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MS makes U-turn on MVP programme shutdown

After all, why get rid of unpaid tech support people?

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Microsoft has reversed its decision to dump its Most Valuable Professional Program, announcing yesterday that it would reinstate the programme "as a result of feedback from customers and MVPs". But the memo to MVPs from Joseph Lindrom, Microsoft director of business development, claimed that it was "due to customer feedback, and requests for more direct Microsoft involvement" that Microsoft was dumping its MVPs. Of course there was no real change in the customer feedback, but there had been a substantial reaction from MVPs, and some adverse publicity. There are apparently around 600 MVPs, so claims that there were "thousands of e-mails" from MVPs to Microsoft, as claimed on their Web site, was somewhat over-the-top. Perhaps Microsoft's greater mistake was to suggest that MVPs would be replaced by "Microsoft support professionals", which strongly suggested that MVPs were not "professional" (since MVPs are invited to become MVPs as a result of their useful participation in Microsoft newsgroups). Perhaps some MVPs considered that their status, awarded by the school of very hard knocks, was a substitute for not having formal computer science qualifications. The truth of the situation is somewhat different from what Microsoft is suggesting. Microsoft products need a great deal of support and the company could not provide the level of support that MVPs were providing, because it would simply be uneconomical. MVPs function as cheerleaders at product launches and trade shows, rather like a hired audience. They are paid in kind in the shape of "MVP bucks", which can be used to buy Microsoft-logo products, for example. They also get subscriptions to MSDN and TechNet (and stingy Microsoft even said it would cancel the subscriptions). In addition, MVP's MSN accounts would "no longer be operational". There were probably legal concerns that influenced Microsoft's desire to axe their MVPs. There was always the possibility that some MVPs would seek legal recognition as adjunct Microsoft employees and might win additional benefits through the courts, as happened with Microsoft's permatemp legionnaires. Microsoft PR is trying to play the matter as an example of what a caring, responsive company it is, but although the decision was reversed, the smell lingers on. MVPs now know exactly how "valuable" Microsoft thinks they are. All this raises some interesting questions about vendor support groups. It must be strange to outsiders that vendors are successful in motivating people to help essentially unpaid with product support. So far as MVPs are concerned, they divide into perhaps two groups. The first consists of consultants and the like who might profit from the value they perceived in being recognised in newsgroups as knowledgeable about problems with Microsoft products, and thereby attract paying clients. The second group probably gains most from the "strokes" they receive as a result of helping people. Although both of these factors also apply in the case of Team OS/2 and Linux supporters, there is an additional very strong motivation focused on a strong aversion to Microsoft's products and business practices. They see themselves as freedom fighters and are thus probably more altruistic than MVPs. The Halloween memos showed how concerned Microsoft is about their contribution. ®

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