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A Microsoft stunt handing out brand spanking new laptops with Windows Vista to selected bloggers has backfired with claims that Microsoft tried to "buy" bloggers.

At least six bloggers each received a sleek, black, highly specified Ferrari machine running the as-yet-to-be released Windows Vista from Microsoft and Acer just before Christmas.

At least one recipient claimed his machine was a gift. Microsoft watcher Long Zheng called the PC a "Christmas present [that was] officially" a review machine. He congratulated Microsoft on its "kudos for thinking about the little guys" - meaning that it is targeting bloggers instead of the usual PC trade publications that make it on the big vendors' gift list.

That was enough for the Blogosphere, which sniffed a crude attempt at bribery and began a debate on the ethics of accepting free gifts from IT companies. Veteran blogger, and former Microsoft employee Robert Scoble summed it up: "Now THAT is my idea of PayPerPost" - the idea of paying bloggers to post, only using cash instead of gifts.

And our favourite tech comment site Slashdot has a barrage of criticism here.

Subsequent postings by Zheng intended to defuse the situation only reinforced the perception the Windows Vista machines are gifts intended to curry favor. "These were review PCs with the option at completion of review to either send back to Microsoft, give away or keep indefinitely. This choice is solely at the discretion of bloggers," he wrote.

Typically, the release of PCs and other gadgets by PR people to journalists working in what bloggers tend to deride as the "traditional media" are tightly controlled, and machines are expected to be returned once review is complete.

Stung by the criticism, Microsoft issued a statement that put the onus on bloggers to make full disclosure.

Microsoft's statement, though, does little to clarify its real motive, as it weaved between notions of "review" and "free gift". Microsoft's Aaron Coldiron said the computers are intended for review purposes.

In its note to the lucky bloggers , Microsoft said: "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 on your site, or you can keep it."®

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