Controversy over Microsoft laptops

Microsoft sent out a few Ferrari 1000 and 5000 laptops preloaded with Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 to a couple A-list bloggers recently. This has caused quite a controversy with some people saying that this is just bribery: Microsoft wants positive press for its major new releases and is using this very expensive gift to buy that positive press from some of the tech world’s most influential bloggers. According to the WhatNext blog:

The reason is simple. If you’ve ever tried to add a new Microsoft OS to an existing computer, you know you can’t do that without totally fucking up your computer. The only way to switch to a new Microsoft OS is to start with a new computer. And, of course, to wait a year or two while they get the kinks out.

Microsoft wouldn’t chance having dozens of bloggers writing about how VISTA screwed up their computers, so they installed the system on brand new computers. They gave the computers as gifts instead of lending them to the bloggers for review, which is the norm when dealing with traditional journalists.

Two of the bloggers concerned are Michael Arrington of TechCrunch and Robert Scoble. Arrington reproduced the email he received from Microsoft:


I’m working on getting some review PCs out to community bloggers, and wanted to include you. I’d love to send you a loaded Ferrari 1000 courtesy of Windows Vista and AMD. Are you interested?

This would be a review machine, so I’d love to hear your opinion on the machine and OS. Full disclosure, while I hope you will blog about your experience with the pc, you don’t have to. Also, you are welcome to send the machine back to us after you are done playing with it, or you can give it away to your community, or you can hold onto it for as long as you’d like. Just let me know what you plan to do with it when the time comes. And if you run into any problems let me know. A few of the drivers aren’t quite final, but are very close.

If you are game, would you send me your address and phone? I’m going to send this out next week, so if you will be travelling on the 22nd let me know where you’ll be, and I’ll send it there.



Aside from the need to disclose the circumstances of a review of Vista and/or MS Office 2007, Arrington doesn’t see a problem with the gift. In fact, he things it is a great idea:

And anyway it doesn’t really matter. Microsoft did something smart, because many of us wouldn’t have taken the time to download and install Vista on our own computers. The fact that it was delivered to us, ready to go, made it a lot easier.

I spent about two hours on the machine the other day, testing out the software. Frankly, I’m pretty impressed, and I’m a hard core Mac guy. I really like that the Live widgets sit on the desktop all the time, instead of behind a hot key like they do on Macs, for example.

The only scandal would be in a blogger who received a computer decides to keep it and then writes about Vista in a positive way and doesn’t disclose the situation. Otherwise, there isn’t much of an issue.

Scoble agrees with him:

Lots of people like BL Ochman are screaming bloody murder about Microsoft giving bloggers and other influentials free laptops loaded with Windows Vista. I personally don’t get it.
That is a GREAT idea. After all, how can anyone have a decent conversation about Windows Vista without having put a bunch of time on one of the machines?
Now, regarding blogger ethics. Did you disclose? If you did, you have ethics. If you didn’t, you don’t. It’s that black and white with me.
Did you sell your soul and you disclosed that? Fine. Now It’s up to the readers to decide whether anything you say is worth listening to. But you’re ethical.
Are you trying to hide that you sold your soul? That’s not ethical.
On Edelman’s side? Is sending out laptops ethical? Of course! That’s their job. Their job is to get the product and company they represent in front of as many influentials as possible.

I agree with Arrington and Scoble. The onus is on the blogger concerned to disclose how he/she came into possession of this pretty expensive laptop with the software pre-installed and beyond that it is up to you, the reader, to decide whether that blogger’s review is credible. The fact that Microsoft handed out these laptops as gifts is one way of getting the software to those bloggers and it is a cool gift but to go nuts about it and accuse Microsoft of bribery is also to imply that the recipients are going to be biased simply because they receive the gift. That is disrespectful, in my view.

Marshall Kirkpatrick has reported that Microsoft has asked the recipients of these laptops not to keep them. I think this extract from his post nicely sums up my thoughts on this:

My point is: the PR backpedal here is just silly. The original email read" "you are welcome to send the machine back to us after you are done playing with it, or you can give it away to your community, or you can hold onto it for as long as you’d like." Now this follow up:

No good deed goes unpunished, right? You may have seen that other bloggers got review machines as well. Some of that coverage was not factual. As you write your review I just wanted to emphasize that this is a review pc. I strongly recommend you disclose that we sent you this machine for review, and I hope you give your honest opinions. Just to make sure there is no misunderstanding of our intentions I’m going to ask that you either give the pc away or send it back when you no longer need it for product reviews.
Thanks for your understanding, and happy reviewing,
Aaron ***

Ha ha ha – the snazzy laptop I got in the mail from Microsoft yesterday was the only way I was ever going to use Vista anyway. And I’m certainly never going to take a laptop with a stupid looking Ferrari logo on the front anywhere but home and my cube at work.
The computer itself doesn’t retail for $2k plus for nothing – it’s fast. Windows is so annoying and (to me, a Mac user) so counter-intuitive, that I’d never buy a Windows machine. My partner won’t touch the thing. I’m going to set it up to look pretty, take incoming news as if it was the 2nd half of a super large monitor and work on my Mac. Not that I’m super happy with the crash-happy, Flash-hating Macbook I have either. (That said, Parallels is a great program for testing Windows only applications.) See also oops – no new podcasts caught by iTunes for a week.
Ultimately all these companies are probably a lot like cell phone providers. Which is the least ugly one in the room? I wouldn’t chose at all if I didn’t have to.

So what do you think? More evidence of Microsoft being evil or just a case of damed if you do and damned if you don’t?

(Source: Vecosys)

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