Vista laptops for bloggers furor misses the real story

I’ve been reading the classic blogger tempest in a teapot about Microsoft’s PR agency of record, Edelman, sending out about 90 fancy Ferrari laptops preloaded with Windows Vista to high-profile bloggers and have been amazed that even the most visible of bloggers have missed the real story, the significance of the effort.
From What PC, InformationWeek and PC World to individual bloggers like Om Malik, Jason Calacanis, Robert Scoble, etc etc. just about everyone seems to feel that the issue here is ethics, but it’s not.
Let me be direct: There is no ethical issue associated with a vendor giving product to thought and opinion leaders in a marketplace.
In fact, the ethical firestorm is trivially solved by something we’ve all talked about before, the idea of a blogger disclosure best practices agreement that we subscribe to collectively. [see my earlier articles pay me to blog and Edelman screws up, for example] If I had received a laptop, all I have to do is say “hey, got a laptop and here’s what I found…”
But, as I said, that’s not the story. The real story on this laptop giveaway is what it tells us about Microsoft Vista itself…

Think about this: Microsoft dropped about $1500/laptop * 90 laptops + shipping (my rough estimate puts that at a little less than $150,000) to get some positive digital ink. That’s a fairly expensive campaign for the blogosphere, and by comparison if we assume that their boxed Vista product costs them about $20/unit, that same $150,000 could have been spent on seeding Vista to about 7500 bloggers.
Microsoft and Edelman didn’t send out boxes with the OS DVD, though, did they?
And so, the question that I’m amazed that no blogger seems to have asked is why didn’t they send out the OS and let us install it on our own computers?
The answer, once you think about things this way, is obvious, and that’s the real story here:

Microsoft Vista is in fact a bear to install and has prohibitive hardware requirements.

That’s the only conclusion I can draw, because if it were a breeze to upgrade from WinXP to Windows Vista, with all your apps backwards compatible, all your data intact, and all your files untouched, you’d be happy to install Vista on your existing PC and enjoy the new OS.
Heck, if it’s just memory that’s a challenge, Microsoft could also have sent out a $50 gift certificate for an online computer memory store, and still impacted thousands of influential tech bloggers in a far less overt way. Again, they didn’t do that, did they? So perhaps it’s not just about the memory in your PC.
I really think that Microsoft has a major challenge on its hands, a challenge quite akin to the difficult Apple transition from MacOS 9 to Mac OS X, where apps were obsoleted, older computers suddenly were incapable of running the new OS acceptably, and where users were loath to upgrade. It took a few years before the majority of Apple computers were running Mac OS X, and there are still plenty of MacOS 9 systems out there.
A glance in my Ask Dave Taylor question queue and I can see that there are still lots of people running Windows Me and even Windows 98, even though Windows XP has been out for quite a few years now.
The challenge that any new OS release creates is are users going to upgrade? and without a strong benefit, it’s hard to overcome momentum. That’s exactly what I believe is the challenge here with Vista, and I believe that’s the real message of the fancy Acer Ferrari laptop distribution with Vista pre-installed. It’s not an ethical problem with bloggers, it’s an adoption problem with the overall user community.
Of course, there’s another way to look at this: if you’re a tech blogger have you requested a copy of Microsoft Vista, received it, and installed it on your computer? Or even gotten an indication from Microsoft / Edelman that you’re in the queue for a copy of the new OS?
Me? I didn’t get a Vista laptop, though I would have been quite interested in putting it through its paces and producing some how-to materials on my tech support blog. I’m much more interested in getting a new MacBook Pro, installing Parallels, and then installing Vista therein, so I can have it running along with Windows XP and Mac OS X, all on the same box. What’s not to love about that?

30 comments on “Vista laptops for bloggers furor misses the real story

  1. That’s really an excellent point, Dave, and I agree that it’s surprising that it hasn’t been made up till now. I’ve mostly dismissed the whole discussion as a rehashing of the PayPerPost debate, so I’m guilty of not really thinking it through, too. Thanks for the illumination of common sense.

  2. I think you’re on the right track, Dave, but that maybe it’s not quite as bad as you make it out to be. I don’t think that it’s so much that Microsoft knows it’s a bear to install so much as it is about a) mitigating risk and b) encouraging adoption.
    If I received a copy of Windows Vista on a DVD right now, NO WAY would I install it. Even if it just took a couple of hours (and I’ve never seen a Windows upgrade really take less than that), that’s still more than I’m willing to invest right now, with what in return?
    It also puts all the risk on me — what if it crashes my system and I can’t uninstall it? It doesn’t matter how good it is — even the slightest chance of that is not a risk I’m willing to take right now. And undoubtedly some machines and some applications are going to have problems that haven’t come out in the beta testing.
    What about those people who are on Macs? Or don’t have a DVD drive? You also potentially get negative press from all of them.
    So again, I think you’re on the right track, but I think you may be overstating your case. I think it was far smarter for them to do it on a smaller scale with full laptops so that people can focus on immediately seeing Vista in action, rather than on dealing with installation and upgrade issues.
    If any blogger has one they don’t want, feel free to contact me! 🙂

  3. Thanks for advancing this discussion, Dave. I believe the laptop giveaway is much ado about nothing. Companies have seeded promotional gifts from the beginning of time. It is common sense to give away products that actually work, and that showcase the product and the company in the best possible light. It is neither unethical nor a devious scheme to promote a dog. It is just good business.
    Personally, I just ran Microsoft’s Vista readiness software on my one-year-old Lenovo X-41 Tablet PC. It reported about 14 upgrades or issues I need to address. I guess I will not be “Vista-Cruising” anytime soon.

  4. If the goal was to get some real buzz going, there’s a lot more “wow” factor in getting a souped-up laptop than there is in getting an OS upgrade. The highest profile bloggers aren’t going to write about their free Vista upgrade, but it’s difficult to completely ignore the laptop.

  5. As always, Dave, great job in getting us to think differently from the mob. I’m sure we’ll see a number of weird and increasingly desperate efforts by pr companies to deliver to clients on the pr companies’ plugging of using the blogosphere for marketing – “but don’t worry, you don’t have to blog or anything, ’cause we understand it all and we’ll handle it for you”.

  6. Dave – Totally great point. Not the smartest marketing launch campaign – no guarantee that any blogger is going to write about it. They lost a great community marketing opportunity (actually they still could do a seed program).
    Additionally – they could have really promoted the program, talk it up in advance, get ideas from the community they want to market and get feedback from(even the laptop giveaway program) get people to sign-up, start talking about it – and/or even vie for the opportunity to get a laptop. Instead they chose the boring route.

  7. Hi Dave. I have no doubt that you’re right about the installation challenges and hardware requirements for Vista. I haven’t installed it myself so I’ll take your word for it. That said, I’m not sure that’s the primary reason why Microsoft sent the souped-up laptops. The real reason, IMHO, is to generate much more buzz than by sending out the same old thing (a box with a DVD in it). Using your numbers above, I’ll bet they got more publicity out of the 90 laptops they sent than they ever would have by sending out 7500 boxes of Vista. And yes, much of the PR is “bad”, but is that really an issue? I mean, is anyone saying “gee, I was going to buy Vista, but now that I see Microsoft has made a PR blunder I’m going to stick with XP.”? I seriously doubt it… I *do* think it was stupid of them to revoke the original offer, which I talked about on my blog, but I (a) don’t see anything wrong with the original idea and (b) think they’re getting the last laugh with all the chatter across the blogosphere about it.

  8. I think you’re leaving out the fact that Acer’s getting some great marketing through this as well. There’s no way Microsoft paid $1500 per laptop. I’d be surprised if they paid $500. Only 90 laptops? I’ll bet Acer probably gave them to them for free to help promote themselves. Acer paid more to put the Ferrari name on the laptop than the cost you’re estimating.

  9. Could be but I thought the real story was that Microsoft’s Marketing thinks that it’s more suitable to spend $150,000 on 90 influencers than buy the advertising elsewhere.
    I think it shows some guts and intelligence on Microsoft’s side since there’s really no way to quantify the response. If it was spent in a banner ad, at least they could count click-throughs.
    It’s money well spent and all other companies should be following suit.
    My response to the debacle:

  10. Dave,
    Keep in mind that the vast majority of users will NOT upgrade an existing system; their first experience with Vista will be when they buy a new machine that comes with it. By supplying bloggers with a pre-loaded machine, Microsoft is giving them the experience a mainstream user will get . . . hopefully, minus all the junkware that comes on a retail machine these days.

  11. “Microsoft Vista is in fact a bear to install and has prohibitive hardware requirements.”
    But we knew that already, through the thousands of beta testers, didn’t we…?
    The fact that we have all taken for granted for years the presents given out by companies to reviewers doesn’t turn them ethical, and I believe the real story here is that it’s the first time bloggers outside established media have been put on the same level as ‘journalists’.
    There is still an ethics issue, and yes, Vista will need new computers from anyone with a 2 year old machine… 🙂

  12. Installing Vista was the easiest upgrade I’ve ever done. I don’t know where you get your information but it is not accurate.

  13. Isn’t the real story the ridiculously deep into the OS implemented DRM. I think (and really hope) this will be suicide for microsoft.
    If that’d be the future we’ll be screwed big time. Todays Microsofts monopol is nothing compared to the position they’d be in then.

  14. Hardware is evolving Windows Vista’s trajectory is correct, it’s about the next generation of personal computers.
    You should have read my blog posts, this entire screw-up was the dirty work of Edelman, they clotheslined Microsoft and left them out to dry.
    Many of those bloggers who received laptops were associated with other Edelman campaigns and clients.

  15. Actually a lot of what you’re saying makes no sense.
    This was a joint venture between MS and Acer, so therefore the real costs are probably a whole lot less than you’ve given. I would say this was attempting to make Windows laptops the next ‘sexy’ machine, not the least of which maybe some of those high profile receivers would lug them along to conferences and such, and break into the ‘glowing apple logo’ market.
    As for getting folks to upgrade, I don’t think this giveaway had a darn thing to do with it. I think giving away copies of the OS to select Dell users or Gateway or even HP or Sony users, as part of a campaign with specialized instructions on how to upgrade for the specific environment would have been more in line for getting folks to upgrade.
    No, this was nothing more than an attempt to break into the ‘sexy’ laptop market.

  16. Dave, I have to disagree with your logic. I have installed Vista and its a very straight forward experience to complete an upgrade.
    I suspect Microsoft just wanted to guarntee the experience would be a good one. After all, hardware can vary a great deal and there was no way for Microsoft to guarntee an excellent expereince unless they could control the hardware as well. One vendor with a bad video driver could destroy the experience. If your goal is to show off the goodness of Vista, you want it to be the best experience you can get, not a wild pot shot based on all of the different hardware varations that could be out there.
    I do agree that it would be a great second round for Microsoft to simply give out 100 or so copies of Vista to more bloggers. Real world experience would vary based on hardware and expertise, but Microsoft should supply a special help line for those bloggers. I guess Microsoft offered a free beta option for sometime and maybe they felt truly interested bloggers would have opted to go that way.

  17. I met Microsoft’s Aaron Coldiron at a Vista wine-and-tapas presentation here in Toronto in the fall. At the end of the presentation, they handed out Vista RC1 to the attendees. I decided to give it a whirl, and ended up taking three tries to actually get it to install — see:
    The PR company for MS Canada follows my blog and notified Aaron, who then referenced my installation woes when he emailed me about the Ferrari offer. So I think there’s some creedence to Dave’s theory.
    I think Shelley’s got an interesting point about the “sexy laptop business”, but I think that the PR campaign planners thought of that as a side benefit rather than the main deal.

  18. > I think you’re leaving out the fact that Acer’s getting some great marketing through this as well.
    No doubt – I haven’t purchased an Acer since 94 and never really think about them. With this “endorsement” by MS, they’ll be in my mind in the future.
    Anyhow, I don’t think there was anything sinister behind this campaign. They wanted to make a splash, and they sure as hell accomplished their goal.
    Look at all the people that are worked up in a lather over a new OS.

  19. There was a story a month or so ago about a conference Bill Gates spoke at with many bloggers present (including Tech Crunch’s Michael Arrington)…with their Mac laptops.

  20. Dave:
    The conclusion that Vista *must* be hard to install, based only on the fact that MS sent out laptops rather than DVDs is … kind of vaporous.
    I’d be happy to hear your install experiences with Vista. But this is a logical broad-jump I just can’t make.

  21. I don’t think so, I think you’d get more positive press by sending the laptops to the “right” bloggers who will probably start using the laptops and experiencing Vista right away. If you shipped copies of Vista, many of them would languash on shelves, be given away, or perhaps wind up on eBay. If a copy of Vista landed on my door would I install it today? Definitely not. With the month? Maybe, but probably not. Plus, there’s a lot more buzz in giving away a sexy laptop then a boxed copy of Vista. Anyone who was _that_ interested in Vista could have downloaded beta copies.

  22. Installing anything takes precious time. If you send me a laptop with the software ready to go, then I can jump right in and use it. I have a life. That’s respecting my time. I don’t know about you, but I don’t install software for fun. As for upgrades, you’re right, we’ll wait as long as we can to put it off. But often we must upgrade if we want to use new hardware and software.

  23. James, if Microsoft would get more press by sending laptops to the “right” bloggers, what happened with this campaign?
    Ferodynamics, of course it takes time and is a hassle. Isn’t that the point? Aren’t people who are considering upgrading to Vista going to turn to the leading tech writers and bloggers to learn 1) whether it’s doable to upgrade, 2) how hard it is and 3) if it’s worth it? With Microsoft/Acer sending out laptops, only #3 can be ascertained, and even that’s a bit bogus because running a hand-tuned Vista install won’t demonstrate how the OS works on a “regular” PC.
    Finally, it’s interesting to see how people are saying that this campaign is a win for Acer. I don’t see how, personally. I realize that they own the “Ferrari” brand of laptops, but there’s not much positive going on at this point, and I haven’t seen people writing about how cool, sexy, fast, worthwhile these laptops actually are. Nor have I seen even one “in the wild”.

  24. Hey Dave,
    Before I go any further I need to make a few points, just to put my post into perspective.
    First of all apologies from joining the discussion so late. There’s a good reason for it but you’ll have to read on to find out why.
    Second, and here it comes, I would like to make a full disclosure. I work for Acer. Better yet, I work for their EMEA PR team which means I have a pretty good idea of the marketing campaigns floating around.
    Third, Acer doesn’t have a blog (yet) but I do, so as much as this is a heavy weight to burden on my own, I’m going to go out on a limb and chime in with a few words in their favour.
    I know the argument has moved on but I would just like to take this opportunity to clear up certain issues that have come out on this thread.
    Towards the end of last year, we did in fact work on some Joint Marketing Programs (JMPs) – complex things to iron out at the best of times – yet these had absolutely nothing to do with any products within the Ferrari range, all collateral for which had already been signed off, translated and printed in time for the September 2006 Global Press Conference in Monaco.
    Since then, apart from what Acer considers “standard campaigns” for its key products (flyers, independent reviews and dedicated mini-site off the local home page), very little if anything has been done in the way of actively promoting these notebooks. Nothing BTL in any case.
    You may have noticed that Acer hasn’t shot up a press release on any of its national or international sites over the stunning/atrocious (delete at will) results of the JV with Microsoft over Christmas. There’s a reason. This wasn’t one.
    So in answer to Jason, Shelley, Shawn and others, Acer was not directly involved in this campaign. So much so that, as I mentioned on my own little blog, I only got wind of it after Scoble posted on the subject!
    As far as I’m aware, outside JMPs, what normally happens during a launch of this nature is that the 3rd party requests ‘x’ number of demo machines (notebooks in this case) to showcase the product they wish to promote which are then bought and paid for (nothing gets out of Acer without a receipt LOL). The 3rd party is then free to demo and/or send them to journalists as he or she deems appropriate.
    This is what happened when Bill Gates used an Acer C100 Tablet PC at the launch of Windows XP Tablet Edition in 2002. It wasn’t Acer on display directly but of course we got great coverage.
    This time round, they chose Acer Ferraris. Obviously I could sing a Ferrari’s praises until you�re all blue in the face but that’s not the point here. What – for me at any rate – is important is that the notebook in question was an instrument chosen to showcase another product so when you say “With Microsoft/Acer sending out laptops…” this is not factually correct. Acer didn’t send them out at all. They just sold them.
    Without a shadow of doubt Acer has been getting some serious exposure out of all of this and I personally am happy to see that, at face value at least, these notebooks have been quite well received but I’m afraid you won’t get your “cool, sexy, fast, worthwhile” comments for quite some time, simply because the whole ethics debate is far more compelling.

  25. Let me just say a few things about vista.
    1.) I love vista. i have it installed on a latop with 1.5ghz P4 and 512megs ram. I just love it.
    2.) Windows Vista was very easy to install
    I have been using MS windows since ver 3.0 and i have to say I love vista the most so far. There is no way i will go back to XP. I have only had a few apps that i cant run in Vista and I mean just a few.
    Other then that I love it.

  26. Okay. Its done.
    Other ODMs and OEMs ‘giveaway’, loan or supply at reduced cost their PPCs (Portables) to ICT critics/reviewers, gatekeeers, decision makers; Advertising & Promotional Management business/representatives may promote wares using ‘guerilla marketing’ techniques (Apple, Dell, HP, Sony, etc using product placement within electronic media – film or television) and ….
    So what?!
    Vista will sell!
    Vista will arrive as System Pre-Lock Installation, Full Install, Upgrade, etc!
    Acer will recommend and pre-install Vista!
    Microsoft will manufacture, supply, support, promote and profit from Vista!
    Bloggers may or may not use Vista!
    Everyone else may or may not use Vista!
    So what?!
    Is this incident/discussion feeding the worlds’ poor right now dying of hunger?
    Is this going to help the victim right now who is being tortured?
    Is this going to help the unfortunate sick dying without any possible cure who desperately want to live?
    Is tis going to help those poor who have no access to ICT and general computing?
    Bloggers or ——–?

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