Network technician wins Vista 'rocketplane' ride

Microsoft sends competition winner to space, to experience 'the ultimate Vista'

Space could indeed become the final frontier for a 29-year-old network technician who was chosen as the winner of a Windows Vista promotional contest -- as long as the taxman doesn't put a crimp in his flight plans.

William Temple, who works at medical insurer HealthNet in California, was announced today as the winner of the US$250,000 grand prize from Microsoft's "Vanishing Point" promotion, qualifying him for a 2009 flight that would blast him 62 miles into the air -- to the edge of outer space. In a random drawing, Temple's name was selected from among those of the 87,000 registered players of Vanishing Point, an interactive puzzle game sponsored by Microsoft and Advanced Micro Devices.

The monthlong game involved arcane puzzles and cryptic clues that were handed out to would-be puzzle solvers via Las Vegas light shows during the Consumer Electronics Show, skywriting above four cities, coded images projected onto monuments and a fireworks finale above Seattle.

Temple was chosen as the winner last Tuesday despite freely admitting that he had accumulated only 370 points out of the 1,500 maximum and that after solving the first puzzle on his own, he benefited from solutions posted on the Internet by other game players. According to Microsoft, any player could win, but a higher number of points increased someone's chance of winning.

"We had some people who solved every single puzzle," said Aaron Coldiron, a Vista manager at Microsoft. "But we feel good about Will winning. He's right in the target demographic."

That demographic, according to Microsoft, was men who are between the ages of 18 and 35 and are interested in technology. Reaching that group via conventional advertising is increasingly difficult and expensive. Coldiron said the total cost of staging the Vanishing Point game was "less than a single Super Bowl commercial." The going rate to air a 30-second spot during this year's game was as much as US$2.6 million, which doesn't include the costs of producing the commercial.

Not that Microsoft isn't investing elsewhere: it's expected to spend US$500 million to market Vista this year, according to published reports.

Some US$50,000 of that money will go to help Temple pay taxes on his flight, which is valued at US$196,500. The tax payment could be crucial: In 2005, the winner of an Oracle contest that would have given him a free space flight ultimately declined the trip because he would have had to report the ride, valued at US$138,000, as income and pay US$25,000 in taxes as a result.

Coldiron said Microsoft is working with Temple to "understand his tax situation" and will offer additional money if his tax bill from the trip turns out to be even higher than the budgeted US$50,000.

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