Update: I’ve reformatted a few key sentences in this item, making them bright red and boldface, since some people seem incapable of reading anything longer than 15 words. If you only skim this post, just read the stuff in red and boldface. I haven’t changed any text from what I originally wrote
Earlier today, my friendly DHL delivery person dropped off a small package from Microsoft and AMD. It contained an Acer Ferrari 5000 with Windows Vista Ultimate and Office 2007 preinstalled on it. I’m not the only person to receive a similar package. Microsoft and AMD have delivered a truckload of these units and some lightweight Ferrari 1000 notebooks and even some kick-ass Media Center machines to a long list of people. (Scott Beale and Mitch Denny, Mauricio Freitas, Brandon LeBlanc, Long Zheng, Barb Bowman, and no doubt others. But not Dana Epp or Thomas Hawk.)
As a rule, I don’t solicit review units and I never accept gifts from companies that I cover. The biggest reason? It’s a major pain in the ass to unbox hardware, get it set up, work with it for a while, wipe the disks and put everything back in its original condition when I’m done, box the pieces back up, and send everything back. I don’t have a lab crew or a shipping department, so I have to do all that scut work myself, and usually it isn’t worth it. If you’re not in this business, you probably think it’s cool to get new stuff all the time. But it’s more of a burden than a blessing, which is why, when I look around this office, I see four desktop PCs, three notebooks, a server, and a slew of gadgets and spare parts, all paid for out of my own pocket. I pay for software, too.
So why did I make an exception in this case? Simple. Because I can’t buy a new PC with Windows Vista preloaded yet, and Aaron Coldiron from Microsoft offered to send this review unit. The note I got last week made the offer perfectly clear:
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 keep it. My recommendation is that you give it away on your site, but it’s your call. Just let me know what you plan to do with it when the time comes.
I want the chance to see how a 64-bit version of Vista runs on new, high-end hardware so I can compare it to the half-dozen or so machines I have already tested it on. I’ll be doing a lot of testing of Windows Vista between now and its launch on January 30 so I can write good solid reviews from as many perspectives as possible. Here’s my current hardware lineup:
- I just took delivery on a brand-new Dell Inspiron 6400 last week with a Core 2 Duo processor, paid for out of my own pocket (it cost about a third of what the Ferrari 5000 costs). It took half a day to wipe the pre-loaded crap software off it so I could install Windows Vista Business.
- I purchased a top-of-the-line Acer Tablet PC nine months ago; it’s on its way back to Acer for a new keyboard, and when it comes back it will get Vista Business (32-bit) installed on it.
- I’ve got a two-year-old Dell Latitude 505 running Windows Vista Home Basic.
- I’ve got a four-year-old homemade desktop box running Vista Ultimate in its primary role as a Media Center machine. (You’ll be shocked when you hear how well it works.)
- And I’ll be replacing my main desktop machine in about six weeks - as soon as I can buy a system with Windows Vista pre-loaded. I’ll share the specs for that one in January.
None of the systems I currently own can run 64-bit Vista acceptably, so this review unit will be a nice addition to that hardware lineup.
When I’m done testing this notebook, what happens to it?
I haven’t decided yet. I’m not keeping it, of course. Update 31-Dec-2006: I’m sending it back to Microsoft after my review is complete. It could go back to Microsoft, I suppose. But I’m more likely to auction it off for charity, along with a copy of Windows Vista Inside Out and some free consulting time. Last I looked, there were still a lot of homeless people in Indonesia, two years after the tsunami and six months after the earthquake that most Americans never heard about. There are a whole bunch of people that are still leading miserable lives in New Orleans or in temporary housing hundreds of miles from their home in the Crescent City that could use some help. With an assist from readers of this site, I raised more than $400 on New Years Eve 2004 and a couple hundred bucks earlier this year for Indonesian relief. I raised $350 to help people whose lives were turned upside down by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I’d feel pretty good if I could parlay a review unit into that kind of goodness. It might even make me smile while I’m boxing up this machine to send it away.
But that’s my personal decision, and it’s based on my personal code of ethics, which says I don’t accept gifts. So, do I think everyone who received one of these boxes should send it back? Don’t be ridiculous. The people who are whining about Microsoft “bribing” bloggers are misinformed.
Bloggers come in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of motivations. I’m a journalist by training and by profession, and that dictates my decision. But what if I were a starving student or an MVP who started a blog because I was passionate about technology and wanted to share that passion with a community? Everyone in the community wins when that person gets the chance to play with new technology. In that case, Microsoft is just doing some smart marketing, seeding the market and increasing mind share. They could spend the same amount of money hiring people to write white papers or running ads in the Wall Street Journal. But the world will get a lot more valuable feedback if that information comes from real people actually using this technology.
Ultimately, it all comes down to this: Who do you trust? Last Friday was the fourth anniversary of this site, and during that time I’ve written nearly 1500 posts. I think I had about four readers back on December 22, 2002. Last time I checked, more than 2,700 people were subscribed to this site’s RSS feed and roughly 100,000 visit the site every month. I feel an enormous sense of responsibility to those people – to you. I plan to do this for a long time, and my independence isn’t for sale.
And if you think that a free laptop is going to change Long Zheng or Brandon LeBlanc, well, you haven’t spent much time actually reading their sites. Both of these guys are in the Essentials folder in my RSS reader because they’re smart and funny and they don’t pull punches. I’m looking forward to meeting both Brandon and Long at CES in two weeks, and I’m looking forward to reading about their experiences with Windows Vista in coming months. I’m also looking forward to telling you all about my experiences with this hardware.
Oh, one more thing… If you’re thinking of convening a blogger ethics conference, count me out.