Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Survey says running Linux is cheaper than Windows

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Survey says running Linux is cheaper than Windows
OSDL study counters Microsoft's claims about Linux TCO

By Phil Hochmuth, Network World, 02/15/06

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The Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) this week released a study countering claims by Microsoft that running a Linux-based computing infrastructure has a higher total cost of ownership than operating a Windows environment.

A recent survey of server administrators found that Linux allowed server administrators to manage more servers per person, resolve operating system problems faster, and spend less time patching software for security purposes than administrators of Windows servers.

The study - authored by research firm Enterprise Management Associates and funded by Levanta, a Linux management software firm - surveyed 200 IT professionals, ranging from small organizations with around 20 servers, to large enterprises with over 1,000 machines in a data center, from such industries as finance, manufacturing, retail, education, service providers, media, and telecommunications. The survey found, among many things, that the average Linux administrator had responsibility for 68 servers, while Windows admins handled 32 servers. Over 80% of the respondents said they used remote management tools for controlling their Linux servers.

The study's main goal is to refute the "Get the Facts" campaign Microsoft is running, where it uses industry studies and research showing that running a Linux-based network is more laborious and expensive than running a Windows shop. Both the OSDL study and Get the Facts campaign clearly have points of view behind their research, which must be taken into consideration when comparing Linux/Windows TCO figures presented by the two camps.

All contents copyright 1995-2005 Network World, Inc. http://www.networkworld.com
This story appeared on Network World at

Monday, February 27, 2006

CD: Ray Russell - Goodbye Svengali

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Ray Russell - Goodbye Svengali
Cuniform Records Rune 223

Goodbye Svengali is dedicated to ledgendary composer, leader, producer and musician Gil Evans (1912-1988.) I heard about Ray Russell a couple of months ago when I heard one of his songs on a sampler from Wire Magazine. I was blown away by the performance of the title track, with its lone trumpet intro and dark, cool, atmospheric feel and guitar playing that bursts out of the silence like a fireball at night.

The album has some spooky fusion moments, and is at times experimental sounding. Even on the quiet tracks like Without A Trace, and Wailing Wall, the sound of Russell's lone guitar with its otherworldly harmonics, echoing, is sad and majestic at the same time. I love that sort of contradiction in music. If you're expecting straight-ahead jazz, look elsewhere.

Ray's guitar sound can be delicate or indistinguishable from the balance of ferocity and skill of some of the major rock virtuosos, like Jeff Beck.

The sound is first rate, as well. Ray Russell is well known to musicians but not as well known to the public at large. Goodbye Svengali isn't easy listening music by any strecth. It's challenging without suffocating you in it's presentation, which mists around you and is punctuated with flashes of Russell's electric guitar lightning.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Interview with Sam Hiser

Recently, I posted a review of the book, "Exploring The JDS Linux Desktop," by Sam Hiser and Tom Adelstein. Here's an interesting Sam Hiser interview by VirtualActivism.org.

Listen to a interesting interview with Tom Adelstein and Sam Hiser by LQ Radio, part of LinuxQuestions.org. Topics covered include an in-depth look at the Sun Linux strategy, current trends in the Linux market, thoughts on Novell and Red Hat, Linux OEM preloads, the importance of open document formats, Linux in emerging areas, Open Sourcing OS/2, Linux standards and much more. Total running time is 1:16.

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Sam Hiser

Hiser is a Principal and Managing Director of Hiser Adelstein & Associates, New York and Dallas. In New York City, he directs a pilot program in collaboration with Computers for Youth called "Knowledge-Up" in which NYC middle-school students provide computer support and skill training to the teachers in their school. Hiser is also Member of the Working Group of the Open Government Interoperability Project for establishing software development standards and providing standard applications to State and Local governments across the United States.

Hiser was teaching middle-school English in The Bronx District 9 with NYC Teaching Fellows when he was called to advise Sun Microsystems, Inc. on open source community management and software marketing for the launch of OpenOffice.org 1.0 in Spring of 2002. Prior to that, he was CIO and Principal of Reel America Inc., a dot-com aggregator of cultural programming for cable TV and the Internet. This followed an early career as an investment banker and security analyst in technology.

Hiser speaks frequently to businesspeople, user groups, students, parents and educators about Open-Source Software iand writes occasionally on software development in several online journals. He holds an MBA from Duke University's Fugua School of Business, and a BA in English Literature, Art History and Physics from St. Lawrence University.

OpenOffice.org claims an impressive 8.5 million downloads in the past two years and near compatibility with MS Office. A conservative estimate would place the number of users of OpenOffice.org 1.0 at 2 to 5 million. Hiser also claims that OpenOffice.org 1.0 is the office suite running on the single desktop that's set up in the middle of a Rwandan refugee camp.

Virtual Activism interviewed him.

Virtual Activism: How long have you been involved in the Open Office project and what promoted/ motivated you to join it?

Sam Hiser: The OOo Project began on Oct. 13, 2000 when Sun Microsystems open sourced the StarOffice code. Sun Microsystems is the founder and significant ongoing sponsor of OpenOffice.org. I started contributing to OOo Marketing just after 9/11 in Oct. 2001. On 9/12, before the dust [of the World Trade Center] began to settle, literally 7 miles from where I was at the time and still live, it occurred to me that the start-up where I was working was not going to continue as a going concern. It was a wake-up moment. We were in the process of securing secondary financing -- with about 6 months of cash left (that was Reel America, in the bio) -- and 9/11 made the venture financing conversations halt on a dime. We ended up winding the Reel America concept down (through April 2002) and put it in mothballs, where it remains today for other parties or the original principals to just add water. But it was the weeks immediately after 9/11 when I decided to "give back" some how.

That's when I decided that I wanted to do something proactively to stop Microsoft from abusing its strong market position and personally accelerate the adoption of open software standards. I've always known this was going to affect the networked world and having a 3-year-old at the time I was thinking that I would regret not having DONE something to make it work out better than the present trajectory indicated. The importance of OpenOffice.org's open XML file format seemed to me at the time to make that project a good place to put that energy. OOo Marketing welcomed the help and that was one place that appeared to need bodies and could use code-less ones, at that.

That was also the same time I decided to finally go into teaching, and joined the NYC Teaching Fellows. Started training just after Reel America wound down.

VA: What were your qualifications to join this team and lead it?

SH: I joined with no coding skills and modest experience in marketing -- apart from business school and the deep brand development I had just led from scratch at Reel America through to a Web site and complete spec for
a digital infrastructure to a business not far different from the many regional affiliates of PBS.

At OOo I just pitched in and didn't lead anything officially until, I forget, around the summer of 2002 after OOo's important 1.0 launch -- I was voted co-lead of Marketing under Josh Berkus, then the Lead. (I only just became Lead myself in Oct 2003).

I'm not the one to say, but suspect my move to lead is due to 1) my desire to lead marketing and establish at least informally some strategic directions and willingness to take responsibility; 2) my active email contributions and local evangelism for OOo in NYC area; and 3) my forceful presence on the mailing lists (at OOoCon last March in Hamburg, some of our group observed that I seemed so quiet in person because my email was usually so loud ;); and 4) my willingness to admit that I've been a bone-head on some issues from time to time. But you'd get a better answer from the community on this. I did receive encouragement from Sun and the positive atmosphere of the project has always made it conducive and a constructive place. I must thank Zaheda Bhorat, now with Marketing and Community Management at NetBeans, who was extemely unselfish in her passion for open source marketing, who set a great example and who included me in some of the early strategic conversations -- particularly in driving the 1.0 release, which many developers thought was too early.

If I have had any impact on the project, it's in pushing the idea that we need to focus on and talk about the PRODUCT, get many many users going and then the PROJECT will take care of itself and attract developers when the user buzz gets going. If-you-distibute-it, the-developers-will-come, sort of thing. When I arrived -- and still a
bit today -- the emphasis was all about OOo Marketing's responsibility to talk up and generate independent developers' participation.

So, I can say with authority that I'm still unqualified.

VA: How many are working on the project?

SH: Thousands. Hundreds regularly. Sun sponsors a core group of programmers in Germany & Ireland, no more than a hundred or so; this team consists largely of the StarDivision group which Sun acquired in 1999 about a year before open sourcing the code.

VA: Why should people use Open Office?

SH: It works well for 90% of document creation needs; highly compatible with more different versions of MS Office documents than MS Office itself!; it runs on many OS platforms; the file format is open XML -- which brings substantial technical benefits to governments (public access to documents) and enterprises (document and content management); the file format is an open standard, governed by an international standards body, OASIS (and not by a single corporate entity); the file format will always be accessible to the public for free; the software is available in many more languages than similar proprietary software and therefore will eventually be used by more Earthlings:

VA: Who do you think would most benefit from it?

SH: Everyone would potentially benefit by its openness, flexibility and stability; no one more than any other. OOo especially helps bridge a path for companies to migrate their workforces to Linux desktops, which brings substantial productivity gains as well as costs savings.

VA: What, in your view, is the importance of Open Source software?

SH: Open source development methodologies create better software which keeps getting better and better. It does this through relatively efficient resource allocation. It is important that certain kinds of software -- like operating systems and office suites -- be created and made available openly because they are public utilities and no one has a right to govern or hide the machinations inside the code for personal benefit or for any other

VA: Are you planning any future releases of Open Office?

SH: Of course. There is a document "Q-Concept" which outlines the development roadmap currently specified for OOo 2.0: http://tools.openoffice.org/releases/q-concept.html

VA: Are you working on other projects besides Open Office? if so, what?

SH: The Open Government Interoperability Project www.OGIP.org; Project Leopard www.oss-institute.org;
"Knowledge-Up" www.cfy.org

I personally lurk on Python Marketing list and Mozilla but am not active. There are members of our community who are senior in other projects like postgreSQL, Mozilla, a few Linux kernel contributors and Ximian's MONO, Evolution & GNOME. Most major Linux distros have people who contribute back to OOo. Once you stare at it long enough you will realize that there are a few hudred people on earth who do all the critical work. One of the initiatives we've got under way at OOo that we have a lot of faith in is getting high school and university students to become aware of open source projects and join in. It's a great way to learn and discover a passion.

VA: Thank you.

OpenOffice is an identical Office Suite to Microsoft's Office Suite, and while they function alike, the difference is that it is given for free and you may download it from the Open Office website. The suite includes for example Writer [instead of Microsoft Word], Impress instead of PowerPoint, Calc instead of Excel etc.. The suite is compatible with all computers, and is also provided in many languages [you may check your language availability on their website]. Sam Hiser is Marketing Project Lead and Member of the governing Community Council of OpenOffice.org and a systems consultant to media, financial services, government and education

Manitoba raids the rainy day fund again

25 February, 2006

Oops! It appears as if the Province will once again dip into the rainy day fund to keep up from going into deficit. This has been a common occurance with Manitoba's NDP government and it fuels calls for their defeat, which I think will be a certainty should Doer not run in the next election.

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Manitoba Tory leadership candidate and Fort Whyte MLA Hugh McFadyen.

Mind you, the Manitoba Tories aren't helping themselves so far with a lacklustre group of candidates vying for the leadership. The veterans are staying away, which is most unfortunate for them. Hugh McFadyen is young at 38, and is a veteran political insider, having been a senior advisor to Premier Gary Filmon and chief of staff to Mayor Sam Katz. He's also a formidalbe curler, having taken his team to the 1987 World Juniors for a silver medal. Winnipeg is the curling capital of Manitoba, by the way. I haven't fully sized up Hugh McFadyen, and it's safe to say most people don't know much about him. We'll hear a lot more, though, as the Manitoba Tories are scheduled to elect a new leader in April.

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Greg Selinger has a PhD from the London School of Economics, a Master's Degree in Public Administration from Queen's University and a Bachelor of Social Work Degree from the University of Manitoba.

From today's Winnipeg Free Press.
Spending numbers
What they budgeted versus what they actually spent


Budget - $6.398 billion

actual - $6.615 billion

overspent - $217 million (3.4 %)


budget - $6.757 billion

actual - $6.737 billion

underspent - $19 million (-0.3%)


budget - $6.928 billion

actual - $6.943 billion

overspent - $16 million (0.2 %)


budget - $7.256 billion

actual - $7.439 billion

overspent - $184 million (2.5 %)


budget - $7.471 billion

actual - $7.635 billion

overspent - $164 million (2.2 %)


budget - $8.063 billion

forecast - $8.338 billion

overspent - $275 billion (%)

-- Source: Manitoba Finance

Friday, February 24, 2006

Bristol England Switches to StarOffice

From LinuxDevCenter.com

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Bristol Switches to StarOffice
by Jono Bacon

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In southwest England lies Bristol, England's eighth most populous city. With more than 390,000 residents, Bristol is well populated with strong local government representation. The Bristol City Council, a large and comprehensive administration, runs the town. The council uses thousands of computers for a variety of tasks, one of the most fundamental being office productivity and document creation.

As a user of a range of software solutions, Bristol's council has always committed itself to finding the right solution for the right problem and trying to deliver that solution at the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) possible. As a primary user of Microsoft Office, the council saw the change in licensing policy at Microsoft as an opportunity to explore the options available to possibly unify its computing into a software standard.

There were two main drivers for its work on a new office software standard--one internal, one external. Within the council, staff responded to a survey about what standards they should incorporate--part of a Best Value Review of information and communication technologies (ICT)--and the top issue the respondents asked the council to fix was the mixed environment of Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect, and Microsoft Office. Users complained of spending too much time on converting documents, even for internal sharing, and without a corporate licensing agreement there were many versions of each product in use. Many of these tools did not support the newer features of Microsoft Office, which made collaborating with partners more difficult.

The obvious solution was to standardize on Microsoft Office, but that is where the external driver came in. Microsoft's changes to its volume licensing terms removed upgrade rights and introduced Software Assurance. The council assessed the impact of this new policy and discovered that it would increase its costs significantly.
A New Direction

Gavin Beckett, Bristol City Council's IT strategy manager, took up the challenge of building a business case to determine whether and how Bristol's 5,500 computers could migrate to an alternative office suite. Open source software had become a prominent option, and Beckett was keen to identify what open source could potentially offer.

Ultimately, the council decided to move over to Sun's StarOffice suite. Based on the open source OpenOffice.org suite, StarOffice provides a complete, supported, cross-platform office solution. Although StarOffice itself is not available under the same Open source license as its OpenOffice.org brethren, the move to StarOffice signaled a key win for open source supporters. StarOffice not only opens the door to open source, but it also firmly closes the door to the dreaded vendor lock-in that plagues its closed source counterparts. This vendor lock-in is evident in closed source file formats (such as those of Word and Excel) and would help to keep the user base locked into those applications to continue to be able to open the files. StarOffice and OpenOffice.org's support for the OASIS-standardized Open Document Format (ODF) and adoption of that software in Bristol eliminates vendor lock-in.

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The attraction to open source came in a few forms. "Clearly the cost of procuring Microsoft Office for the whole council was a major reason for our interest in low-cost or freely licensed software," Beckett says. "We knew that the council would have to find a large amount of money to invest in the migration project from the mixed environment to a new standard. If the standard product also came with a high purchase cost, we would find it very difficult, or even impossible, to find the budget for it. Our council had frozen Council Tax for three years running, and capital reserves were being used to fund essential services to vulnerable people--if we could provide a good-quality office suite within existing budgets, and invest in staff training and support at the same time, that had to be a better solution."

Despite the potential of a low-cost solution, Beckett was also eager to explore open standards. "If short-term cost was the overriding factor, it wasn't the only one. Bristol has been using open standards and open source for years in our web server infrastructure, and more recently in our work on e-trading. We recognized the value of avoiding proprietary lock-in, and saw the XML file format used by StarOffice/OpenOffice.org as a key to this. We think that the move to Open Document Format and the support for XForms within StarOffice 8 will provide significant opportunities for integration and interorganization messaging over the next couple of years. We didn't make this a key part of the business case, unlike Massachusetts, but their arguments make sense to us too. Government bodies are not the same as commercial organizations--we have far greater and longer lasting responsibilities to the public for the information we hold on them."

Beckett had difficulty finding negative reasons that related specifically to the open source basis of StarOffice, but identified mind-set as the most compelling problem. "Our biggest challenge was encouraging staff to be open-minded about anything that wasn't MS Office. Microsoft have become so dominant and ubiquitous that the default assumption for many people is that everything else is inferior and that the only way to accomplish work is to do it in the exact way that an MS Office product does it. When you combine this with the idea of software that doesn't cost money, you end up with comments like 'If it's cheap, it must be nasty.'" Beckett believes that part of the solution to this problem was to provide some peace of mind for his users. "We had to face a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt; do a lot of listening; and show people what StarOffice could do before they began to relax. Sun were very supportive during this process (as you would expect!), and I think the council needed the reassurance of a big IT vendor behind the product. They worked with us on a large-scale pilot in the local housing offices, and put in lots of engineering resources to follow up and fix the issues we found."
The Numbers Game

Although Beckett identified that cost was only one of many issues to consider in the business plan, TCO was a large factor that affected which way to move. It was apparent, however, that StarOffice was a compelling solution. "Clearly, having weighed up all of the relevant costs, we decided that the TCO of StarOffice was lower than Microsoft Office; otherwise we wouldn't have recommended the council adopt it. If you look at our Open Source Academy report on Building a Business Case for StarOffice, you can see that we looked at a very wide range of TCO elements. We based our evaluation on the Gartner office automation migration cost model but decided that some factors should be excluded, as they were effectively neutral between the two options."

Talking to organizations about moving over to open source typically identifies support and training as the key costs involved in a migration. Beckett needed to consider these factors too. "It was difficult to be certain about some of the costs relating to support and training, so we erred on the pessimistic side, assuming that StarOffice would involve higher costs and that existing Microsoft Office users would not require any training at all." He continues, "You could say that we stacked the deck in favor of Microsoft Office to reflect users' views. Despite this approach, we found that the TCO calculations favored StarOffice. So far, the experience of migrating users has proved that the cost of migration is low and ease of use is high. We now have concrete evidence that less effort is required to deploy the software [and] support and train users than we estimated. We have provided information on our approach through the Open Source Academy in our Deployment and Training Packs for other councils to use in their planning."

In winning large contracts, it is common to see fierce competition between different vendors. It was no different in Bristol. "Clearly, Microsoft didn't want to lose out to Sun, and they were very keen to persuade us that we should choose MS Office as our new standard. We met with them and discussed the concerns we had, around cost and lock-in, and listened to their point of view. They tried very hard to convince us that every penny we spent with them could result in greater savings from efficiencies down the road. Ultimately, although Microsoft were able to show us the best way to procure licenses at the lowest cost under the nationally agreed OGC terms, they simply did not respond to our key point--that each MS Office license was 12 times more expensive than the equivalent StarOffice license for the public sector. This isn't the case in education, where the academic license is only three times as much, but Microsoft wouldn't or couldn't extend this to us."

Beckett is keen to point out that the discussion period was as open as possible to all vendors. "We made sure that Microsoft had the opportunity to contribute information to the decision-making process. Our discussions were amicable, and we made it clear that Microsoft would continue to be an important supplier to Bristol even if MS Office wasn't chosen. They've recently provided some input to a project that will roll out Windows XP across the council."

A Difficult Position

In recent months, the migration case in Massachusetts has gripped the industry. This huge case study not only grabbed headlines because it was a huge rollout of the Open Document Format, but it also sparked interest in the behavior and pressure certain vendors placed on the man doing much of the work, Peter Quinn. With so much controversy, Quinn later resigned. There has been much speculation as to why he resigned and how it affects the move to open standards in Massachusetts.

I asked Beckett if he had a similar experience to Quinn as someone in a comparable position. "No, not the same degree of public, commercial, and press attention," he said, "but I do get a sense of deja vu when I read what's happening in Massachusetts. Remember, Massachusetts aren't migrating to OpenOffice.org, they are proposing to standardize on the OASIS Open Document Format. If Microsoft decide to provide support for ODF within Microsoft Office, Massachusetts won't need to move off it (although they will face the cost of migrating to a new version--which would be massive across their 50,000 desktops)."

Beckett feels that the accessibility aspect to the migration was an important issue. "Although we are ten times smaller than them, we share many similarities. One of the most important is that our community of disabled staff was also very concerned about the accessibility issues involved. We've worked closely with them over the last 12 months and have developed a range of measures that support them. Basically, the assistive technologies that have been designed for Windows and MS Office just don't work effectively with StarOffice/OpenOffice.org--[for example], the JAWS screen reader or Dragon voice control/dictation software. It's a very emotive area; many disabled people have to fight hard for their access rights and jobs, and fear technology change that may sweep away their security. They trust the specialist vendors but had never heard of Sun."

Beckett also defends the position of Sun on accessibility. "Ironically, Sun are world leaders in the development of accessible technology. They were awarded the Helen Keller award for their contributions to GNOME accessibility. They have developed a robust, API-based approach that provides a much richer set of hooks and cues for assistive technology and is less prone to breaking when software is upgraded. [See Peter Korn's Weblog for more details.] Unfortunately, this doesn't help our disabled users on Windows, because the key software vendors have so far been unwilling to develop full integration with the Java Accessibility API." Beckett feels this is an important area in which to raise awareness. "The events in Massachusetts over the last year have been instrumental in raising the profile of this area, and we know that more resources will be directed to solving these issues now."

When Beckett and his team made the decision to move to StarOffice, the story was certainly not over. "We had many intense debates about the proposal and eventual decision to use StarOffice. Many people questioned the sense of the decision, and wanted to know that we had considered all angles. On a smaller scale, we had to provide answers and engage in similar discussions, but whereas Peter Quinn and MA's ITD have had to deal with live blogging and podcasts of their every word, we had the luxury of conducting our debates internally."

Beckett was keen to ensure that his group conducted every step of the process with the utmost care and attention to keep the proposal on track. "We took care to consider all of the objections and concerns, to investigate them and provide answers, and to build consensus at all levels of management. Once the corporate management team had approved the proposal, we sought and received political approval from our executive member, the council equivalent of a minister. Our business case was centered on the costs and savings rather than the wider open standards issues, and ultimately this proved compelling."
Implementing StarOffice

With the proposal to move to StarOffice accepted, the next step was to perform the actual migration. This process in itself is a complex and time-consuming job, and it continues, but Beckett is pleased with the progress. "I'm pleased to say that it's been smooth so far, in large part due to an able project manager and a very hard-working and skilled support team. We attracted some excellent people and have built a small team that includes some long-term council IT officers with some newer recruits. The combination results in a team with energy and experience; I keep hearing positive comments from users about the quality of support they're getting. Overall, we've found the council's staff are willing to work with us, and once we get to visit them and sit side by side, looking at StarOffice on their PCs, people are open to trying it out."

Beckett shared some of the techniques, activities, and methods in which he has helped to ease the migration process. "We spend a lot of time preparing before arriving on site. We gather information about the team locations [and] names of staff, and use various tools to scan and analyze their files--looking for potential issues that will need technical support. We communicate with the team in a variety of ways, and work with them on any complex document conversions. We provide half-day familiarization courses for key users, and help managers to decide who else to book on longer training courses. A lot of this has been documented in our Deployment & Migration, Communication and Training Packs for the Open Source Academy."

As with any migration plan, naturally some difficulties arose in Bristol's migration too. "Of course there are hiccups and challenges--we are interrupting the operational flow of activities in service delivery teams, which sometimes means that users don't get round to telling us about all the important documents before we arrive, or aren't available on the day they are due for their 1-1 session. But none of these things have seriously affected the migration process. We expected some surprises, and planned in 'mop-up' weeks between migration phases, in which we book return visits and finish off document conversions. This has worked well so far, and we've migrated over 2,000 staff. One thing we've had to manage carefully is our exceptions process--which exists to enable people to register their need to retain Microsoft Office, if for instance they have to complete Central Government financial returns in Excel that use VBA. We set a target of no more than 15 percent exceptions across the city, and so far it's well below that. Quite a few of these exceptions relate to users of business systems that currently use Microsoft Office for letter production or data analysis, and our disabled staff whose assistive technology doesn't work with StarOffice. We've been working with several of the big local government system vendors to develop and test StarOffice integration. You'll see more information about this from the Open Source Academy later in 2006."

With Beckett's experience on the front line in migrating a council over to an alternative platform, he believes that other councils can make the move depending on their circumstances. "Councils will benefit most if they share many similarities with our context--a mixed software environment, significant financial constraints, a recognized need for more user training in IT. We have reflected on this at more length in the Building a Business Case report."

With such experience behind him, where does Beckett feel like the process could be improved? "We aren't waiting for the next project to improve our migration processes--each section of the council that we have migrated has an end-of-stage report, which details what we have done for them and identifies any issues. Alongside this, the project team review what went well and what could be improved. We've made small changes here and there to our approach; for instance, we are going to start distributing our getting-started guides when we first visit the team to gather basic information, rather than waiting until we arrive on site for the 1-1s."
Moving Forward

The Bristol case study has been a superb example of a migration performed sensibly. From speaking to Beckett on the phone and via email, it is clear that he has a great degree of patience and time to ensure that the research, proposals, migration, and retraining is as smooth and supportive as possible. In some other cases, the migration team has taken a less patient and understanding approach to its users--it's good to see Beckett has employed some grounding to his work. Another impressive aspect in this particular case study is that the migration team has worked to produce a number of supporting documents and research papers that outline its findings and work. As such, Bristol has not only developed a sound migratory path, but also has documented the process, providing feature comparisons, business cases, and more for the benefit of other people in similar positions.

What is in store for Bristol? Is it going to move other parts of its organization to open source? "I recall reading an article last year which made the point that you need to treat the use of open source for strategic purposes with the same discipline and rigor as you would use for commercial solutions," says Beckett. "That's essentially how we approach it. We're very open to open source, but it has to meet the same criteria as anything else--things like functionality, robustness, sustainability, interoperability. In a sense, every area of the ICT infrastructure and business applications that might be reviewed in the future could be a candidate for open source solutions. For instance, we're reviewing our ICT strategy and technical architecture over the next six months, and this will include looking at how we provide file and print services, email, application servers, the desktop OS, and more. In each of these areas we'll take a hard look at the options."

An obvious choice for migration is its Netware solution. "Our current file/print server platform is Netware, which everyone knows will be gradually phased out by Novell as they ramp up their Linux-based OS services. So we will look at whether our next step is to Novell SUSE Linux, or another Linux, or Windows Server, or even Solaris. I don't know what the answer will be yet--but we'll consider all factors in our decision, just as we did with the office suite."

Jono Bacon has been working as a full-time writer and technology consultant/developer since 2000 and has worked for a variety of publishers and companies.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Microsoft leaks Vista information - 8 varieties

Exclusive: Vista Product Editions Still Not Finalized

Paul Thurrott
InstantDoc #49450
February 18, 2006

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Five months after I revealed the Windows Vista product editions, Microsoft appeared to corroborate my report last weekend, officially revealing which Vista versions customers will be able to purchase later this year. The corroboration came in the form of a Web page that described each product edition. However, just 1 day after being posted, the Web page was taken down. Now, Microsoft says that it hasn't yet finalized Vista branding.

"Microsoft recently posted a Web page designed to test the Windows Vista Help system that included incomplete information about the Windows Vista product lineup," a Microsoft spokesperson told me. "This page has since been removed as it was posted prematurely and was for testing purposes only. We will share more information about the Windows Vista lineup in the coming weeks."

On the now-missing page, Microsoft's final branding varied only slightly from my initial report: One product version (Starter Edition) was renamed and one version (Vista Small Business) didn't appear on Microsoft's short-lived Web site. But according to the comments I've gotten from Microsoft, perhaps the Small Business version of Vista is indeed making a comeback.

Here are the product editions Microsoft plans to ship for Vista according to the most recent information I have:

Windows Starter 2007 (Previously Windows Vista Starter Edition). This version doesn’t use the Vista branding because it won't include the Windows Aero graphics display found in the Vista product line and will be available only in a 32-bit version.

Windows Vista Home Basic (and Home Basic N). This is a simple version of Vista that's aimed at single-PC homes. Vista Home Basic is the baseline version of Vista, which all other product editions will build from. Home Basic N is aimed at the European Union (EU) and will lack Windows Media Player.

Windows Vista Home Premium. This version is aimed at whole-home entertainment and personal productivity throughout the home and on the go. As a superset of Vista Home Basic, Vista Home Premium Edition will include everything from Vista Home Basic to Media Center and Media Center Extender functionality (including Cable Card support).

Windows Vista Business (and Business N) (Previously Windows Vista Professional Edition). Windows Vista Business is roughly analogous to Windows XP Professional Edition today. This version is aimed at business decision makers and IT managers and generalists. Business N is aimed at the EU and will lack Windows Media Player.

Windows Vista Enterprise. Optimized for the enterprise, this version will be a true superset of Vista Business. It will also include unique features such as Virtual PC, the Multilingual User Interface (MUI), and the Secure Startup-Full Volume Encryption security technologies ("Cornerstone"). There is no analogous XP version for this product.

Windows Vista Ultimate. The best OS ever offered for a personal PC, optimized for the individual. Vista Ultimate Edition is a superset of both Vista Home Premium and Vista Business, so it includes all the features of both those product versions, as well as additional features.

As I noted in my September 2005 write-up, all of the Vista product names were placeholders and could change before the final product release. This week, it's clear what some of those changes are. For more information, please refer to my Windows Vista Product Editions Preview on the SuperSite for Windows; I'll be revising this document to match the known changes soon.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The iPod and the Audiophile

The iPod and the Audiophile
February 21, 2006
By Loyd Case

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Being an audiophile is not easy these days.

To be fair, I'm not one of the "golden ears" set. You know the type—they can't stand to listen to music unless they're sitting in the stereo sweet spot, and the music is played from a vinyl record on a manual turntable with a moving coil cartridge, through their monoblock tube amplifiers and tube preamp. Call me a "silver ear" audiophile. I'm picky about speakers, and I can't listen to music with too much lossy compression for long periods of time. Most of my music is ripped using Microsoft's Windows Media Lossless format, but I have yet to find a portable media player that supports WMA Lossless playback. I can still recall the sheepish look on Phil O'Shaugnessy's face (Phil is the lead PR guy for Creative Labs) when I asked him if Creative's spiffy new Zen Vision:M would support WMA Lossless playback. The answer, alas, was no.

Recently, I lamented how little attention lossless playback had gotten in my commentary on Ten Failed Tech Trends for 2005. An alert reader noted in the ExtremeTech forum that Apple had started supporting a lossless codec, and even supported playback of Apple Lossless on iPods. So I naturally had to pick up a 60GB iPod and re-rip my CD collection using iTunes.

While the iPod and iTunes combination is certainly a potent one, I'm not quite in love with it the way our forum community manager Jim Lynch or senior technology analyst Jason Cross seem to be. For one thing, iTunes seems to be something of a straitjacket—easy to use, but you have to do it Apple's way. As I noted in my column Confessions of a Low GQ, I'm only an occasional user of portable media devices. Still, I have 50 gigabytes and some 2,800 music files ripped from my CD collection onto my PC in lossless playback format. I've been trying to figure out how to play that music on my various audio systems. One reason I haven't been much of an aficionado of digital music players is the lack of ability for these devices to play back losslessly encoded music. The iPod fixes that, but introduces some other problems of its own.

So here's the tale of my journey to get lossless compression into a portable music player as well as on all my audio systems. It turned out to be far more of a hassle than I thought it would be. Today's digital media landscape is Balkanized and heavily compartmentalized, partly because of copyright paranoia on the part of the studios and partly because of conflicting formats. All of this makes VHS versus Betamax wars of the 80's look like a romp in the park. Continued... Several years ago, we had our home wired with CAT5e, coax, and phone wire. At that time, I was thinking mostly about computers rather than home A/V gear. The home network currently looks like this:

* A D-Link DGL-4300, with full support for D-Link's 802.11g turbo wireless networking plus a four-port gigabit Ethernet
* Two Netgear 16-port fanless gigabit Ethernet switches
* CAT5e cabling through most of the house (two bedrooms, living room, two home offices), except my basement office/lab, which has CAT6.
* Coax through most of the house
* A Leviton patch panel in the basement, which allows me to easily reroute wiring. The two gigabit switches live there.

So it's a piece of cake to connect any PC or wireless Ethernet device. But all this assumes that the devices actually want to talk to each other. Computers? No problem. Consumer electronics gear? Not so easy. Let's take a look at the audio systems in the house.

Like most people, I didn't set up my audio and home theater systems in one grand enterprise. Rather, they grew incrementally. I have a total of three high-fidelity systems in the house, of varying ages and capabilities:

* An ancient (by modern standards) Technics A/V receiver that really just serves as a stereo driving a pair of bookshelf speakers. A 5-platter CD changer and cassette tape deck are normally attached.
* An Onkyo TX-NR900 receiver lives in the family room and is the main A/V receiver for the family home theater. A Yamaha DVD-S2300 DVD player and Dish Network 921 HD satellite box is attached to this, along with a 50-inch Samsung DLP rear-projection TV. The Onkyo receiver actually has an Ethernet port, but connectivity is limited to using Onkyo's proprietary Net-Tune software.
* In the office is my newest audio setup, which I often use to test out new gear and concepts. The newest member of the family is a Denon AVR-4306 A/V, receiver which also sports an Ethernet port. But the Denon is a universal plug-and-play device, and can connect to PCs using Windows Media Connect.

Not long ago, Roku Labs loaned me a Soundbridge M2000, which apparently is no longer available. But the internal electronics are the same as the M1000, with a larger display. The M2000 is a digital media adapter, which can connect to PCs and Internet radio. Like the Denon AVR-4306, the Soundbridge can be connected to Windows Media Connect to play back digital music. The Soundbridge can also connect to iTunes, provided you have sharing mode enabled in iTunes.

Now that you understand the electronics landscape, let's summarize the goals here:

* Goal 1: a portable media player that supports playback of audio files ripped in a mathematically lossless format
* Goal 2: the ability to play back the digital music on any audio system in my house, without compromising fidelity

This seems quite simple, on the surface. Continued... After getting the 60GB iPod, I installed iTunes and re-ripped my music. That's right, I now have two duplicate music libraries—one ripped with Apple Lossless and the other ripped with Windows Media Lossless. It sounds silly, but it turned out to be necessary. Initially, I just wanted the duplicate libraries to test various options, thinking I'd eventually settle on just one and nuke the other one. In the end, I'll probably keep both around for future testing.

Getting music from my PC to any of the aforementioned A/V receivers should have been simple, given the network connectivity in my house. But it wasn't. Let's run down each A/V setup to see what happened.

Technics SA-GX770
This particular A/V receiver is old enough that it lacks Dolby Digital support. But that's irrelevant for our purposes, because it's only used for stereo music playback. Prior to iPod/iTunes, getting digital music to play on the Technics was as easy as hooking up the Roku M2000. The Roku connected over Wi-Fi, and all I had to do was set up Wi-Fi security with the appropriate WEP key. At that point, the Roku connected over the LAN to Windows Media Connect.

As it turns out, the M2000 doesn't directly support Windows Media Lossless. But Windows Media Connect transcodes the files on-the-fly to PCM, so the result is uncompressed audio.

Roku advertises the M series as supporting iTunes, though the company is careful to say that it won't play back anything with a FairPlay DRM wrapper (in other words, anything from the iTunes Music Store). If you have AAC-encoded content that's not protected because you ripped it yourself, the M2000 can see an iTunes share and play music just fine. So I tried to play music encoded with Apple Lossless.

It looks like the company needs to add Apple Lossless support to its list of unsupported codecs. The M2000 will not play back anything encoded with Apple Lossless. Apparently, Roku's license is an old one, and the Lossless codec isn't grandfathered into the license. From reading between the lines, it seems that Apple is unwilling to license the Lossless codec. So I had to turn to another solution for playing back music encoded with Apple Lossless.

Chalk up another black mark in the "digital media balkanization" column.

Onkyo TX-NR900
The Onkyo shipped with an Ethernet port, but requires that you use its proprietary Net-Tune software on the PC to serve up content. The good news is that Net-Tune only indexes existing content, rather than making complete copies. The bad news is that it's buggy, doesn't always connect properly, and doesn't support WMA Lossless. And, of course, it can't see iTunes, even with sharing enabled. To be fair, this is an older model, and was one of the first A/V receivers to incorporate an Ethernet port. It's too bad, though, that Onkyo pursued a proprietary strategy. What about the iPod? As it turns out, Onkyo has a solution that even works with its older receivers—sort of. We'll discuss that in the next section.

Denon AVR-4306
I had high hopes for this receiver. It's not Denon's first attempt at building networking capability into a receiver, but it is the first sub-$2,000 (barely) unit to do so. On top of that, the Denon supports Windows Media Connect and is a uPnP device. In fact, it was very easy to set up and see the music files and WMA playlists on the server. Alas, when trying to play files encoded with WMA Lossless, all I saw was a "format error" message.

Luckily, the Denon directly supports the iPod with a connector. But for some reason, Denon didn't see fit to include the iPod connection cable inside the box with a $2,000 receiver. Instead, the cable is an additional $60 accessory. Once you get it hooked up, though, the Denon works with the iPod quite well. We'll talk more specifically about iPod support shortly.

Although the Denon supports connectivity to an iPod through a cable connection, it's incapable of seeing an iTunes share. Continued... So it looks like the nirvana of distributing music around my home network, plus having a portable music player that can play back music without using lossy compression, isn't so easy. (One note: You can always play back completely uncompressed music, for example, WAV files. But then you lose all the nifty tagging and other features that make digital music servers and players so convenient.)

There is one other solution: Connect the iPod directly to your audio system. In my particular case, I uncovered three ways to do this that work. One is actually universal, in that it will work with any of my A/V receivers, but it does have other limitations. The other two are proprietary, but worth a look.

One odd cosmetic point: All the iPod accessories we'll discuss are white. Even the simple cable Denon supplies to connect with the AVR-4306 is white. So are both of the docks mentioned below. Considering that both the receiver and my iPod are black, I find some this a little odd. After all, the docks will live most of the time in or around the A/V system, so you'd think cosmetically matching them to the components in the rack would be more likely than matching them with a music player that may or may not be white.

All these devices work with Apple's universal dock connector, so whether you have a 60GB iPod, a 2GB Nano or 4GB iPod Mini, you'll be able to connect to these products. But if you really want your music encoded and stored on your iPod with Apple Lossless, you'll need lots of capacity, so the 60GB iPod is probably the way to go.

So with that, let's jump into the three ways to connect your iPod to your home audio setup. Continued... The AVR-4306 Cable was by far the simplest way to connect an iPod to a home audio system, but it is also the most expensive. After all, you need a $2,000 receiver, plus an additional $60 cable.

The AVR-4306 has connectors on both the front panel (under a flip-down door) and on the back of the unit, for more permanent hookups. You can either connect the iPod directly with the cable or connect the cable to an Apple universal dock. The audio is shipped to the receiver via this cable, not over a mini-jack analog connection, which should yield better fidelity.

Once connected, you can control the iPod with the 4306's remote. This isn't as straightforward as it could be. First, you'll need to map the iPod to one of the input connections. In my case, I mapped it to VCR2. Once that's done, you get to relearn the remote functions. You would think that Denon would map the iPod transport controls to the remote control's transport controls. You would be wrong. Instead, they're mapped to the Enter/up/down/left/right navigation buttons on the center of the remote.

There are other oddities about the way Denon maps the remote control to iPod functionality. For example, if you want to set up shuffle play, you need to press the Tuner soft button on the remote's touch screen, then press the memory button. As Yoda might say, "Intuitive it is not."

Once you figure all that out, it works great. You even get your playlists and song info on your on-screen display, assuming you use one. Alas, you don't get album cover art.

Denon isn't the only manufacturer of A/V receivers doing direct iPod connectivity. Two of Pioneer's Elite line, the VSX-74TXVi and the VSX-72TXV have direct iPod connections, for example. Several other companies, including Denon and Harmon Kardon, are developing iPod docks for their product lines. Continued...

Product: Denon AVR-4306 iPod Cable
Company: Denon
Price: $60 check prices
Pros: Connects your iPod to a Denon AVR-4306; remotely control the iPod; track info shown on screen
Cons: Only currently works with the AVR-4306; no support for iPod video; weird remote control mapping
Summary: If you have a Denon AVR-4306 and an iPod, this is a must-have accessory.
Speaking of iPod docks for A/V receivers, Onkyo is shipping the DS-A1, a dock that works with Onkyo's proprietary R1 remote control connector.

Most Onkyo A/V receivers manufactured in the last few years have an R1 port, Onkyo's remote-control protocol. The R1 jack resembles a monophonic mini-jack, and connects to the back of the receiver. Current generation Onkyo receivers have "enhanced" iPod support, which means that their remote controls can handle a greater range of iPod functions. We have an older Onkyo TX-NR900 receiver, however, so we wanted to see just how well the older system would work with the iPod.

Connection was pretty easy. The cradle connects to inputs on the receiver, and has its own power brick, which enables charging of the iPod in use. A switch on the underside of the cradle allows you to select modes for iPod operation. The cradle can emulate tape deck, MiniDisc players and CD-R recorders. There's even an intriguing entry labeled "HDD," which isn't well documented.

On our older receiver, the DS-A1 worked fine, although the controls were somewhat limited, since we could only get the DS-A1 to work on this particular receiver when set to "Tape" mode. The iPod transport controls do map to the transport controls built into the remote control. But there seems to be a bug: Whenever you press the Skip Track button (which skips to the next song), the receiver goes into "Tape" mode, which means you can't hear the music. We worked around this by assigning a macro to one of the two macro buttons on the TX-NR900 remote control. The macro sends the command to skip the track, and then switches the tape recorder off.

Also, we couldn't get anything on our HDTV screen—no photos, no music title information. We assume that on a newer Onkyo receiver the DS-A1 offers better functionality. But even having basic functionality is pretty neat. Continued...

Product: Onkyo DS-A1 iPod Dock
Company: Onkyo
Price: $99 check prices
Pros: Works with a wide range of Onkyo A/V receivers; support for photos on newer Denon receivers.
Cons: Limited to basic iPod music playback on older receivers.
Summary: The DS-A1 is probably better suited for owners of more recent Onkyo receivers, but you still get basic music playback on older units.
Apple actually something called the "iPod AV connection kit." What this really consists of is a bundle of the iPod universal dock, a couple of cables and a USB charger. The connection to your audio gear is via a stereo mini-jack to RCA stereo plug. It may be a better deal than buying these individually, but high fidelity its not.

Enter Xitel, one of the many companies that's entered the iPod accessories fray. Xitel makes a number of audio accessory and cabling kits that enable PCs and A/V stacks to communicate with each other. The HiFi-Link for iPod is Xitel's latest accessory. Priced identically to Apple's AV connection kit, the Xitel unit offers a pair of gold-plated RCA connectors for audio out. On the other hand, the HiFi-Link only offers a composite video connection in place of Apple's S-video connector.

Connecting the HiFi-Link is fairly simple. You connect the supplied RCA audio cables to your A/V receiver and connect up the small power brick. Xitel does supply a mini-jack-to-RCA converter, if you want to connect to some output device, such as PC speakers, that only have mini-jack inputs. You can even watch video from the iPod to a TV connected to your A/V receiver, though the quality is pretty limited. The unit also supports SRS TruBass. This is a "bass enhancement" feature that may be fine for boom boxes, but if you're attaching this to a high-end audio system, turn this feature off.

The Xitel ships with a tiny remote that resembles a fat iPod shuffle. This has got to be one of the most frustrating remotes we've used. In an attempt to replicate the simplicity of the iPod, Xitel has shipped a highly de-featured remote control. It's easy to skip tracks or shift playlists, but you can't move to video or photo mode with the remote. What this remote really needs is a better set of transport controls. Also, the unit doesn't pipe song information over the video link: You have to squint at the tiny iPod screen to see what you're actually playing. Finally, if you do want to display photos or videos, you need to use the controls on the iPod itself, not the HiFi-Link's remote.

In the end, if what you really want is basic audio playback and you have your iPod close enough to read the screen, then the HiFi-Link for iPod may work for you. But be aware of its limitations. Continued...

Product: Xitel HiFi-Link for iPod
Company: Xitel
Price: $99 check prices
Pros: Charges the iPod; good audio playback quality.
Cons: Poor remote; no song info on screen; video and photos require using iPod controls directly.
Summary: For basic audio playback, the HiFi-Link for iPod works fine, but the product doesn't seem fully baked.
As we've seen, if you're enough of an audiophile to care about using lossless compression, then your options for getting your Apple Lossless or WMA Lossless encoded media onto both portable media devices and to your high-fidelity systems are limited. Apple wins by its de facto support of both lossless compression on the iPod hardware and its huge infrastructure of available accessories. Really, we've only scratched the surface, and we'll continue our quest for finding the best way to listen to our music anywhere, anyplace, and with the best fidelity.

Read more Audio articles on ExtremeTech.

There have been other players that supported lossless compression playback, such as Rio's ill-fated players, which supported the open-source FLAC compression scheme. But with companies like Creative Labs conceding the high end to Apple, there's not much for an audiophile to do but get an iPod.

We'd like to see Apple more liberally license Apple Lossless so that companies like Roku could add support for the format in their digital media adapters. And if Apple would start offering support for lossless encoding of downloadable music, we might actually buy some tunes from the iTunes store.

As for getting that music onto home A/V systems, it looks like the sneakernet approach of physically attaching the iPod to the A/V system via some accessory is the only way to go. The three products we checked out all have their merits. Certainly the Denon's tight integration with its remote is the best of the three, but the wonky transport control layout and the need to be locked to a Denon receiver is a pretty hefty downside. Onkyo has a good idea with the DS-A1, but its support of older systems, however well intentioned, is somewhat lacking. Finally, the Xitel HiFi-Link seems like a very good idea, but the implementation falls short.

So far, there's no perfect solution, so the quest continues.

Related articles:
Copyright (c) 2006 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Land of Odds

I found this article as I was searching for information about a Winnipeg company who specialize in Internet-based sweepstakes. One of employees is a friend of one of my neighbors. I hope to eventually feature this company in an article.

Marketing Magazine

The Land of Odds
February 13, 2006

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Think you've got an iron-clad contest? Carolyn Wilman, Canada's 'contest queen' says too many contests are full of holes and marketers are on the losing end

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Carolyn Wilman

Carolyn Wilman loves her tea. "I'm a total tea snob," says the Oshawa, Ont. resident, sitting at her kitchen table, pouring a cup of Fortnum & Mason Afternoon Blend, a new favourite she picked up on a recent trip to London, England. The $9,000 family vacation in December cost her next to nothing. She won it as part of a National Post contest promoting the latest Harry Potter movie. "I actually have a picture of me sitting in Dumbledore's chair. It was great!"

In less time than it takes to pour another cup, it becomes clear that Wilman could just be the luckiest woman in Canada: Last year, she won more than 150 contests worth approximately $34,000 in cash and prizes. In 2004, she won 125 contests. Her efforts have landed her and her family everything from $1.50 music downloads to a $10,000 Greek Island getaway.

But luck favours those who play the odds. And Wilman, the self-styled "contest queen," plays them like a Vegas veteran. Every month, the contest "hobbyist" (she dislikes the word "professional") enters between 6,000 and 7,000 ballots, winning an average of 10 to 15 contests. Wilman once even averaged one win a day for an entire month.

"Say there's a contest for a car," says the stay-at-home mother. "Well, everyone in my family can use a new car. So I'll enter me, I'll enter my husband, my mom, my sister, my brother. I might even enter one of my best friends."

Wilman often gives her winnings to family, friends and charity, and all that balloting has made her an expert on what makes for a solid promotional contest. With marketers' below-the-line budgets growing and contests being used to connect with the best prospects, Wilman says flaws are also becoming more commonplace. She estimates 25% of the contests she enters have holes that, if not fixed, can mean hurting the relationship companies are trying to build with consumers.

"When they get people calling up and asking 'how many times can I enter 'cause that's not in the rules, what's the end date,' or that your web page keeps crashing, you've got to listen to those people," she says. "We're the ones bothering to let you know there's something wrong. Everyone else won't. They'll just click on your site. They can't get in? Oh well, gone!"

Parked outside Wilman's house is a maroon Jeep Grand Cherokee with a licence plate that says it all: "IMLUCKY." While it's a hint of her success, she usually prefers to stay humble. Not everyone in her online contest playing community wins as much as she does, after all. "It's part of my karma," she says. "I don't want to get the evil eye."

What she wants is to help-both marketers and contest players. For the latter, she plans on self-publishing her first book this month, titled You Can't Win If You Don't Enter, filled with tips gleaned since 2001, after the dot-com bust left her jobless and the birth of her daughter meant spending more time at home. To aid in her winning ways, Wilman uses computer programs like RoboForm, an autofiller that lets her enter any number of contests with a few keystrokes. "This saves so much time... And it's completely legal."

For marketers, she offers services like contest auditing, pre-testing, education and strategy through her website, contestqueen.com. Wilman's quick to assert that she never breaks contest rules. Hobbyists or enthusiasts, she adds, can in fact be a marketer's most valuable ambassador.

"We talk about you online-it's buzz marketing at its finest," she says. "The problem is companies hate the hobbyist. They think we're just out to win."

And winning is definitely taken seriously, says Brenda Pritchard, a partner at Toronto's Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, who heads the firm's national advertising law practice. In an effort to increase their chances, some would-be winners bend the rules with amazing ingenuity. Pritchard tells of one woman who created 10,000 e-mail addresses for a contest that stipulated a maximum of one entry per address.

Others use programs like RoboForm to fire e-ballots faster than a machine gun, taking advantage of contests that fail to state a maximum number of entries per person. "We had one contest where a client said someone was entering 30,000 times per minute," Pritchard says.

"A lot of marketers may not understand what's capable on the Internet today," says Duncan McCready, executive vice-president of the IC Group, a Winnipeg-based promotions management company that handles as many as 150 contests each year for clients like Visa, Pepsi QTG and AOL Time Warner. He's seen instances where 95% of contest entries originate from as few as 10 individuals.

"It's significant," he says. "If the proper security mechanisms aren't in place, you're going to see 60% or more of the registration data come from less than 1% of the unique registrants."

But those are extreme cases. Pritchard, who is also co-author of the book Advertising and Marketing Law in Canada, says most contests usually go according to plan, and having lawyers check them beforehand is a big reason why. Her best advice? "Don't just go online, copy somebody else's rules and assume that it's going to work for your promotion," she says. "And step back from it. Have somebody who's not integrally involved see if it makes sense. You want consumers to understand it." Overly complicated rules, she says, result in frustration and, ultimately, less participation.

Neglecting the details is another problem. Wilman says she's had mail-in ballots returned to her because the address posted by the contest didn't exist. One management firm even admitted to her that it didn't test a contest web page before it went live. "They fixed it, but if you're Joe Average and you couldn't enter those first few days, would you bother going back? No. Lost customer."

McCready says contests often veer off track during the design and development crunch, when approvals don't happen fast enough and an imminent advertising campaign or product launch forces the supporting contest to face the music prematurely. "If they only have a couple days to get it in market, they blow through the testing period," he says. "You could see how it could go off the rails pretty fast."

And when things go wrong, they can be disastrous. In 2001, a printing error forced Ultramar to activate its backup plan. The gas retailer had distributed 314,000 promotional booklets throughout New Brunswick. Three of them were supposed to contain an instant prize of $1,500 in gas, but the misprint turned 100,000 of them into instant winners. An apologetic Ultramar held a random draw for the three prizes instead, as set out in its regulations.

Pepsi wasn't so lucky. In 1992, in the Philippines, an under-the-bottlecap promotion was to award one $50,000 prize, but a printing error made 800,000 bottlecaps grand prize winners. Pepsi offered to pay $20 to anyone with a winning cap. The public scoffed. Things went from bad to worse. "Bombs were thrown into Pepsi bottling plants, two people died in riots and all foreign-born Pepsi executives were flown from the country," Pritchard says. "It was a disaster."

Mike Accavitti, the former vice-president of marketing for Windsor, Ont.-based DaimlerChrysler Canada, knows promotional contests aren't all fun and games. For its "You Could Be A Millionaire" promotion that ended in January, DaimlerChrysler took out insurance against scenarios that included multiple million-dollar winners, he says, adding DC's legal team, ad agency and contest management firm were all involved right from the start. "We didn't cut any corners."

Scott Cruickshank, sales manager for Brantford, Ont.-based Marco Sales & Incentives, a third-party fulfillment firm that handles as many as 800 contests each year, including DC's Millionaire promotion, says a common misconception he sees involves marketers who want to build a database, thinking all the information gathered through their contest is fair game. Current privacy laws say otherwise. "There's no more default where if people don't check a box, I can still use (their information)," he says. "It's not a negative opt-in anymore. It's a positive opt-in."

On the upside, Accavitti, who was transferred in January to DC headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich. for his new role as director of Dodge Motorsports, says he isn't bothered by contest professionals. DC's two or three major contests each year, he says, are invaluable for things like driving traffic to dealerships, introducing new products and generating publicity. "We know that in order to break through, you have to go out on a limb. You have to take some risks."

Back at her house in Oshawa, Wilman's doorbell rings. Seconds later, she hauls a large cardboard box back into the kitchen as her cherubic three-year-old, Nicole, bounces by her side, fixated on its contents.

"Ho-lee-mo-lee! Look at all the stuff we won!" Wilman says, pulling box after box of Girlfitti-brand accessories from Crayola onto the kitchen counter. She entered herself, Nicole and her husband into the YTV contest after learning about it from her online chat group. A few minutes later, the phone rings. It's a radio station calling to notify Wilman of yet another win. She jots down the information, smiling.

"I love doing this," she says, opening one of Nicole's new toys. "Go have fun now. Who's a winner?"

Nicole shuffles off into the family room. "I am!"

Wilman's winning advice

State your purpose:
Is it brand awareness? A new product launch? Attracting new customers or building a database? Pick one and stick with it. Too many objectives muddle the message.

The purpose of a contest self-selects its type. For example, brand awareness contests should allow for daily entry. If you're trying to build a database, ensure there's an opt-in or opt-out section.

Take aim:
Who is your target? If it's a younger crowd save the mail-in ballots for older demographics, and go instead with online or text messaging.

Take the heat:
Does your internal team have the resources to handle tens of thousands of letters? Will your website crumble under the weight of hundreds of thousands of visitors? Consider hiring a third- party specialist to deal with it.

Rules rule
Include who is eligible, how often they can enter, how many people per household can enter and the start- and end-dates of the contest. Remember, rules are a legal document.

Listen up:
Contest players, especially hobbyists, should be valued for their feedback.

Plan B:
What is your contingency plan for changes in prize availability? List your backup plan in the regulations. Have a PR strategy ready. "

Film - Transamerica

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Based on the trailers, I had no intention of seeing this film. Given the awards it has won, and the fact that Felicity Huffman is up for the Oscar for Best Actress, I thought I would give this a try.

I'm glad I did.

The story is about a cross-country trip from NY to LA and the relationship between two related but vastly different strangers. Our heroine is Brie Osbourne, a guy dressing as a woman and taking hormone replacement therapy to become physically female. Her therapist won't sign off on her operation until Brie visits her newly discovered son in NY to confirm that he is bailed out of jail and able to make it on his own. In NY, she simply needs to make it back to LA in a few days, otherwise she has to schedule another operation in several more more months. Unable to simply abandon him after bailing him out, she decides to drive the two of them to LA. The son doesn't know this strange woman from some Christian outreach program, but so long as she gets him to LA where he can become an aspiring actor, he's willing to go along for the ride...

Felicity Huffman portrayed a transgendered person with dignity. This isn't a campy comedy at all, yet there are many believable situations that translate well into comedy. Canadian actor Graham Greene shows up as Calvin, a polite stranger who puts up the recently robbed duo for the night. I swear, Graham Greene has an Oscar in him, if only he's given the right role. Canadian Kevin Zegers also puts in a fine performance as the troubled 17 year-old son Toby who earns a living as a prostitue. The film's most over the top performance is by Fionnula Flanagan, who

I would not be surprised to see Felicty Huffman or Reese Witherspoon with the Oscar for Best Actress.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

CD: Knut Haugsoen - Step And A Half

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Knut Haugsoen - Step And A Half
Ram Records 0070

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Knut Haugsoen

Nominated for the Juno for Best Contemporary Jazz Album - Instrumental in 2001, Knut Haugsoen's Step And A Half is another superbly satisfying from the Winnipeg-based composer, band leader and pianist. And, it features some of the most exciting and active players in the Canadian scene.

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Jim Vivian

The opening track, Win Win, starts off with lush percusion, courtesy of Rick Lazar, recalling Latin America to some extent, punctuated with the deft playing of Mike Murley on sax. Just when you think the tune has decided to settle into its comfortable groove, about halfway through, the pace suddenly changes on a dime. Guitarist Geoff Young, bassist Jim Vivian, and drummer Ted Warren take off at that point in a deliciously faster direction which eventually meets back with the original groove.

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Ingrid Jensen

I especially enjoyed Knut and Ingrid's respective soloing on the third track, Step And A Half. Stefan Bauer, producer of the album, also lends his absolutely gorgeous vibraphone playing and really shines on Play Of Light. When the vibes kick in, you will get a smile on your face, guranteed.

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Stefan Bauer

There are three tracks not composed by Knut Haugsoen, Kurt Weill's (1900 - 1950)"Speak Low," Harold Arlen (1905 - 1986) and Johnny Marcer's (1909- 1976) ballad "Out Of This World," and J. McHugh and D. Fields'"Don't Blame Me."

What stand out most for me on this recording is that the tracks are memorable. They are distinctive and beg to be covered by others, either live or on record. One of my favorite tracks of Knut's is Gridlock, from the Vikrama album, Hands On. That track has been covered the Roy/Lerner group on their debut recording, Quarter To Three. Indeed, Knut covers himself here, with the track Trinidad, also from Hands On. One of the easiest tracks to recall is "D'Accord." It's mid-paced and revists it's basic hooks often enough for them to stick in your head.

Knut Haugsoen - piano, Fender Rhodes
Ingrid Jensen - trumpet, fluegelhorn
Mike Murley - tenor and soprano sax
Geoff Young - guitar
Jim Vivian - bass
Ted Warren - drums
Rick Lazar - percusion
Stefan Bauer - vibraphone

Overall, Step And A Half is a world-class contemporary jazz album and a showcase of some of the best players that Canada has to offer. The album is never harsh or icy cool, so while it's contemporary jazz, it's also fairly mainstream as opposed to more cutting edge. Listen to the samples on the Vikrama website and take a chance on this CD!

Film: Firewall


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Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford, 63) is VP of Security at a bank which is being merged with a larger bank. Beth Stanfield (Virginia Madsen, 42) works at home as an architect in the family's secluded but beautiful home. A slick bad guy (Bill Cox, played by Paul Bettany, 34) blackmails him into a scheme to wire transfers $100 million to an offshore account, with Jack robbing his own bank electronically, which seems possible since he is the top IT guy there. Mary Lynn Rajskub plays Jack's assistant Janet and she looks an awful lot like Jenna Fischer who plays Pam Beesly on The Office.

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Jenna Fischer

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Mary Lynn Rajskub

Despite it's tech title, Firewall is a run of the mill, mainstream Hollywood film in which the outmuscled good guy outfights the younger, stronger bad guy in the end. When a film's conclusion is based strictly on a mismatched fight, you know you've seen a dud.

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Firewall is drawing fans anxious to see Harrison Ford back on the silver screen, and probably quite a few techies interested to see just how ridiculous the tech aspects of the story are. Like a bad episode of McGyver, our hero figures out a way to transfer money without the benefit of terminal in the server closet. All the terminals were moved out when the other bank began to merge with Jack's bank. But....do we not see a terminal that gets used in the server room later on in the film??? Oh, you're not supposed to notice, because this is an elaborate, sophisticated, intelligent, high-tech film, right?

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The acting was suitably one-dimensional all around. Ford has played the senior executive with the usual desperate threat to "Leave my family alone" so many times its a wonder they just didn't cut and paste scenes from his past film to make this one.

I wouldn't see it again or recommend it.

Anita Mujamdar interview, star of "Murder Unveiled"

Canadian actress, dancer and writer Anita Mujamdar, is the award-winning star of the CBC film "Murder Unveiled." She is a 2004 acting graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada and holds a degree in English, Theatre and South Asian Languages from the University of British Columbia. Her Indian dance training originates in Kathak, but she has also studied Bharat Natyam and Odissi. Anita is also a member of the 2005 Tarragon Playwrights Unit.

Inspired by a true story, "Murder Unveiled" is a modern day Romeo and Juliet tale of a beautiful young South Asian Canadian girl who falls in love with a handsome rickshaw driver in India. When her family discovers that they have secretly married, her father first attempts to persuade the young man to divorce his daughter. When that fails, her family hires assassins to seek revenge. Filmed in Canada and the Punjab Region of India with an all South Asian cast from Canada, the U.K. and India. Introducing Anita Majumdar as Davinder, starring Chenier Hundal as Surinder; also starring Hassani Shapi, Lushin Dubey, Sanjay Talwar and Vinay Pathak.

Ms. Majumdar recently spoke with me prior to the film's debut on Monday, February 6, 2006.

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1. What was the most difficult part of playing the role of Davinder, the character based on Jassi Kaur Sidhu? Did you ever feel there was an element of the community that didn't want the story developed into a film?

First I'd like to clarify that I didn't actually play "Jassi" in the film. It's probably more accurate to say that Jassi's circumstances were what the film was based on and not her character. Davinder is quite different as a person from Jassi (as I understand it). But I think the most difficult thing in playing Davinder was the struggle between her love for her parents and her desire for freedom of choice, but still loving her parents no matter what they do to her. Davinder can't understand why she can't love her parents and her husband at the same time. Both sides require that she love one or the other, but never both. What's really tragic is that she never has a chance to defend herself and while every obstacle possible is thrown her way she continues to love her family whole heartedly. I understand the nature of that love, but it frustrated me, and continues to frustrate me, that she's never allowed to voice her wants and desires because of the patriarchal environment she lives in and when she does go after what she truly wants she's unjustly punished for it. Too many women around the world have to live and die like this, even in Canada.

2. Do you believe that by shedding light on this terrible injustice that some Canadians will see some Indo-Canadians in a negative light?

I don't think so. I think film very aptly portrays this particular circumstance as being quite unique. Watching the ending of the film, it's very obvious that the focus is on one particular family that made an unjust choice in the name of honour from the community, but instead receives shame from them. The film concerns humanity, and not a particular faction of Canadian society.

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3. You won the Best Actress award at the 2005 Asian Festival of First Films for your portrayal of Davinder in Murder Unveiled. Were you shocked when you won? Were you familiar with the other nominees and their work?

I was absolutely shocked when they announced my name! I stopped believing that I was actually nominated by the time the awards rolled around. I thought they were just being nice by giving me a nomination! And yes, I was fairly familiar with the other nominees, which was also why I didn't quite believe my nomination was legit! I didn't have a chance to see Dragon Eye Congee or Unarmed Combat because they both screened after I got into Singapore which was later into the festival, but I saw a clips of Shin Yin and Marilyn Yee's work respectively and was really impressed. Also to be in the same category has Minnisha Lamba (who was just a force to be reckoned with in Yahaan) and Chitrangada Singh (words cannot describe her work, she's just brilliant!) was such an honour and not to mention be in a grouping of films that are trying to make a difference with its commitment to this craft. I couldn't have asked for more.

4. In the recent Fifth Estate episode, they mentioned that Jassi was being considered as a wife to a 60 year-old business associate of her family. Is this sort of arranged marriage, based on business more than love, actually all that common in Canada?

See, I'm pretty unfamiliar with what's common and uncommon in the South Asian community when it comes to arranged marriages. My parents told me from the age of 4 that I had to find my own husband when I grew up. The world of arranged marriages fascinates me, but isn't part of my world per say. So when I heard about Jassi being married off to a 60-year businessman, it struck me as odd and quite backwards. I'd heard about that sort of arrangement made in rural parts of India, but not in Canada. The optimist in me hopes and prays that it in fact IS NOT common in Canada, but unfortunately this is a common practice in too many places around the world.

5. Do you know if Murder Unveiled will be shown outside of Canada at any film festivals?

Murder Unveiled screened at the Asian Festival of First Films in Singapore and was also screened at the River to River Festival in Florence, Italy.

I'm not sure if it'll screen anywhere else only because CBC has international rights to the film, but here's hoping! I think it's an important film and should be seen and discussed.

6. Have you seen Deepa Mehta's film Water and if so, what did you think of its portrayal of the long-standing injustices that many widows face?

Again, I'm not the best person to ask about the long history of injustices committed against widows in India since I haven't researched it to the extent Deepa obviously did. I've never visited a widows' ashram or spent extensive amounts of time with widows, but I'm certainly aware of the treatment of widows throughout the ages there, and I thought the film really did justice to the issue to extent of my knowledge. Deepa's a very thoughtful film-maker; she does her research and gives her heart and soul to each of her projects. There's no reason for me to doubt the accuracy of her film.

7. Years ago, when she was still on MuchMusic, while commenting on the 1992 Patrick Swayzee film City of Joy, Monika Deol commented on how she was disappointed that there were so many Western films that showed the poverty-stricken side of India, instead of the modern, developed side. Since then, India has become known for the fastest growing, largest middle-class in the world. What are your thoughts about how Western filmmakers show India to Western audiences?

I think western audiences are much more receptive in accepting the many facets of India. But it's still uneven in terms of perception The western perception of India is about 15 years behind the times. India used to be a country known for its very rich or its very poor, so we see these films based on the very rich or the very poor, but rising numbers of middle class shows an indication for the need of telling stories that appeal to that cross-section of society, which Indian filmmakers are taking advantage of, but has yet to be depicted in the west.
Personally I think it's always a question of accuracy and balance. City of Joy didn't show me anything that I hadn't seen with my own eyes in the slums of Calcutta, so that way it was an accurate portrayal, but at that time there was nothing to counter it to show the splendor of India. And why just blame western filmmakers for an imbalanced perspective; popular Indian filmmakers have been notorious for making films about a fantastical India while completely ignoring the poverty and social issues that exist there. The "East or West, India is the best" concept of film making isn't accurate either. It really just comes down balance, and we can only get to that point by continuing to make films, which I think will expand global understanding.

8. Do you believe we'll ever see a time when Canadian movies are made about Indo-Canadians simply living in Canada, without any ties to India and the East? Do compelling stories exist that are more Canadian-centric?

I think we already have examples of it in our main stream media. Harold & Kumar is a great example of a movie about just existing without making a big deal about the "issue of race". Vik Sahay plays a South Asian lawyer on This is Wonderland without making it about race. To expect all of this to happen over night is unrealistic. Canada has a long history of struggling to accept its multicultural society, but there are wonderful signs of hope. I'm absolutely certain that we will get to a point where actors can be Indo-Canadian, but not have the issue be about being Indo-Canadian, but patience is a virtue. Our film and theatre is broadening its scope now because we are insisting on pushing the envelope. But it's also key to remember that films and plays based on ties to India and/or the East are made because there's an audience for it. These are stories that still need to be heard and experiences that still need to be shared. When the demand dies, so will these kinds of films.

9. I've always believed that Indo-Canadians should talent should emerge in order to tell our stories, be it through music, theatre, books or film. Do you see such a talent base emerging in Canada and if so, can you name some others who we should be following?

We have a huge pool of Indo-Canadian talent in Canada. It blows my mind when I think about it! There's Anand Rajaram who is by far one of the greatest actors we have. He's truly the master of physicality and has a fantastic sense of comic timing and his play Cowboys & Indians is a testament to his immense talent. There's also the brilliant Richie Mehta who's short film Amal did the festival circuit around the world and garnered innumerable awards and finally secured the Toronto Film Festival bid to turn Amal into a feature film. He's definitely a director to look out for and he's so young that he's going to be turning out a plethora of brilliant films in the years to come, I guarantee it. And Sanjay Talwar who is making his debut at the Stratford Festival stage this season as Orsino in Twelfth Night (you might remember him as the investigating police officer trying to uncover what happened to Davinder in Murder Unveiled.) Nazneen Contractor was another South Asian actor to have graced the Stratford stage, not to mention one of the most beautiful actresses we have in Canada. And of course there's writer/playwright Anosh Irani, who after his first published novel (The Cripple and his Talismans) was named amongst Canada's top ten novelists. I had the great privilege of acting in his second written play, Bombay Black, this past January. Again, for someone so young as Anosh to create his own niche and popularize his own category of writing is such a step forward for Canada. It tells us that Canadians are ready to hear other stories and at the same time take ownership for them.

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10. What's next on your plate? As a multi-talented person (dancer, writer, actress), is there a particular career path that you would like to follow?

I'm acting in renowned playwright Guillermo Verdecchia's new play, Bloom, that'll be on at the Theatre Centre in Toronto at the end of February. I play a war orphan in a post-apocalyptic world who is traumatized by amnesia and shares a home with an old war veteran who holds the secret to her past. I'm also doing a remount of my own one-woman show, Fish Eyes in the first week of July in Vancouver (Roundhouse Theatre). I feel it's time to give back to the city that raised me. I'll also be working on an adaptation of the stage version of Fish Eyes into a screenplay this year. The rest is all up in the air, which I think is alright since I'm aching for a break before jumping back into the fire.

In terms of career path, I have no idea! I love acting, but I want to keep creating to keep it fresh and exciting for myself. When it becomes old and stale that's probably the point I should stop doing it. But I don't imagine I'll stop balancing the actress/dancer/writer in me. I always want to keep juggling those balls and because where they land is the foundation of my work.

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