Microsoft Vista blogger campaign causes controversy

REDMOND. WA: With the Vista OS consumer launch a month away, Microsoft and PR firm Edelman reportedly embarked upon a program which involved gifting Vista-loaded PCs to select bloggers.

REDMOND. WA: With the Vista OS consumer launch a month away, Microsoft and PR firm Edelman reportedly embarked upon a program which involved gifting Vista-loaded PCs to select bloggers.

However, despite the team's disclosure measures, the effort was not met by a universally positive reaction.

According to multiple accounts, Edelman sent out Acer Ferrari computers, properly disclosed its relationship with Microsoft, and reportedly offered no review ultimatums to the recipients. Additionally, some bloggers reported receiving e-mails saying that they could return the product after they finished reviewing Vista or donate it or gift it to readers. Standard operating procedure at most traditional publications is to return review items after using them.

But because some bloggers first mentioned their new laptops without disclosing that they were gifts from Microsoft and circuit manufacturer AMD, a controversy was set into motion.

Fueling the discussion, a number of bloggers criticized the tactic for other reasons: that, by gifting a computer that retails $1,800 to $2,000, the company obscured how Vista would work on a more widely used computer and also masked how difficult it might be to download the software; and a gift might induce bloggers to positive reviews.

One such recipient, Michael Arrington, editor of TechCrunch, wrote: "It's a kick ass operating system. If you happen to be running it on a $4,000 computer, at least."

Waggener Edstrom is Microsoft's AOR for Vista and Office products, but the computing giant hired Edelman in October to handle the global consumer launch of the Vista product. A source at WagEd said the agency was not involved in this campaign.

Arrington posted parts of the e-mail from a Microsoft employee on his blog, CrunchNotes.com, including the following excerpt: "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."

Another recipient, Marshall Fitzpatrick, former TechCrunch writer and director of content at media startup SplashCast, reported that he received an e-mail from the Microsoft-Edelman team.

"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," the staffer wrote.

Two Edelman reps contacted could not immediately be reached for comment. A search on Edelman's blog page could not find any response to the Vista situation.

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