File this one under "What were they thinking?!" As has been reported all over the place, Microsoft had a great idea to seed the blogosphere with souped-up laptops running their new operating system, Vista. The bloggers received these "gifts" in the hope that they would have something nice to say about Vista and help jumpstart the product launch.
FWIW, I agree with Robert Scoble on this. It was a smart idea even though it was obviously going to lead to pay-for-post type criticism. I tend to feel that if the blogger fully discloses the fact that they've been given the laptop, let them say whatever they want about Vista/Microsoft; if you've read the disclosure and don't want to read their review, go to another site!
But what started out as a good idea is rapidly crashing and burning. After Microsoft originally told the bloggers they could keep the laptops, enough whining and complaining in the blogosphere (no doubt led by those who didn't get a free laptop!) is now causing Microsoft to change the offer.
According to this post on Marshall Kirkpatrick's blog, Microsoft sent a follow-up message to all the bloggers saying that "you either give the PC away or send it back when you no longer need it for product reviews." I hope that message came with a nice Homer Simpson "doh!" sound.
Who's the genius at Microsoft who decided to make a somewhat good situation much worse? My guess is they'll be laying rather low for the next week or so, hoping this whole thing blows over.