me proof of ownership for your toilet. Bet you can't!

  • by DuctTape ( 101304 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:10AM (#6753269)
    A more enlightening part of the article:

    But I've got to tell you, I couldn't have built my business without Microsoft, so I thank them. Now that I'm not so bitter, I'm glad I'm in the position I'm in. They made that possible, and I thank them.

    I'll take that to mean that when he needed the software that Open Source wasn't around yet. But I wonder if we'll see that quote used by Microsoft anyway.


  • by DataCannibal ( 181369 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:10AM (#6753270) Journal
    I think the most interesting quite from the article was this

    They're all trying to build servers that already exist and do a whole bunch of stuff that's already out there...I think there's a lot of room to not just create an alternative to Microsoft but really take the next step and do something new.

    Listen to him guys, he's a CEO.

    Now I'm going to take those Fenders off, thay don't twang like they used to, and get me some Ernie Balls.

  • Amen! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jedrek ( 79264 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:18AM (#6753321) Homepage
    [...] the developers need to start writing the real-world applications people need to run a, art and design tools, that kind of stuff...They're all trying to build servers that already exist and do a whole bunch of stuff that's already out there...I think there's a lot of room to not just create an alternative to Microsoft but really take the next step and do something new.

    This is the argument I always get into when my friends ask me why I don't use Linux or BSD or whatever. There is not enough non-server software out there. GIMP is pretty much the only raster graphics package out there, Win32 has Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Corel Photo Paint, Fireworks, Painter, etc. I can chose between Illustrator, Freehand and Corel Draw for vector graphics. Combustion, Avid, Premiere, After Effects, etc. It's all good and fine that I can write a letter, do my taxes and the like on a *nix machine, but I need to actually work now and then and the applications *still* aren't there.

    • Re:Amen! (Score:5, Informative)

      by nomadlogic ( 91566 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:35AM (#6753408)
      "[...]I can chose between Illustrator, Freehand and Corel Draw for vector graphics. Combustion, Avid, Premiere, After Effects, etc. It's all good and fine that I can write a letter, do my taxes and the like on a *nix machine, but I need to actually work now and then and the applications *still* aren't there."

      just from my perspective working in a viusalFX studio...all the real technical apps. are moving over to Linux. Check out CinePaint, it is a much better "paint" type program photoshop supporting high bit depths etc. Shake, Maya, XSI they all run on Linux (better on linux infact). While I do agree with you somewhat i think alot of the more common desktop design apps are going to be taken care of ala WINE. it seems that Linux is really starting to creep into the design/FX community pretty quickly.
  • Good for them! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tinfoil ( 109794 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:20AM (#6753337) Homepage Journal
    I have had to take a heavy hand to the machines and employees here a few times in recent past due to unlicensed software usage. A couple people took it upon themselves to install copies of Autocad on their machines to 'improve their efficeincy'. We do have a couple AC licenses, but not for these machines. One person was suspended the other just given a warning.

    As a geek, Ernie's story is pretty cool, and I am happy to say I support the company financially as well by buying their strings.
  • Hidden costs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BenjyD ( 316700 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:33AM (#6753396)
    Shouldn't all the closed-source vs open-source TCO comparisons include fines like this in the TCO for closed software? It's extremely hard for companies to ensure complete licence compliance, which combined with the difficulty of fighting the BSA makes this something that could happen to any company.

    Isn't it standard practice to include potential scenarios like this in business plans, weighted with the probability of it occuring?
  • by toupsie ( 88295 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:33AM (#6753398) Homepage
    Yeah, there are some things that are tough to find, like payroll software. We found something, and it works well. But the developers need to start writing the real-world applications people need to run a, art and design tools, that kind of stuff...They're all trying to build servers that already exist and do a whole bunch of stuff that's already out there...I think there's a lot of room to not just create an alternative to Microsoft but really take the next step and do something new.
  • by mordicus ( 677405 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @08:48AM (#6753501) Homepage
    I wouldn't be surprised if we started seeing more switches from proprietary to oss in the future.

    Even if in the IT biz we've accustomed to accepting very very ugly tactics if they're even remotely legally justifiable, it doesn't mean all businesses will want to have anything to do with corporations that employ such if there are alternatives.

    Sometimes I wonder when stuff like 'the customer is always right' and such disappeared from the software industry. Well, not all of it. Shops doing custom stuff usually still treat their clients with some respect, at least way better than the large ones with a forcefed product portfolio do. But overall the software biz is starting to resemble some sort of drug pushing operation:
    "you know you need our product",
    "oh, that was yesterdays price, it's just doubled",
    "should you consider not conforming, you can expect a visit from a couple of our friends".
    • by Alkarismi ( 48631 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @09:06AM (#6753664) Homepage
      We should be counting on it!

      I never cease to find it amazing that hard-nosed business people accept such lousy service/performance/reliability/cost/you-name-it in this area of their businesses.
      It is as if critical analysis goes out of the door where IT is concerned. The vast majority of businesses have simply fallen for the lie^Hne that "you never got fired for buying Microsoft software"

      The business case for OSS adoption has become the theme for a monthly column I am writing for the UK magazine LinuxUser & Developer. I passionately believe that not only is OSS frequently the best technical solution to an IT problem (something I guess most of us here believe), it is also often the best *business* solution to a business problem.
  • Now I'm confused (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jeff Kelly ( 309129 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @09:13AM (#6753711)
    If I have read the Article correctly the BSA was accompanied by armed marshals and therefore must have had a search warrant for the offices of Ernie Ball. What I do not understand is why the BSA even could get such warrants.

    In Germany where I live only the district attorney can issue such warrants and only the police or federal agencies may search buildings using that warrant. The person(s) who made the allegations may not even be present during the search.

    And since shrink-wrap licences are (still) illegal in germany the BSA would not even get the district attorney to issue such a warrant since only common contractual law applies to software purchases.

    So they can go to my office but I don't have to let them in.

    Giving some pressure group federal powers seems a bit odd to me.
  • He's right... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NineNine ( 235196 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @09:13AM (#6753721)
    Us business owners need BUSINESS applications. We don't need servers. We don't needs cutesy tools. We need some business apps. If someone wanted to sell me an OSS package, all ready to go, I'd look at it. As is, I'd have to cobble it together myself, and I just don't have the time. Software is just another tool, and nobody who's in business has time or money to dick around with software. If someone came to me and said, "we can set up your POS workstations for you at $1000 each, I'd be all over it. I don't want to have to hunt around for an OS, figure out how to configure the goddamned thing, then find some POS software, then figure out how to install it, configure it, compile it, whatever.
  • He's still ahead (Score:5, Insightful)

    by femto ( 459605 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @09:18AM (#6753756) Homepage
    Anyone see the irony that he pretty well recovered the amount of the fine in one hit when he went open source? I guess he must be well ahead by now.
  • by Jonny Royale ( 62364 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @09:23AM (#6753796) Homepage Journal
    I realize this may be slightly off-topic, but could someone from /. get that IT department to possibly field a few questions? Such as how they planned & executed the move, the size of the installed base, etc...I'd really like to see how they got that move made so fast.
  • by deek ( 22697 ) * on Thursday August 21, 2003 @09:38AM (#6753925) Homepage Journal
    This CEO is wonderfully straight forward. That's a rare thing in this befuddling world of business catch phrases and buzzwords. His scope on the whole TCO argument is ...
    • 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.
    Hurrah! Someone finally cut through all the bullshit, and basically said it straight. Take that you buzzword speaking analyst! Begone back to the hellish dimension that spawned you!
  • by BlackBolt ( 595616 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @09:41AM (#6753944) Homepage Journal
    Well, that's it for me then - I'm going to buy Ernie Ball strings from now on. Actually, all strings seem pretty much the same to me, what with massive distortion and high volumes, so why not support people who have er.. Balls? (sorry)
  • Libre software (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nicolas MONNET ( 4727 ) <> on Thursday August 21, 2003 @11:11AM (#6754698) Journal
    For once, this story really is about *free* software, not *open source* software. The point here is not really about how much it costs, well it just happens to cost less, but it also shows that *freedom* matters to businesses just as much as they matter to bearded MIT gurus.
  • by LittleGuy ( 267282 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @11:15AM (#6754748)
    ...the Deck is stacked in favor of BSA:

    Did you want to settle?
    Never, never. That's the difference between the way an employee and an owner thinks. They attacked my family's name and came into my community and made us look bad. There was never an instance of me wanting to give in. I would have loved to have fought it. But when (the BSA) went to Congress to get their powers, part of what they got is that I automatically have to pay their legal fees from day one. That's why nobody's ever challenged them--they can't afford it. My attorney said it was going to cost our side a quarter million dollars to fight them, and since you're paying their side, too, figure at least half a million. It's not worth it. You pay the fine and get on with your business. What most people do is get terrified and pay their license and continue to pay their licenses. And they do that no matter what the license program turns into.

    Question is, even if you win, do you still have to pay the BSA lawyers?
  • Nail your boss? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @11:22AM (#6754832)
    That's what you get for creating disgruntled employees...

    Still, unless you have a prosecutor willing to prosecute a crime, (a *CRIME*, not a civil matter), and unless you have a magistrate willing to hear the case, there should never be a search warrant issued for anything!

    I hear about "BSA" raids, but they are really government raids with the BSA acting as a witness for the prosecution. The prosecutor is never named in these articles. Neither is the judge who signed the order.

  • Doh! (Score:5, Funny)

    by redtail1 ( 603986 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @11:34AM (#6754963)
    This paragraph cracked me up:

    So what did swearing off Microsoft entail? We looked at all the alternatives. We looked at Apple, but that's owned in part by Microsoft. (Editor's note: Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple in 1997.)

    Somewhere, a man wearing a black turtleneck is going, "Doh!"

  • by Aidtopia ( 667351 ) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @11:47AM (#6755112) Homepage Journal
    Microsoft and some analysts will tell you about all the support calls and service problems. That's hysterical.

    My biggest reservation about open and free software is that it's not obvious how I would make a living if the whole world switched. Programming is my most marketable skill* and has kept me employed for many years. I know Stallman says that we could make money supporting free software and filling in the holes, but I've always been skeptical of the demand. Ernie Ball seems to support my concern.

    * My other career option is writing. That doesn't pay the bills, and, if we totally kill rather than fix copyright laws, it'll never pay.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll