Looking the gift horse in the mouth

Looking the gift horse in the mouth

I believe, by now, everyone has heard of Microsoft's attempt to bribe bloggers by giving them free laptops running Vista. More amusing is that, in response to the publicity they received when they were caught out, they have now asked for these machines to be returned, thereby making Microsoft look all the more stupid as well as foolish. But out of this comedy of errors, it is worth briefly considering the history of computing from the perspective of free computers.

At one time, back in the late '70s, and early '80s, it was often, in fact, common, for computer companies to give free hardware out to be reviewed. Often, the cost of their (then) new toys were so great that without seeding the reviewer market, there would be few who could afford to buy them for a review. This is especially true considering that most reviewers received maybe at most a few hundred dollars compensation for a particularly good article, while most equipment back then ranged between $1-20K in price.

For some, writing reviews in exchange for free hardware had become a professional goal in itself, including for a (in my opinion) particularly mediocre science fiction writer. The general agreement, however, in all these cases, was that the gift must be disclosed, particularly in the article that was written. Those that received such gifts, as well as those providing them, understood this basic ethical premise explicitly.

While I generally never wrote reviews, occasionally I received evaluation or donated hardware for other valid reasons. For example, the FSF recently received a generous donation of a replacement machine for their shell server, fencepost. This they disclose very publicly. Very recently, my own project received a nice little PPC hardware donation from Genesi (who supports the PPC port of Gentoo among other activities) for use in our work on Telecenters for emerging communities, which I have the first opportunity to mention today. These are donations that are acknowledged and public. Those who perform reviews do much the same.

What Microsoft chose to do is break yet another important ethical code of conduct and in doing so not only harmed those it tried to entice with free gifts, but society as a whole through their anti-social behavior.



tuxicity's picture
Submitted by tuxicity on

The biggest mistake MS made is to forget to acknowledge the fact that the company is rich, tries to monopolize their business and has a lot of power, but at the same time is showing its weakness by this "bribing Ferrari" affair, giving bloggers and readers a good time bashing this powerful institute.

Bribing is one of the oldest ways of getting more power, once that power is peaking however bribing can turn against you, for we all love to bash the powerful, invincible institutes, specially when we are forced to use their stuff like unwilling slaves.


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I don't have a problem with Microsoft ending out Vista machines for write-ups. I agree that everything must be transparent, but is it Microsoft's fault if the blogger fails to disclose how he got the machine? In this case, it seems that Microsoft isn't the one breaking the code of conduct, it's the bloggers who fail to provide full disclosure. What was Microsoft to do, send out a massive press release listing all the people to whom it sent these Vista laptops?

-Chris Karr
www.aetherial.net / books.aetherial.net

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

The problem is not that MS sent these computers out to the bloggers; the problem is that it was never mentioned that these were "review" PCs. In fact, one blogger stated that the original information he received specifically called the computer a "gift". Of course when all the negative press started, he was contacted again to say that it was for "review" and had to be returned or given away when he was finished.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Mircosoft is always mean and selfish. when my college switched to linux, a Microsoft representative came and offered more than 100 windows xp copies for free !!.
MS also allowed selling Windows XP copied CDs inside the campus for less than $2!. Linux was getting the heap ,no doupt about it !.
recently all labs running windows xp ,as always :(.

MS gaint is also targeting curopted governments , as promoting the E-goverment sh**t , how come a country with more 40% of it's population under the poverty line runs windows on government offices WHILE THERE IS A FREE ALTERNATIVE ?

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David Sugar's picture


David Sugar is an active maintainer for a number of packages that are part of the GNU project, including GNU Bayonne. He has served as the voluntary chairman of the FSF’s DotGNU steering committee, as a founder and CTO for Open Source Telecomm Corporation, and currently owns and operates Tycho Softworks.