Tech.Ed: Strings attached to 'free' HP Mini netbook offer

Microsoft's HP netbook offer helped drive Tech.Ed attendance, but how many delegates will be able to take away a new mini-notebook?

Microsoft’s annual technology conference, Tech.Ed, sold out this year, with more than 2500 people converging on the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre this week for a sneak peek at Windows 7. One drawcard was Microsoft’s announcement that attendees will receive a fully fledged HP Mini 2140 netbook on arrival to use for the three days they are at the event, instead of the usual backpack filled with CDs and a drink bottle.

But some companies who signed up staff to attend Tech.Ed were disappointed to discover that there were conditions attached to the HP Mini 210 netbook offer. According to Brent Hasler, group general manager technology for the Queensland-based Tatts Group, the notebook offer wasn’t what enticed his company to send 20 of its technology staff to attend Tech.Ed. Nonetheless the company was surprised when it received a waiver document from Microsoft which the attendees would be required to sign prior to receiving the “complimentary mini notebook”.

“This is something that we became aware of only after we had confirmed our attendees for the event,” said Hasler.

The Tatts Group issued an e-mail to its staff attending the Tech.Ed event to say that the company had investigated almost every option it could think of in order to allow the staff to accept the notebook as a gift and outlined the costs associated with accepting the netbook: “In the event that you accepted the notebook as a gift, then FBT (Fringe Benefits Tax) would be payable on the marked-up value of the gift requiring you to make an FBT contribution of approximately $900.

"We have tried to put together a scheme whereby the company would retain ownership of the notebook, but you would remain the custodian of it. Unfortunately under this option, Microsoft has insisted that we count each and every notebook as a Corporate Qualified Desktop and would thereby have to pay for licences for each and every one of them,” Hasler stated in an e-mail to the Tatts Group technology staff.

Microsoft’s ‘professional geek’ Nick Hodge said that half of the registrations to this year’s event are new Tech.Ed attendees, which he attributes to not only the HP Mini 2140 offer but also to the software on show at the conference.

“Immerse yourself in Windows 7 on a complimentary HP Mini Notebook - Yours to keep”, attendees were advised at registration. But the site also outlines a series of personal circumstances attendees need to consider before accepting the HP Mini Notebook.

The site says, under a common questions section: “Is the HP Mini Notebook mine to keep? Yes, for eligible delegates, the Mini Notebook loaded with Windows 7* is yours to keep. You should consider your personal circumstances, such as your employment policy, and ensure this allows you to keep this gift. This is particularly relevant if your employer paid for you to attend Tech.Ed or if your employer is the government, which prescribes strict rules regarding the circumstances in which its employees may keep gifts.”

A waiver outlining attendee’s obligations was published by Microsoft when the HP Mini notebook announcement was made earlier this year.

These obligations include any applicable taxes (including but not limited to Fringe Benefits Tax).

“Microsoft didn’t want to dictate the situation here,” said Hodge. “We’ve left it up to people to work out their obligations.”

If you choose not to accept the HP Mini Notebook, or you borrow the HP Mini notebook and return it to Microsoft, then it will be offered to charity at the end of the event.

“We’ll be donating the vast majority of them to charity after the event through the Microsoft Unlimited program,” Hodge said.

The HP Mini 2140 netbook is being used by attendees to tap into presentations by communicating with the presenter. Microsoft also expects attendees to download the seminar and session documentation and to leave the event with mountains of data, not mountains of paper.

The idea behind the roll out of the HP Mini 2140 netbooks originated with Microsoft IT evangelists Andrew Coates and Ben English, who wondered if there was a better way for Tech.Ed attendees to get all the event information rather than going home with a few CDs.

According to Hodge, Microsoft liked the idea. “It’s been an interesting rollercoaster,” he said. “It actually gave this project an extra dimension of worthwhile-ness for me.”

Apart from the convenience of information gathering, Hodge also predicted “emergent behaviour” as a result of the availability of the HP Mini 2140 netbook. With the prevalence of social-networking Web sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, and more than 2500 in one place people hooked-up to the Internet and each other, “anything can happen” he said.

The 160GB HP Mini 2140 netbook is preinstalled with Windows 7, as well as Windows Server 2008 R2, Microsoft Office 2010, Microsoft Visual Studio Express beta 3 and Microsoft’s antivirus software, Microsoft Security Essentials. According to Hodge, this still leaves around 130GB of free space so attendees can download and install more software during the three day event.

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