Show Sidebar Log in

Day of Disruption

It’s 10 o’clock on the first day of November and 100 delegates from central and local government, the private, community and voluntary sectors from all over the South West and further afield are at Bristol’s Watershed to examine how digital technologies can be used to transform the way public services are provided to communities, building on the experience gained from Bristol successfully reaching the 10 finalists in the Government’s £7 mn. Digital Challenge.

We’re welcomed by Connecting Bristol’s dynamic duo of Dick Penny (Watershed) and Steve Hilton (Bristol City Council). Steve kindly explains what is meant by ‘digital disruption’, i.e. technology leading to the disruption of normal services and how technology can be embraced to improve public service provision. After the usual warning about mobile phones and last call for objections to the event being recorded, we’re off.

First at the podium is Stephen Dodson, Innovations & Challenge Programme Director at the DCLG on the subject of digital inclusion. He starts by calling for a quick show of hands for delegates’ use of various technologies: PCs, email, mp3 players, Flickr, blogs, Second Life and so on to gauge the degree of inclusion of his audience; only one delegate from a full room does not have a mobile phone. Stephen then outlines the history of the Digital Challenge and its place in the Government’s thinking. We learn that digital exclusion has very similar causes as social exclusion, e.g. homelessness, poverty, poor education. A stark warning is given that the UK will fall behind the rest of the world if digital exclusion is not beaten.

Next at the rostrum is Dr. Jonathan Drori, Director of Changing Media Ltd., but previously a senior civil servant at the DCMS and commissioning editor for BBC Online. He’s also a Digital Challenge judge, so started his presentation with a disclaimer. Despite his modest claim not to be a good public speaker, he treats the audience to three-quarters of an hour on “Compelling User Experiences”, discussing such matters as the importance of interactivity and creating a virtuous circle, ways of developing new services and some of the common mistakes. Perhaps the most intriguing part of Jonathan’s talk is how General Motors in the USA found out about the needs and desires of its customers – by having “ethnographers” camping out in peoples’ cars and recording their lives!

After a quick coffee it’s all change on the platform, with the baton being passed to James Farmer of the DTI. His chosen subject: effective content; a major part of James’ work for the past year has been leading the DTI’s the Effective Content Initiative. The Government’s strategy would appear to be using broadband-enabled services to – their jargon, not mine – improve delivery quality, increase reach and scale, increase efficiency and cost savings and, finally, meet the expectations of citizens. To do so, services need to be (more jargon) citizen-centred, results-led and excellent users of the medium. To illustrate his talk, James shows us examples of content thought by central government to be effective, e.g. Directgov, MySpace and Teachers TV.

The morning ends with a panel discussion with the 3 speakers being joined by Jaya Chakrabarti of Nameless Media Group. The discussion ranged widely: one delegate voices his dislike of anything from Rupert Murdoch (e.g. Sky television, MySpace); your correspondent manages to mention the GPL and Creative Commons during a discussion on intellectual property rights – and is supported from the panel by Jaya; and Kim Spence-Jones of OpenHub also puts in a good word for open source software.

The ‘graveyard shift’ after lunch is in the capable hands of Ayleen Driver of Bristol LEA. Her topic: “What will learning be like in the future”. Faced with a roomful of sated delegates digesting their food, a couple of well-aimed jokes made sure the class was paying attention and we’re off. Ayleen outlines how ICT is transforming the landscape, e.g. 36 billion text messages sent in the UK in 2005, the rise of wikis, as well as describing some of the habits of today’s young people, such as their almost total absence from the ‘quiet’ carriages of trains. Furthermore, Ayleen predicts the demise of schoolbooks, their place being taken by handheld devices (PDAs featuring both a mobile telephone and mp3 player). Moreover, smart cards have several uses in the school environment – safety, security and toilets that are pleasant to use. Ayleen finishes with a short video showing innovative use of ICT in schools; I believe everyone at the back is paying attention…

If they are not, they might just miss Dick Perry and Steve Hilton’s short presentation on Bristol’s Digital Challenge bid to date and a brief outline of the work envisaged for the next stage.

The podium is then handed over to Fabian King, Head of Regional ICT Development at the South West Regional Development Agency, who is to act as master of ceremonies for the workshop sessions. Delegates are given handheld voting machines that are successfully tested by asking about modes of travel to the conference: interestingly, we prove to be a green bunch; 52% of delegates either walked or used public transport.

The workshops themselves take the subjects of connectivity (priorities and results), compelling content (priorities and results), skills and knowledge (priorities and results) and technology and environment (priorities and results). The workshops themselves determine the priorities, which are then voted upon by all the delegates.

Fabian then hands back to Steve Hilton and Dick Penny to draw formal proceedings to a close. Perhaps the most important point is made by Dick Penny, who winds up by saying that we need “symmetric access so that we can be contributors as well as consumers”.

After the formal proceedings, delegates have an opportunity to meet members of the Momentum Group backing Bristol’s bid for drinks, hopefully after getting snared for the ‘Speakloscope’ – a video vox pop that has been running thoughout the day, inviting people to divulge their indispensable technology.

Audio downloads of proceedings should be available from the start of the week commencing 6th November on the Connecting Bristol blog. In the meantime, contributions and comments from delegates have started appearing there, as well as notes and copies of the presentations and much more.

Footnote: one unforeseen outcome of the conference was that at least one senior civil servant now refers to your humble scribe as ‘Woodsy’!

Twitching with

A birdspotting wok, image courtesy of psand.netIt’s early afternoon on an overcast Bristol day and there’s a satellite dish set up in the car park of St Werburgh’s Community Centre. Inside the Bristol Wireless room, Mike Harris of is giving a packed room a brief introduction to communications using satellites (otherwise known as ‘birds’).

We cover the basics of satellite communications – geostationary orbits, low, medium and high earth orbits, footprints, dish size needed in relation to footprint, the effect of the earth’s curvature and how communications to and from the machines attached to the modem, dish (the combination of dish and modem are known as a SIT – Satellite Internet Terminal) and the internet are handled.

After a short tea break, we’re all outside ready for ‘birdspotting’ – trying to find Eurobird 3, a mere 35,000 km away above the equator at 33.0 degrees east (time to take a compass bearing) – and aligning the dish with it for the best signal strength.

With a box of tricks hooked up to the dish receiver, by swinging the dish left and right and cranking it up and down, we first found the Astra satellite (which has the most powerful signal and carries popular TV channels, such as MTV) as a reference, before tracking down Eurobird 3. Mike explained this was a very useful and time-saving technique. Once we’d found Eurobird, it was time to contact the satellite on the laptop via telnet and tweak the alignment (with BW network engineer Lloyd wielding the spanner…) to achieve the best possible connection.

This done, a web browser could be launched and all normal internet services accessed, albeit with the signals travelling 70,000 plus kilometres.

This setup is used whenever the Bristol Wireless LTSP suite goes on manoeuvres to sites with no ordinary wired network access, such as our recent summer outings.

All told, it was a very informative and enjoyable workshop. Thanks Mike!

New Knowle West Neighbourhood Forum Launched

With the assistance of and US online communities expert Tim Erickson, a new neighbourhood forum for the Knowle West area of Bristol became active as of 11th October 2006.

This is a site where Knowle West residents can share information about the area and discuss matters of local interest. Anyone wishing to take part will need to register before posting to the forums.

To see what it’s all about visit

ICT support event at the Watershed

On Monday 13th November, Voscur and Connecting Bristol will be hosting a free workshop called “Making The Best Use of Free ICT Support” at Watershed for organisations interested in using voluntary IT support and for businesses and IT professionals who are interested in volunteering. Led by Dr Simon Davey of ICT and organisational development consultancy Alpha Omega Limited, the event will explore the issues and opportunities involved in volunteering professional IT skills to charities and community organisations. Full details are available on the Connecting Bristol events page.

An event flyer is available from Voscur’s website.

Virtually essential: why voluntary and community groups must embrace the internet

According to ‘ICT, Social Capital and Voluntary Action’, published recently by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), ignoring the internet is no longer an option for voluntary and community organisations.

It warns that organisations failing to embrace information and communications technology (ICT) risk having their work overshadowed by those who do use this new source of ‘social capital’, i.e. the reserve of goodwill generated when people interact. Although local ICT initiatives are taking place, the smaller online communities they create need ongoing technical and funding support to ensure survival.

The booklet was produced to accompany the second in a series of special seminars entitled ‘Engaging Citizens’, jointly organised by the ESRC and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). It summarises views from two experts in the field – Jayne Cravens, a leading researcher of online volunteering, and Dr Ben Anderson of the Institute for Socio-Technical Innovation and Research at the University of Essex.

Karl Wilding, Head of Research at NCVO, said: “There is a lot of interest today in encouraging community involvement and an important factor is the impact of ICT.

“Some people feel that online activity fails to build strong ties between people, yet it offers additional means of communication which are strengthening existing social networks and enabling new connections to be made.”

In the booklet, Jayne Cravens, who is also former director of the UN’s Online Volunteering Service, says that, rather than the exception, it has become the norm for voluntary and community organisations (VCOs) to undertake online activities.

Online communities and online volunteering provide excellent avenues for them to connect with current and potential donors, volunteers, clients and the general public.

She also argues that people do not substitute online volunteering nor online communities for traditional volunteering and community.

Jayne Cravens said: “Internet-based forms of service and sharing are usually extensions of off-line activities and groups. And most online volunteers are not geographically remote from the organisations they support; they are around the corner rather than around the world.”

Ben Anderson discusses how local ICT initiatives already support the development of social capital in communities. Nevertheless, he points out that some researchers still question whether social capital already needs to be in place for it to grow. “There is concern that ICT initiatives may lead to those communities already rich in social capital benefiting most. It is still an open question as to how to benefit less well-connected communities,” he said.

Ben Anderson also suggests that grassroots initiatives may be more sustainable “not least because they draw heavily on local social capital, but more crucially because they tend to be much more attuned to what the local people need and want from the services.”

However, he stresses that whilst generally highly motivated, the core support structure of local groups is prone to burn out and needs ongoing support through committed long term (5-10 years) low-level funding.

He continues: “Smaller communities will not have the technical expertise, nor the funds, to support community networks. Low bridging capital is a problem and there is a need to help develop links between individuals and communities to resolve ICT problems when resources are stretched.”

To read the ‘ICT, Social Capital and Voluntary Action’ booklet (pdf format), please follow this link.

HAL: Connecting Montreal to its Artists

On 9th October Montreal’s Ile Sans Fil, student radio station CHOQ.FM and and student-run CUTV are launching new service that promises to change the way Montrealers interact with local artists. Dubbed HAL (Hub des Artistes Locaux – in English: Local Artists’ Hub), the technology will distribute artistic content throughout Montreal cafés, restaurants and parks via Ile Sans Fil’s wireless network.

An international first, HAL encourages Montrealers to discover local artists and media producers via wireless jukeboxes capable of streaming high-resolution video and audio. In particular, it allows for rich media dissemination of unique content relevant to individual hotspots.

Using HAL at an ISF hotspot is as easy as starting iTunes (available for Windows and Mac) and clicking on the HAL logo. There are currently 12 HALs at ISF hotspots, with another 13 promised for December.

The project is partially supported by the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council for the Arts, along with the collaboration of the Terminus1525 online art studio.

The HAL project furthers Ile Sans Fil’s mandate of empowering Montreal communities through the creation and deployment of community-centric technology. It is ISF’s third large-scale project involving the development and deployment of new media platforms to take advantage of new technologies. ISF, and CUTV are excited to be working together to bring this “bottom-up” cultural and technological project encouraging local participation in culture to Montreal.

As with ISF’s other projects, all technology and knowledge developed will be shared in an open-source manner to encourage adoption by other communities.

Ile Sans Fil is a volunteer-run organisation developing, deploying and maintaining community-oriented wireless technology. With a free wireless network of 105 hotspots and 24,000 users, ISF is a world leader in the field of community wireless networking.

LTSP at Truthfest

For a final outing to the great outdoors before the winter sets in, the mobile Bristol Wireless LTSP suite paid a visit to Truthfest, which took place from 29th September to 1st October 2006 at Radford Mill Farm in Timsbury. Being held for the first time ever, Truthfest is an event which mixes radical debate and discussion with some fine musical entertainment.

Despite less than perfect weather, the crew and kit survived and performed well. Bristol Wireless volunteer (and local gourmet) Martian also took a few snaps and posted them on Flickr.

Our thanks are again due to who once more kindly provided the satellite link.

‘Tower of Babel’ technology nears

The problem of compatibility between wireless devices is being addressed at an international conference this week.

Scientists will be discussing what has been dubbed “Tower of Babel” technology – software that can converge different wireless gadgets into a single device.

The aim for Software Defined Radio (SDR) is to be able to translate and understand any kind of radio wave signal, such as 3G or wi-fi.

Researchers say SDR gadgets could become commonplace in five to 10 years.

Momentum back up to speed after the summer

With Bristol Wireless reps in attendance, the latest Connecting Bristol Momentum group meeting took place on Tuesday 13th September at the Watershed. This was the first meeting since July, when Bristol heard it had made it through to the top 10 finalists in the government’s £7 million Digital Challenge.

There is now a small team assembled at the Watershed to work on the Digital Challenge bid, including Stephen Hilton, who is on full-time secondment from the City Council. Auntie BBC on Whiteladies Road has also donated one member of its staff to help out one day a week and other roles are being filled too.

Despite the Digital Challenge’s technology aspect, Bristol’s bid differs from other contenders due to its concentration on people first and technology second. In addition, the Government’s view of the Digital Challenge has now been modified to concentrate on digital inclusion.

As a fine example of the benefits of digital inclusion, Dick Penny of the Watershed cited Bristol Wireless’ work installing an LTSP suite in Princess Royal Gardens, noting that, besides bringing the community room back into use and allowing the frail and elderly to stay in touch by email, it also saved one person a weekly trip to the betting shop due to the discovery of online betting on the gee-gees!

A full report of the meeting can be found on Connecting Bristol.

Link up! Knowle West Web connected to Bristol Wireless Backbone

Bristol Wireless is pleased to announce that the Knowle West Web network has now been successfully connected to the Bristol Wireless metropolitan area network backbone.

Bristol Wireless network engineer Lloyd Cohen remarked: “This was in itself a simple day-long joint reconfiguration by Knowle West Web admin (and city council guru) Jon Elmes and myself, yet represents a milestone in the creation of a true metropolitan area wireless network.”

Combined with the backbone installation and configuration work, this represents a great leap forward for Bristol Wireless. In an email to the Bristol Wireless list, Lloyd also expressed this in other words, paraphrasing the first man on the moon Neil Armstrong and describing it as, “One small step for man, one giant leap for Bristol Wireless”.

For news updates, please subscribe here to the Bristol Wireless mailing list.

Bristol Teachers Say Home Internet Access Aids Education

According to a new survey of local teachers, 88% stated they believed pupils who do not have access to the web are losing out in the classroom.

The study of 563 teachers found that 67% believe that more than half of their pupils have the internet at home and that this benefits their skills and exam results.

Three-quarters of those surveyed actively encourage their pupils to go online at home for learning, research and revision and at least once a month nearly two-thirds of teachers set homework entailing internet research.

In addition, pupils starting at Brislington Enterprise College this term will be the first in the city to receive laptops under an e-Learning Foundation initiative. The aim is to enable them to have internet access at home.

Read the full Evening Post story.

We’re all LTSP’ing on our summer holidays

LTSP at Climate Camp

And we managed to go LTSP’ing on our summer holidays without bumping into an old double-decker bus containing such characters as Cliff Richard and Una Stubbs…You may as well read on…

With the kind assistance of, Bristol Wireless’ mobile LTSP suite of ‘redundant’ laptops has seen lots of action on its summer holidays again this year, taking in the Global Village in Kent, the Big Green Gathering in Somerset and the Climate Action Camp in North Yorkshire.

The first stop on the LTSP itinerary was the Woodcraft Folk’s Global Village 2006, which took place between 29 July – 9 August 2006 at the Kent County Showground near Maidstone. Global Village 2006 was an international festival that brought some 4,000 young people aged 6-20 years and 1,000 adults together to live, work, learn, play, exchange ideas and have fun, at the same time creating a community of hope for a better world and future through global co-operation. The suite provided by Bristol Wireless consisted of 19 thin client laptops with PCMCIA network cards, a 24 port gigabit switch and the Acer Inspire laptop as the server. Sean Kenny’s pictures of setting up the LTSP suite at the Global Village can be viewed on Flickr.

Overlapping the trip to the Global Village was Bristol Wireless’ annual visit to the Big Green Gathering at West Harptree in Somerset from 2nd to 6th August. The kit – tents, caravans and satellite dish – was delivered to site on 29th July and was ready for the event’s opening, with the Sunday spent back in Bristol installing the boot scripts on the client laptops for the suite. Bristol Wireless agreed to turn up just 3 weeks before the event. Due to the overlap with the Global Village, Psand purchased a Dell Inspiron laptop (possibly with random combustion feature) to act as the server and a four port gigabit switch to handle network traffic. Being an environmentally-aware event, our equipment was, of course, sustainably powered. The clients used are Toshiba Satellite 220cs with the battery removed to conserve power, each fitted with 32 MB of RAM and a PCMCIA 100mb network card. The power supply is a Watson Power Mite switch mode. As regards power consumption, all 12 laptops drew a mere 24 W each, so the total requirement for the entire suite was 480 W (i.e. less than one modern desktop PC). The suite was open for use for 6 hours from 12 noon each day, starting with a free hours for kids. Besides providing site internet access and much-appreciated cider therapy (well, it was Somerset!), the BGG also gave Bristol Wireless an opportunity for some Linux advocacy; scores of CDs were given away featuring the latest release of SimplyMEPIS, which we install on our refurbished machines.

For the Climate Action Camp near Selby and Drax power station, Rich Higgs and Psand’s Mike Harris delivered the LTSP suite to site for equipping the Indymedia tent and got it up and running over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Psand’s website has some photos of the suite and kit in use.

Please contact if you’d like our LTSP suite to pay you a visit.

Network news – Bristol Wireless Backbone now stable

Lloyd Cohen, Bristol Wireless’ network engineer, reports that after much testing and reconfiguration following the initial installation works, our new 5.8 GHz backbone network now appears to be stable. While there are still a few tweaks to be done at each PoP (point of presence) to finalise the installs, plus the small job of bringing up a fifth node in Easton, the current network can now be regarded as pre-production in its present state.

The Bristol Wireless 5.8 GHz backbone currently interconnects Bristol University’s Merchant Venturers building housing our new connection to BMEX (Broadband Media Exchange), Knowle West Web (now part of the Bristol Wireless network) in Knowle and our existing PoPs in Kingsdown (Armada House), Easton (Twinnell House and Easton Community Centre) and Windmill Hill (Holroyd House). Each of these locations distributes access at 2.4 GHz, meaning that Bristol Wireless now has an infrastructure to which we can connect sites over a large part of the city.

Lloyd further states that Bristol Wireless is now ready to begin installing Level-2 PoPs connected to this network to distribute further wireless connectivity to the public for free and to local businesses for a competitive price.

In addition, our current 2.4 GHz systems connected to the network are to be reviewed with an eye to upgrading the present equipment for better performance.

More Bristol Wireless network news is promised soon, so any updates will be posted here.

HP offers Debian Linux support

Debian Linux (as used by Bristol Wireless – another satisfied customer!) is proud of its non-commercial credentials. But PC manufacturer Hewlett-Packard will give it a big corporate hug Monday with the announcement of a plan to provide support for the open-source operating system.

“We’ve had a number of customers continuing to ask us to have broader support for Debian,” and HP decided to oblige, said Jeffrey Wade, worldwide marketing manager at HP’s Open Source and Linux Organization. Nevertheless, it was stated that Red Hat and Novell will remain HP’s main overall Linux partners.

HP announced the news in conjunction with the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco.

The company has a long history of co-operation with Debian. It formerly employed one Debian leader, Bruce Perens, and another former leader and current contributor, Bdale Garbee, is chief technologist of HP’s Open Source and Linux Organization.

Read the full article .

Open source makes “substantial advance” in UK education

More than three-quarters of all UK colleges and universities consider open source options during IT procurement exercises, says a newly published report.

The survey, undertaken OSS Watch service, the open source software advisory service for universities, also found that use of Moodle, the open source course management system or virtual learning environment (VLE), has grown to 56% in under three years. With the Open University’s decision to adopt Moodle as its future VLE, open source penetration has made substantial progress in this high-profile sector.

However, while 77% of colleges and universities report that they regularly explore open source options in procurement exercises, only 25% of institutions report mention of “open source” in their institutional policies, suggesting an important discrepancy between policy and practice in this area.

The report also suggests that institutional engagement with open source software development remains a challenge too. Of those institutions deploying open source software, only 14% report knowing whether or not they submit patches and contribute to the ongoing development of open source software.

The report’s other findings include:

  • 68% now provide Mozilla Firefox on their desktop PCs;
  • there is no clear leader amongst Content Management Systems (CMS) with more than 29 different solutions being used by respondents;
  • cost continues to the principal driver in reasons for considering OSS.

The report was undertaken to assess the levels of use of open source software in further and higher education and its place in policy and decision-making. With the Government placing greater emphasis on open source software in public sector IT provision, OSS Watch is building on this profile to advise colleges and universities on the importance of including consideration of open source software in their IT strategies.

Randy Metcalfe, Manager of OSS Watch, said, “This survey shows that although open source use is on the rise, institutional engagement with the open source development community remains patchy. OSS Watch will redouble its efforts over the next two years in order to help colleges and universities work through the challenges of engagement, from contribution of code to open source business models.”

A copy of the report and executive summary is available from the OSS Watch website.

Green Wifi To Launch Solar WiFi In India

Green Wifi, a non-profit organisation aiming to bring internet access to schools in developing countries via cheap, solar-powered wi-fi networks, plans to start its first full-scale pilot project in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh at the end of the summer, reports Green Wifi will be implementing the project for a Canadian aid organisation that has requested wi-fi in 3 schools (one of which has a cable connection) in this north Indian state whose the electricity supply is unreliable.

The concept behind Green Wifi’s technology is installing a battery-powered router — charged by a solar panel — in each node in its wi-fi network. The nodes are mounted on rooftops and the network’s wi-fi signals are transferred over a grid using the 802.11b/g wireless network standard.

Green Wifi has received seed money for the project from Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child initiative (OLPC), which aims to construct a $100 laptop running free/open source software to be distributed to children in developing countries. OLPC reportedly showed immediate interest in the wi-fi initiative.

Read the original article or an Indian perspective on the GigOM broadband weblog.

Norwich turns on UK’s largest wi-fi network

The people of Norwich should by now be enjoying the pleasures of free wi-fi today thanks to a project backed by Norfolk County Council and the East of England Development Agency.

The project, costing £1.1 mn., covers 30 square kilometres embracing most of Norwich city centre, outlying business parks, the hospital and the University of East Anglia.

It is anticipated that the service will be extended to a further 20 rural areas in Norfolk later this year.

For full details, read the original article in full in The Register.

Bristol’s Digital Challenge on the box

On Friday 4th August BBC Bristol’s Points West filmed a small news item on Bristol’s Digital Challenge bid. It should be broadcast one evening this week (commencing 7th August) and transmission dates from Tuesday 8th to Thursday 10th have been mentioned.

The Points West crew filmed in 2 locations: firstly with a group of young people up at the Knowle West Media Centre, followed by a trip to Princess Royal Gardens in Redfield, where warden Ronnie Corbett was interviewed and residents interviewed and filmed using the LTSP suite installed by Bristol Wireless.

Update: the story also appeared on BBC Radio Bristol’s drivetime show on 9th August.

BCC joins ODF Alliance

From BCC press Office –

A new IT development is marking the beginning of the end of ‘can’t open yours’ culture.

As part of its drive to reduce the cost of services without compromising quality, Bristol City Council today joined the Open Document Format (ODF) Alliance. The move is expected to make it easier to share documents in different formats and avoid the frustrating ‘can’t open yours’ culture, which slows down work.

The ODF Alliance is an initiative driven by a broad cross-section of organisations from industry and the academic, voluntary and public sectors. Members of the Alliance support the use of the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) approved Open Document Format. This ensures that organisations using varying software programmes can read and use each other’s documents easily. The alliance has a membership of 220 organisations who all recognise the cost benefit.
Saving time and money

Most of today’s electronic office documents have been created by a few commercial software programmes and more often than not each one has its own format which cannot be used in conjunction with others without recourse to a time-consuming and limited conversion process. In order to process a document, users need the same programme (and corresponding versions) or a filter that allows the document to be opened and modified. OpenDocument Format does away with this need.

Last year Bristol City Council converted its word processing and other office software to Sun Microsystems’ Star Office package, saving £1.1 million. Since then many large organisations have announced their intention to migrate to ODF compatible software. Crucially Microsoft, whose Office software package is the most widely-used globally, has now agreed to make its software compatible – a major step forward.

Councillor Steve Comer, Executive Member for Central Support Services, said: “Finding more cost-effective ways of doing the things we’ve always done should be part of the job here. Making savings where they can be made easily and without negative impact, protects important services and helps us keep council tax down as far as possible.”

Bristol in Top Ten Digital Cities in UK

Bristol Named Region’s Leading Digital City… And One of UK’s Top Ten

Bristol has today been named the South West’s top digital city after being named amongst the ten national finalists in the government’s Digital Challenge.

DCLG Minister Angela Smith MP announced the winners and finalists at a ceremony broadcast live on the web on Wednesday, July 12th 2006.

A successful and wide-ranging partnership of Bristol businesses, community groups and city council representatives called ‘Connecting Bristol’ has worked together to bid for the final £7 million prize. Winning the regional stage will mean a prize of £120,000 enabling the partnership to continue to the final stage of the challenge.

The Digital Challenge seeks bids which develop digital access to services, break down barriers to the use of IT and widen the use of IT among all groups of the community.

Bristol City Council leader, Cllr. Barbara Janke, says: “We are delighted that our bid has been recognised as the best vision for the region.

“The £120,000 prize will enable us to develop our bid further; to look at new ways of using new and existing technologies and connections to improve services and opportunities for our local communities, particularly the most disadvantaged.

“We want to bridge the digital divide in the region and ensure that we improve the use of IT by people with limited access. We also want to improve the take-up of online services by people with little IT knowledge.”

Bristol is already one of the top European locations for wi-fi networking, digital technology research and development and the creative industries, as well as online service delivery, public consultation and democratic engagement.

In addition, the city has been awarded Science City status by the government and has also been named European City of eDemocracy.

For more information on Bristol’s bid see the Connecting Bristol website. For more recent news and updates on the Digital Challenge bid, visit Steve Hilton’s weblog.