There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Laptop


In this slow news week, a ripple is being felt in the blogosphere over Microsoft sending certain bloggers $2,000 Acer Ferrari laptops fully decked out with a copy of Windows Vista and Office 2007. Companies sending out review software/hardware in order to get some space in a popular column is nothing new. The bruhaha is over whether these power laptops are being lent out for review or as a free-and-clear gift. And if it’s a gift, is it ethical for the bloggers to accept them and how will it impact their Microsoft coverage in the future?

This isn’t only about bloggers and people who review and talk about technology. Is there something deeper at play that will force web workers to take a more critical look at their own ethics should they find themselves in a similar situation?

Ed Bott isn’t keeping his Acer Ferrari, but he doesn’t have a problem with those that will. Brandon LeBlanc is taking some heat on his blog because he talked about the computer a few days before mentioning that he got it as a gift from Microsoft. Most recipients aren’t complaining, but does this mean that everytime they blog, “Gee, this computer is fast” they should disclose that they got it as a gift from Microsoft? Will they feel a twinge if they’re critical of Microsoft products? will be addressing the issue of ethics and transparency in 2007.

Who are you? Are you someone different online than in real life? Do you fib or tell little white lies to your boss or clients so they think you’re busy, or under paid or maybe more knowledgeable than you really are?

It’s not always black and white. Have you charged clients for time that you were working with a manual open in front of you? Have you ever taken a job simply for the money but convinced the client that you were doing it because you really believed in what they were doing? Have you purchased software for professional use with a personal license?

At what point do you tell yourself that you’re not too far over the line, and who sets that line? When you’ve earned a negative reputation online, it’s more difficult to gain back respect. When you meet someone face-to-face, you are in the moment. You are what you say, what you look like, your body language and what happens in the next 5 minutes. When you’re building your professional stake online, you carry your history around with you wherever you go. If you’re going to be yourself, there’s nowhere to hide.

We are still using yesterday’s “rules” to predict tomorrow’s reactions. I’m sure the folks at Microsoft’s PR firm didn’t anticipate that their marketing gesture would produce a negative backlash as it did. It will be interesting to see if this experience is just a blip in a slow holiday week, or will it help set a course for how traditional corporate deals with an online community it wants to embrace but can’t control. Just ask Sony.


Igwe valentine

I need somebody who will provide a job for me and at the same time carter for my education and inturn i will give him back what he invested in me.

adesanya olwadamilare s

people are really into tech. so,it si a good idea to look into new way mostly on getting what people are doing for other country without satelite .jsut think of that.


I dont think there is any such thing as a free laptop because you have to go to so many steps and then they’ll ask for you Card information.


I would keep the laptop, but I’d throw out Vista and install Linux. Wouldn’t feel a bit of guilt either..Microsoft’s a big company and if they were to send me a laptop free, I’d take it. Bill gates wouldn’t notice, trust me!

Laptop hq

Clearly Microsoft doesn’t want the laptop back. The memo from Aaron says you can give it away to someone else. You just can’t keep it for obvious reasons. Obvious, at least, to anyone with a sense of fair play.


Really great article. I hardly remember anyone raise a question of moral and ethics in his articles. So, thank you! It’s been a very pleasant reading with a thought in my head – there still are people who do believe in white and black and can differ one from another.

Best of luck in your writing,


It provides a way for people to review products. It is also a great way for companies to get blatant advertising. While I was not one of the chosen, I probably do not get the traffic that warranted that type of gift. I’ve been lucky to be a beta tester on other things, most recently the feature that allows for people to get a sneak peak at a website before clicking on the link. It may reduce hits; it may encourage some to dig a little deeper. I plan on writing about it later on today on the site. As long as your honest and fair about it when you write about it, the issue about accepting something can become a case of being upset when you really don’t need to be.

Ronnie Ann

In response to Andrew Flusche’s question about whether it’s ok to charge clients for time that was spent with a manual in front of you, my take on that is a qualified “yes!” I’ve been a consultant for many years and find that there are a lot of times when I have to use my resources – experience, manuals, contacts, ability to research, or whatever – to provide my client with the answer they need. My job is to help them – and that’s what I do. Now…if you really know nothing about the issue (and didn’t tell your client that) and are researching something in such depth that in effect charges your client for subsidizing your education, well then I think you need to take that into account when you bill. But as long as you go about things ethically, there is a value to your ability to find answers quickly for your client – no matter what the resource. I think Judi Sohn’s solution of charging less under her particular circumstances makes sense. She had let them know up front what her qualificatons were and weren’t and odds are she picked up what was needed faster than any internal person – and a lot cheaper than a real “pro”, which the client did not hire. At least that’s how it seems to me. Ronnie Ann

Andru Edwards

We also have received a fully loaded Media Center PC from Microsoft as part of this campaign. People need to stop complaining – in reality, it really seems that those complaining are those who weren’t chosen. It is COMMON PRACTICE from companies to get their products into the hands of those who review said products, prior to a launch. How else are you supposed to review them before they are available to the general public? This isn’t just for the tech industry – Ebert and Roeper see movies – for free – before they are available to the public. Any problem there? Probably not.

Plus this is a part of something bigger that Microsoft is doing – the Vanishing Point game, where Loki is the one “planning” these giveaways.

Josh Miller

On a somewhat related topic. How about recieving a free review copy for someting you would have reviewed anyway?

A few months ago I was offered a copy of Transformers the Movie on DVD to review. I was also offered other blog tools such as press releases and banners to use but I was not reuired ot use them in order to complete the offer. I used the banner and press release anyway since the release of this movie would be something I would blog about anyway and I’d have bought and reviewed the movie myself, this just saves me a bit of money.

Though this story doesn’t really have an ending. I never did get my copy as promised though I know several other bloggers who DID get a copy through the same offer so it was at least somewhat legit. Kind of irritating but it won’t affect my opinion of the product, just the company.

Neal Watzman

I’m certainly not one of the privileged that received a laptop or anything other than a pen or brochure for free from Microsoft. What is the big deal, other than it’s a nice perk?

As far as ethics go, if the laptop was sent with the hope of a review, then do the right thing and review Vista and/or Office 2007 honestly. If it was sent as a gift, send a thank you note to Microsoft and I you feel moved to comment about it do so. Microsoft can certainly afford this gift.

I try to treat my clients honestly and certainly ethically. I may have more face time with people than many reading this blog as I build information systems, requiring me to be onsite. I genuinely like many of the people I work with and suspect the feeling is mutual. They are treated fairly when it comes to my billings and most see my work as valuable.

I learned those values from my father who had a men’s shop in a small West Virginia town. For the almost 20 years I’ve had a technology consulting practice, I’ve been able to feed my family and be quite profitable working this way.

There is no reason in the world to do otherwise.

John Paul

I totally agree we all need to monitor our own ethics. There are potentials for breaches at every turn. The one bit that surprised me is your asking if you charge a client for time working with a manual open.

I learned a long time ago that I can’t know everything. Without enumerating all my tasks, I’ll just say my web development work is only 50 to 70 percent of my work. When you have to know 3 scripting languages, multiple server technologies, 3 and a half flavors of html, workarounds for multiple browsers, 2 or more operating systems, and multiple image manipulation applications and their tricks, I’m not going to apologize if I have to check some references while I work.

Now, if I’m learning something entirely new, the client is going to pay only what they would have if I’d already been up on the technology. (and usually less, depending on my degree of self-doubt.) Yours is a good reminder, though, to be sure and do what is fair.


My swag policy: Give it all to a close colleague or business partner, and they give all theirs to me, sans names/origin.

This way, you get all the benefit of free stuff that PR are just dying to give away, and no ethical ramifications: You don’t even know where the stuff came from, so it’s just like having Santa deliver you presents!

In this manner I’ve scored this year:

An end-of-life Palm (Which I sold on Ebay after 3 months, realising my Ipaq, for all its’ flaws, was a more versatile device)
A bottle of Penfolds Bin #357
A bottle of “Scrumpy Jacks” Apple Cider
A $100 BP Fuel Voucher
A free dinner at an upmarket Sydney Restaurant
A Hamper of edible things

I have no idea where any of this stuff came from, so to the Tech. companies in Australia who gave this all away, Thankyou!

I’ve given away:
Lots of free software (If it says ****Soft on the box, is it still anonymous?)
A Harbour Cruise
2 Tickets to a Concert

So there’s one way to solve the problem: I encourage all bloggers to give me their Acer Ferrari notebooks… I promise I’ll forget who sent them


Bah. Accept the laptop and use it to QA what you can’t see on your trusty Mac, which we should *all* be switching to in the post-Vista landscape.

Judi Sohn

Andrew, I mentioned it because yes, I had a problem a few years back with a client who didn’t want to pay me for any time I spent studying the technology that I was implementing for their project. The attitude was basically “go to school on your own time,” which shocked me because until that moment it hadn’t even dawned on me that it could be considered a problem…and I was charging them less than my standard hourly rate to boot because I was honest up front about the fact that I didn’t have experience in that particular technology!

What’s “right”? What’s “wrong”? I have no idea. Does anyone? That’s the whole point. :-)


I think it (the promo) smells of something done on the fly – not well planned, not well thought out. It does though make a nice discussion across the blogsphere for the week before New Year’s!


Andrew Flusche

These are all definitely interesting issues. One thing you mentioned really made me think: “Have you charged clients for time that you were working with a manual open in front of you?”

Are you insinuating that some people would find that unacceptable? Is it wrong to teach yourself how to do something for a client’s project? That’s what lawyers do all the time. Sure, it would be wrong to bill a client for learning how to type. But is it wrong to bill a client for studying a manual to do something technical that they’re requesting for their project?

I do love the post!

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