To quote, well, just about everybody, we're going to have to convene a blogger ethics panel.
Microsoft has been sending free smokin' fast laptops loaded with Vista to members of the trendsetting media (read: tech blogs).
To frontload my reaction, meh.
Laughing Squid got one, sounded underwhelmed, then auctioned it off and donated the funds to the EFF. Sounds good.
Personally, I would've kept it. But then, I need a new laptop. I've seen a lot of reactions in that camp: "Hey, I want one."
Then there is this opinion: "Getting something from a company necessitates a tit-for-tat."
Well, no, it doesn't. Critics have gotten swag, tickets, CDs, t-shirts, keychains, etc., since forever. Disclosure helps, but just because someone admits they were given something shouldn't be used as immunity against charges of being a shill. On the other hand, getting something and talking about it doesn't mean you are a shill, even if you say you like the product.
If anybody's wondering how to detect a shill, just study the writings of John Stossel.
Cathode Tan provides more information. There's a quoted section from Dave Taylor that talks about how Microsoft didn't send disks with Vista on them so that reviewers could try the OS out on their own systems. I completely agree that this was done to skew impressions of the software. I mean, duh. But here's another question: Why wouldn't Microsoft want to do that?
When a gaming journalist comes out to a company to do a preview of the Next Big Game, do you suppose that the company is concerned with providing a look at how their product performs across the entire spectrum of configurations? Or does the journalist find herself in the room with the large plasma screen, surround sound, comfy couch, attended to by the PR folk, playing the most stable, tweaked, scripted version of the game on the best equipment?
Now it's true that software journalists will often receive review copies which they can run on their own systems. This is not ideal for a PR department. The fact is, Microsoft has the money to run this kind of preview campaign, and it's a smart idea. Most software companies would probably like to do this, but don't have the funds. When Vista is launched then there will be plenty of opportunities for reviewers to test it out in real-world conditions.
As for how the cost of the gift might affect a person's judgment . . . it's going to depend upon reputation, transparency and any possible output related to the gift. If this were cash or a check I'd treat it as a completely different matter.
Also, there is a substantial difference between politicians, who work for the people, accepting gifts from corporations and industry journalists, who work for themselves (or a corporation) and rely upon that industry. In other words, without software industry gifts (mainly review copies) to journalists, then the costs to be a gaming journalist become prohibitive, resulting in more corporate control; Without corporate gifts to politicians, there is Democracy - or at least Representative Republic.
To put it another way, the transparency of the distributed system of blogs led to the disclosure of this campaign almost immediately, the merits of it were debated, positions were taken and it became very easy to stay in the loop, examine the issue and make your own judgment. Doesn't really seem like anything diabolical has occurred.
I'm really fucking late on this whole thing. It sounds like some of the implications were not thought out by Microsoft (PR campaigns are tricky, because PR people have no souls. Unless they work where I do.)
Marshall Kirkpatrick notes that Microsoft is telling people to either give the laptop away or send it back when finished writing a review (some initial e-mails did not make it clear about the review part, only that the thing was a gift with no strings - giving something out for review is a string).
There's a bunch more here, if you're so inclined.
On a related, or maybe not, note.
I cracked open Snowboarding Magazine. Ninety percent is advertisements. The other ten percent consists of overwhelmingly positive reviews of boards and gear, overwhelmingly positive reviews of snowboarders and gnarly articles about wipeouts or shitty tournaments (with the usual gripes of how commercial the sport has gotten, how the OGs are disgusted by all these trendy new kids and how there's no innovation in the sport anymore).
Sound familiar to anyone?