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12/28/2006
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Microsoft, AMD Send Free High-End Laptops To Select Bloggers

Giveaway triggers debate over ethics and whether the companies are really offering bribes. The ensuing publicity reportedly has prompted Microsoft and AMD to reconsider the gift.

Microsoft and Advanced Micro Devices have sent free top-of-the-line Acer Ferrari laptops to select tech bloggers, raising questions in the blogosphere over whether the companies are trying to unduly influence the writers.

The giveaway was first reported by Microsoft blogger LongZheng. The report was later posted on popular technology Website Slashdot under the headline "Microsoft Bribing Bloggers With Laptops," causing a stir in the blogosphere.

Microsoft and AMD were not immediately available for comment, but a spokeswoman for the software maker confirmed Thursday that the laptops were sent by Microsoft's public relations firm, Edelman.

The laptops, which come pre-loaded with Windows Vista and AMD Turion, 64-bit processors and cost more than $2,200, were received over the last week or so by a number of select bloggers. Six of them were identified by LongZheng: Brandon LeBlanc, Scott Beale, Barb Bowman, Mauricio Freitas, Mitch Denny, and Zen.Heavengames. The bloggers acknowledged receiving the machines, but Bowman said she received hers from AMD. Through the Microsoft-AMD program, she received a Velocity Micro MCE Vista desktop.

With the Ferrari laptops, the bloggers were given the option to return or keep the computers, and it was left up to them whether to disclose the gift. Freitas, who lives in New Zealand, says the machines were to promote the new Vista operating system with extreme hardware and mobility features. "A lot of people around the world are getting these. I don't have a list but I know that it includes well-known bloggers, and blogs that reach a smaller niche."

Freitas says he chose to disclose and keep the laptop. "I maintain my independence by making it clear which companies are sponsoring this review unit," he says.

But the publicity following the giveaway apparently prompted Microsoft and AMD to reconsider the gift. Marshall Kirkpatrick, director of content at pre-launch startup SplashCast, said in his blog that the companies were sending e-mail to recipients, including himself, requesting that they not keep the laptops. "The PR backpedal here is just silly."

While the giveaway raised ethical questions among some bloggers, Robert Scoble, a former technical evangelist for Microsoft, said in his blog that it was a "great idea" and argued that bloggers could easily avoid the sticky ethical questions. "Did you disclose? If you did, you have ethics. If you didn't, you don't. It's that black and white with me."

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