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Microsoft cashes in on Blair campaign

The US software giant excels itself in the publicity stakes

Prime minister Tony Blair is accused of offering Microsoft free publicity for its latest product after he sat through a ten minute Office XP presentation on Tuesday. The new software suite is set to launch at midnight tonight.

Conservative ministers say the move amounts to a blatant and inappropriate plug for a company that not long ago lost an antitrust lawsuit brought by the US' Department of Justice.

Microsoft took the opportunity of a visit by Blair and his wife to the company's UK headquarters on Tuesday to sit the couple in front of a giant screen counting down the seconds to the Office XP launch.

"Blair normally uses people for his own publicity stunts, so he can't complain if others use him for theirs," said the shadow technology minister Alan Duncan. "He had intended to cash in on the Microsoft image -- but they had coincided his visit with a product launch."

When asked at the launch if Microsoft would benefit from Blair's publicity, a spokesperson commented: "Yes, two days before the launch, it's tremendous." After sitting through the demonstration, the prime minister was told: "If you ask nicely, we'll give you one free."

In October 1997, Microsoft founder Bill Gates met the prime minister at Downing Street, and offered to back an initiative to increase the number of schools connected to the Internet. His involvement in the scheme prompted complaints from software competitors such as Oracle, who questioned the appropriateness of government associating itself with a company that has faced repeated legal action for anti-competitive practices.

See also: ZDNet UK's Windows XP News Section.

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