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Microsoft plans to dish out Windows 7 phones to all its staff in a move clearly designed to get people talking about the company's wannabe rival to Apple's iPhone.

Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet yesterday tweeted the MS announcement at the software vendor's annual backslapping fest - otherwise known as the Microsoft Global Exchange.

Redmond told its workers (the official headcount comes in around 87,000 people worldwide) that each and every last one of 'em would soon be fondling their very own Windows 7 phone, which is set to officially launch in October.

Various overexcited Microsofties immediately blabbed on Twitter that they would be handed a Windows 7 phone gratis from their MS bosses.

All of this will be good publicity for the firm that up to now hasn't really made any notable inroads into the mobile phone biz.

Of course, Microsoft was also recently forced into an embarrassing corner, after it killed its KIN phone within weeks of the ill-conceived device's launch.

No wonder then that the company is playing the in-house marketing trick, to get people talking about Microsoft's latest phone in a more positive way.

Gizmodo got its hands on an internal memo sent out to staff from senior mobile MS veep Andy Lees.

"With all the buzz, a lot of you are asking how you can get your hands on a phone and get more involved. So, I am thrilled to announce that a new Windows Phone 7 will be made available to every Microsoft employee as we launch in each market around the world," he confirmed.

"The process will vary based on your market, your carrier, and your launch date so stay tuned for more information closer to launch."

Microsoft folk are pretty accustomed to the firm rolling out the astroturf.

In January last year, MS hawked its near-ready version of Internet Explorer 8 browser at its staff in a desperate attempt to snatch back some of Mozilla’s growing Firefox market share.

The company asked its UK employees to take part in its very own astroturfing campaign by getting MS wonks to send out an email to at least 10 friends encouraging them to download the third beta of IE 8.

It's not clear if Microsoft will similarly be asking its staff to spam friends with missives about the joyful wonders of the Windows 7 phone, however. ®

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