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Hey, Microsoft, why don't you grab a beer with us?

It's time for Redmond to get a round in, says Phoummala Schmitt

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Where would you like to discuss with Microsoft today?

One would think as large as Microsoft’s product offering is, there would be people in the masses that would want to engage with one another and discuss all things Microsoft. But while there are surely pockets of user groups in the major cities, there is certainly nothing like the VMUG or vBeers that you should be able to find in almost every state and which doesn’t require a training budget to attend.

vBeers is nothing fancy: just an informal gathering of professionals discussing virtualisation over a few beers that can be found in various parts of the country. It’s pretty much happy hour with fellow uber-geeks. I have yet to find something on the Microsoft front that is of this scale.

User groups provide a place to openly discuss issues and concerns without the hype of marketing being shoved down your throat - and without having to shell out money to attend. On a recent flight home I sat next to a gentleman that also was a sysadmin focusing on Exchange servers like myself. We discussed the lack of a user group in our area and both expressed looking interest to join one if there was such a thing. The interest is there, but options to attend are few and far between.

All is not lost because there are folks out there that want to share knowledge; they are few, but they are still out there. Take for instance the UC architects, a group of IT professionals from various countries that podcast primarily about all things Exchange & Lync. The UC architects saw the need for this sharing of information and have taken upon themselves to bring it to us.

I am not saying that Microsoft admins don’t help each other, because they do. It’s that the outlets to do so are mostly limited to online forums and blogs. Twitter has also been a great opportunity to reach out to other Microsoft folks but that is still limited to Twitter users. The “grass roots” information-sharing – like vBeers, UC Architects, and vBrownbag – is what Microsoft needs more of.

The business case for vBeers

The advantage of being involved in both VMware and Microsoft communities is you get to see how both companies market their products and how they use their customers to drive the success of their products. The community use and acceptance of its product is what drives the success of VMware.

You see very few marketing campaigns coming from VMware: instead it’s like a grassroots spreading of love. People use it, they like it and want to share it with others. It’s the saying: “Build it and they will come”.

Now flip to the other side, with Microsoft. There are fewer community-driven arenas but more Microsoft-sponsored arenas. Microsoft’s marketing campaign is huge. It markets its products and it does it a lot: on TV, magazines, online, everywhere. Maybe it’s too much?

Could it be that the lack of community is because we are so surrounded all day by Microsoft telling us we need to use its products to complete our lives that subconsciously we just don’t want to talk all Microsoft over a beer?

When a child is being a forcefed his meal, this usually ends badly, with most of the food splattered on the floor. However if the child is given a taste of the food and likes it, the child will eat the food and then come back asking for more.

Microsoft’s approach is similar to the force-feed. It’s being shoved in our faces and the reaction is to throw it on the ground. VMware offers you a taste but the difference is that it lets you decide if you want more. The result? A lot less mess on the floor. ®

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