Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Microsoft Gives Bloggers Sub-Aero (2.8) Laptops

Edelman Public Relations, who's handling PR for Microsoft's Windows Vista Launch, gave Acer Ferrari 1000 and 5000 laptops as Christmas presents to a few A-list and other influential bloggers. San Francisco's Laughing Squid blogger Scott Beale received a free Ferrari 1000 preloaded with Windows Vista Ultimate.

(Image courtesy of IStartedSomething.com)

Scott also published a few photographs of and screen captures from his new laptop. Here's his Control Panel\System screen (cropped and sharpened for legibility):

I was surprised to see a 2.8 Windows Experience Index for a laptop that's intended to show off Windows Vista Premium's virtues, especially a premium (Ferrari), 64-bit dual-core laptop with 1-GB of DDR2 DRAM and a 160GB SATA fixed disk. The way I read the tea leaves, 3.0 is the minimum index rating to run Windows Vista Premium Edition and qualify as Windows Vista Premium Ready. Here's what the Microsoft Windows Vista blog's September 22, 2006 "Windows Experience Index: An In-Depth Look" post says about machines in the 2.0 - 2.9 range (emphasis added):
A base score of 2.0 represents the mainstream Windows Vista upgrade target system. This level of PC may run Windows Aero but users may see noticeable performance issues from time to time, especially on PCs with scores less than 2.5 and/or 64MB of graphics memory. Performance issues may also be noticeable when opening many application windows at the same time or when using very large monitors.
  • PCs will run Windows Vista but in most cases will not be Aero capable.
  • Types: lower end of mid-market desktops. Many slim & light laptops.
Here's the same information for machines within the 3.0 - 3.9 index range (emphasis added):
This level represents the value end of machines that will ship at the end of 2006 and into 2007. This is the lowest capability Windows Premium Logo PC that will ship with Windows Vista™ pre-installed. Windows Vista will generally enable Aero automatically on level 3 machines. Aero will perform quite well on level 3 machines with single monitors. With dual monitors (especially larger than 1280x1024), users may see noticeable performance issues from time to time, especially on machines with scores less than 3.5 and/or 128MB of graphics memory.
  • Minimum specification needed to run Windows Vista Premium features, including the new Aero user interface.
  • Types: value end market desktops. Slim & light laptops + desktop replacement laptops.

The Acer product and Windows Vista support pages say that the F1000 and F5000 are Windows Vista Capable and Windows Vista Premium Ready. (The F1000 is claimed to be Premium Ready if appropriately configured with 1-GB RAM and a DVD-ROM drive.) Microsoft's latest requirements for the these two labels are here.

Based on the preceding Microsoft quotes, however, a 2.8 Experience Index doesn't appear to meet minimum Windows Vista Premium requirements or qualify for shipping with Windows Vista preinstalled.

Update 12/28/2006: Microsoft Watch's Joe Wilcox appears to agree in his "How Much Oomph Does Vista Really Need?" post that a 2.8 Windows Experience Index isn't sufficient to run Windows Vista properly. He says "The stated minimum system requirements are stingy" and provides his recommendations for minimum Windows Vista hardware requirements. He notes that "Microsoft would do better by overstating rather than understating system requirements. It's one thing for the operating system to run and another for it to provide a good experience." Joe's former Jupiter Research colleague Michael Gartenberg disagrees.

Note: You might experience problems opening pages on the Acer site due to loss of submarine fibreoptic cables in Tuesday night's Richter 7.1 undersea earthquake off the coast of Taiwan.

For comparison, here's a capture of the Performance Information and Tools page from my Windows Vista test machine, a Gateway S-5200D with a 2.8-GHz Pentium D (2 cores), 2 GB RAM, an NVIDIA GeForce 6600 GPU with 256 MB RAM, and an 180-GB SATA hard drive:

That's not to say the bloggers who received F1000's got a lump of coal in their stockings. It's just surprising that a PR firm would send laptops with a marginal or worse Windows Experience Index to entice bloggers into promoting reviewing Windows Vista.

Last Updated: 1/4/2006.

Subsequent events: Long Zheng's I Started Something blog reports that some bloggers received Acer Ferrari 5000s. Update 12/27/2006: MSTechToday's Brandon LeBlanc, Barb's Connected World's Barb Bowman, GeekZone's Mauricio Freitas and Zen's HeavenGames have reported receiving an F5000 as of 1:00 pm PST. NotGartner's Mitch Denny got an F1000. Update 12/28/2006: Ed Bott (Windows Expertise) received an F5000, Global Nerdy's Joey deVilla and ProBlogger's Darren Rowse got an F1000, and TechCrunch/CrunchNotes' Mike Arrington and ex-TechCruncher Marshall Kirkpatrick got unidentified models directly from Microsoft Mindshare Program Manager Aaron Coldiron. Robert McLaws at Windows Now says an AMD rep was responsible for his unnumbered Ferrari.

Australia's Sandi Hardmeier (Spyware Sucks and IE-Vista) got her F5000 today (see this blog's comments). Digital Inspiration's Amit Agarwal is awaiting a Ferrari from the DHL warehouse and plans to keep it; ValleyWag's link says that Microsoft "compromises the incorruptible." Now CrunchGear's John Biggs says that "Love Will Tear Us Apart: Microsoft Wants Its Laptops Back." Joel Spolsky refused Microsoft's offer of a Ferrari laptop, and Scott Beale's auctioning his F1000 on eBay with the proceeds to go to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Michael Gartenberg weighs in with "Lessons from the Ferrari Fiasco" and Joe Wilcox adds his own take on the "fiasco" with a "Microsoft's Laptop Giveaway Is About Influence, Not Bribery" post in response to eWeek "Linux & Open Source" columnist Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols' "Bribing Bloggers" post. eWeek's John Pallato says, "Bloggers Can't Ignore Basic Journalism Ethics." 12/30/2006: GigaOm's Om Malik received his Ferrari (no model number) yesterday. (He plans to return it.) Jason Calacanis (formerly of Weblogs, Inc. and AOL) says "Microsoft Vista Ferrari Payoffs--horrible move," citing Om's post. Brandon LeBlanc reports his F5000 scores a 4.8 Windows Experience index. Should the folks who received F1000s be considered "second-class Web citizens?"

Ed Bott took issue with my use of Scott Beale's Control Panel\System screen capture that reported only the base (overall) WEI score and not the subscores. Ed also noted the need to run multiple tests to achieve an accurate value, as did Sandi Hardmeier in the first comment to this post. However, Mitch Denny's "Ferrari 1000: The Windows Experience Index (WEI)" post includes a Performance Information and Tools capture with the subscores that return the 2.8 base score—the result of a 2.8 Graphics subscore for the ATI Radeon Xpress 1100 GPU. Mitch also compares the Ferrari 1000 WEI Vista scores againsft a Fujitsu LifeBook T4210 and Dell Lattitude D820. Mitch cites Ed's post, which stresses the need to run multiple Performance Information and Tools capture to get an accurate result, so I don't believe there's an error in Mitch's data, nor do I believe that I misunderstood the WEI. A few other recipients of F1000s posting captures of their WEI scores would moot this controversy.

The plot thickens: CyberNet News' Ryan Wagner is scheduled to receive a Velocity Micro Media Center PC from Microsoft and AMD this weekend, and so is Long Zheng, who was one of the first to blog about free Ferraris. (Ryan says the specs aren't on the Velocity Micro site because it's scheduled to release on January 30, 2007, but he has a photo on his site.) 12/29/2006: Gear Live's Andru Edwards has already received his Media Center PC (see this blog's comments). Abbreviated specs from Gear Live are: "AMD Athlon FX 5000+ dual core processor, 2 GB DDR-800 RAM, two 400 GB hard drives in a RAID 1 configuration." Andru reports a 5.9 Windows Experience Index, which is the current maximum, in his blog's comments.

New twists on 12/29/2006: Microsoft apparently still has some leftover Acer Ferrari 1000 laptops that didn't get sent to bloggers. They're awarding them as lottery prizes to folks who watch Microsoft Office 2007 Webcasts. Too bad the machines don't rate a better Windows Experience Index than 2.8 (out of 5.9) for Vista. However, Microsoft's Keith Combs says Vista runs fine in its Basic color scheme (no Aero Glass) on a four-year-old Compaq Evo N620c.

Brave New Year: The New York Times takes the Ferrari bait on New Year's Day: Maria Aspen wrote a brief Technology section piece entitled "Costly Gift From Microsoft Is an Invitation to Blog." (Free registration required, copy here from CNet.) Ms. Aspen confirmed that Microsoft had sent 90 Ferraris "to bloggers who write about technology and other subjects".

The Intuitive Life Business Blog's Dave Taylor concludes in his January 3, 2006 "Vista laptops for bloggers furor misses the real story" post that "There is no ethical issue associated with a vendor giving product to thought and opinion leaders in a marketplace," asks "why didn't they send out the OS and let us install it on our own computers?" and then provides his answer: "Microsoft Vista is in fact a bear to install and has prohibitive hardware requirements." CrunchGear's John Boggs agrees with Taylor, but Houston Chronicle TechBlogger Dwight Silverman doesn't. Silverman says:

Taylor's actually the one missing the point, because most users' first experience with Vista won't be via an upgrade. It will be when they buy a new machine that comes pre-loaded with it. By sending bloggers' pre-loaded notebook PCs, Microsoft is actually giving them the mainstream Vista experience . . . minus, of course, all the junkware that comes loaded onto consumer PCs.

I found Vista to be quite easy to install on my year-old Gateway desktop client (runs Aero Glass graphics, as shown above) and a two-year-old Dell server (runs Basic graphics because it has a low-end graphics card).

Backstory: Edelman Public Relations got into hot water with the blogging community when the firm designed in October 2006 the Wal-Marting Across America flog (fake Weblog) for client Working Families for Wal-Mart without disclosing Edelman's or their client's particpation in the process. Dave Taylor's "Edelman screws up with duplicitous Wal-Mart blog, but it's okay?" post on the Intuitive Life Business Blog describes the conflict between the flog and the Word of Mouth Marketing Association's ethics rules. Taylor notes that Edelman "helped craft" these rules.

Full disclosure: I make a substantial part of my living writing about Microsoft programming environments, servers, productivity applications, and operating systems in books and for magazines. I did not receive a free laptop from Edelman or Microsoft. Several years ago, I received a substantial sum of money, an Xbox, and an LCD monitor as prizes for winning the inaugural 2002 Microsoft .NET Best Web Services contest. (I donated the two AMD PCs to the Ateneo de Manila University of the Philippines). I regularly receive or download free test/evaluation software from Microsoft, and, like most other magazine writers, I receive press credentials for Microsoft Tech•Ed and the Professional Developers Conference (PDC). I don't intend to refuse free software or press credentials in the foreseeable future.

News: The OakLeaf blog made Techmeme for the first time! Search this Techmeme capture for Edelman. Robert Scoble thinks sending bloggers free laptops is PayPerPost, Update 12/27/2006: Now Robert thinks that "the Microsoft Vista giveaway is an awesome idea." Check out this 12/28/2006 Techmeme capture as the "blogger ethics" controversy became the #1 topic (OakLeaf is the next-to-last Discussion link).

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1 comments:

Brandy said...

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