I won't call it a scandal because, as far as I can tell, it's not been hidden, it's a fairly clearly an attempt by Microsoft (via Edelman) to create some blog-sphere buzz regarding Vista, and Acer's Ferrari range of laptops.
I also have to say that, were I given the chance, the techno-geek that I am, I would be sorely tempted to just take the laptop and, well, blog on my experiences... good or bad. But then, in a sense I already do this - I write reviews of computer games for a gaming website. They send me the games, I play the games from end to end, then I write a review of the game, and they publish it. The only thing I'll say in my defence is that I usually don't know if the website bought the game, or my editor bought the game, or if the publisher provided the game for my editor to pass on. Consequently, I feel quite insulated from some of the 'social obligation' noted by Joel... and I quote:
... the only conclusion I can come to is that this is ethically indistinguishable from bribery. Even if no quid-pro-quo is formally required, the gift creates a social obligation of reciprocity. This is best explained in Cialdini's book Influence (a summary is here). The blogger will feel some obligation to return the favor to Microsoft.
Now I'm only talking about $50 for a game, Microsoft are giving away, as stated with no obligation, the best part of $1,800-$2,000 (prices from a five minute search with Google, with Windows XP, not Vista!) worth of laptop with Vista. Not all kettles are the same shade of black, it would appear.
So what do I think. This is truly morally ambiguous. Whatever Microsoft and their representatives may say, this is attempt by them to buy positive commentary, however, they must feel some confidence that at least some of the recipients would give it a positive review.
Oh, and how about this for fruit-cake territory; they've given laptops to Mac-heads like Marshall Kirkpatrick and the Laughing Squid. Now they're just dreaming.
Either that or they're just desperate.