Microsoft yanks free Vista, Office offer

Supply of free software exhausted

Microsoft on Tuesday withdrew an offer of free copies of Windows Vista Ultimate and Office 2007 in exchange for consumers agreeing to install monitoring software, saying it had exhausted the supply of software.

Until mid-afternoon Tuesday, the company's Windows Feedback Program was handing out copies of Vista Ultimate, Office Ultimate 2007 and other software to users who agreed to complete regular surveys and to install a program that tracked Windows and Office use for three months. The program transmitted the information to Microsoft's servers daily.

Under a section titled "What about the free product?", the program's Web site spelled out the freebie. "If you are a Windows Vista or Windows XP user and decide to join and participate in both programs, we will send you a free Microsoft product when you participate in the program. Limit one gift per person. This offer is nontransferable. This offer expires on 12/31/07, while supplies last and is not redeemable for cash. Taxes, if any, are your sole responsibility."

Although the free offer remains viewable in a version of the page cached by Google's search engine, the paragraph was removed from the live site Tuesday afternoon.

References to the Windows Feedback Program and the free offer go back to at least early November, but Microsoft did not publicize the deal. Apparently, only Tuesday, after several Web sites and blogs, including NotebookReview.com and Engadget, posted accounts of the program and link to its Web site, did the news, and, those asking for free software, reach critical mass.

Not long after Microsoft pulled the offer, users commenting on Engadget noticed the vanishing act. Someone identified as Paul Newall claimed he e-mailed Microsoft to ask for an explanation. "This is the response I got," said Newall. "'Thank you for your interest in the feedback program. Due to high volume, we have reached our 'while supplies last' limit and have closed our free product incentive on 12/11/2007 at 2 p.m.'"

The monitoring software, which can still be downloaded and installed on Windows XP- or Vista-powered PCs, collects a wide range of information, according to the program's documentation, including the machine's processor type and speed, the number of folders and files in locations such as Documents, which software has been opened, and any application or operating system crash reports.

Microsoft was not available for comment Tuesday night.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld

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