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Microsoft axes free newsgroup support team

The customers have been demanding less support, apparently...

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Microsoft is pulling the plugs on its Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) support system, according to a 'so long, and thanks for all the fish' email sent to MVPs by company director of business development Joseph Lindstrom last week. The system, which will end from the beginning of December, used volunteer MVP labour to provide free newsgroup-based support via newsgroups. According to Lindstrom's email Microsoft will replace it with a programme "in which technical newsgroups are staffed by Microsoft support professionals." The switch has raised the ire of soon-to-be-former MVPs, who have provided valuable free support for Microsoft customers, and who are (were?) to a considerable extent Microsoft loyalists. Lindstrom's explanation for the change is vague and not entirely convincing: "Each year, Microsoft customer participation in the newsgroups has grown and we expect this to continue. Due to customer feedback and requests for more direct Microsoft involvement, we are changing our newsgroups strategy." 'Customer demand' is an MFUE (Most Frequently Used Excuse) round at Microsoft Towers, but although you can probably accept that customers wanted more MS participation in the newsgroups, it's difficult to credit that they've been voting to have the MVPs taken out and shot. Lindstrom says the switch will increase customer contact with Microsoft support, and "to respond to customer requests for... guaranteed response times." This isn't quite the same as achieving guaranteed response times, and also ominous is his statement that "Microsoft will redirect their investments previously made in the MVP Program to the newsgroups overall and driving customer awareness of this valuable resource." That implies Microsoft won't be putting extra resource into newsgroup support, and with the demise of free labour, it'll probably mean a decline in the level of that support. MVPs have been rewarded by Microsoft, but the resources expended on them seem to have been largely a matter of internal accounting. They won't get any more "MVP bucks," and will have to spend the ones they've got before the end of November. Any MVP-related MSDN and TechNet subs they have won't be renewed, and their MSN accounts will be terminated at the end of November too. One of the most bizarre things about the matter is the fact that Microsoft has dumped its loyal volunteers at a time when, by its own admission, it is trying to figure out how to respond to the volunteer efforts of the open source movement. As Peter Boulding, of Peter Boulding Associates, points out in an open letter to Lindstrom, "Professional/high-end users of your products will lose out badly from the reluctance of MVPs to continue to provide free support for a company that's just kicked them in the teeth. Since you abandoned the supply of genuine manuals, the MVPs have provided an *essential* resource without which your competitors' products appear an increasingly attractive option to such users." So why has Microsoft done it? The explanation is likely to be a combination of bean-counting and control-freakery. In the long run giving away free support (even if Microsoft itself isn't picking up much of the tab) undermines Microsoft's own ability to charge for support. And as Microsoft intends to turn itself into a service company, we can't have that, can we? Nor indeed can we have the free support being better and more responsive than Microsoft's own paid-for varieties. Not being able to police the way the support is supplied, and what the MVPs tell the customers, will also have been a big problem for Microsoft. If the gospel goes out at all under the new regime, it will undoubtedly be the gospel according to Redmond - will there be a prize for the first "Microsoft support professional" who says "support contract"? ®

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