Microsoft Corp. this week is hosting 670 of its Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) at its Redmond campus, where it plans to put into practice its commitment to listen more closely to the needs of its customers.
The MVPs will be given unprecedented access to Microsoft product developers as well as key executives, including chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates, CEO Steve Ballmer, and Eric Rudder, who heads up Microsofts developer division.
These moves are designed to improve dialogue between the software maker and those professionals who are most closely aligned with the company and who reach a broad customer base. "Nothing is off limits here and the goal is to have an open dialogue.
"We fully expect a healthy dialogue around matters like Linux, open source, security, and licensing. This is a very open session and a very healthy thing for Microsoft," Lori Moore, Microsofts corporate vice president of Product Support Services, told eWEEK in an interview Monday.
Microsoft has alienated many customers in recent months, especially with its controversial Licensing 6 and Software Assurance program, which took effect last year. It also angered a group of legacy customers by its decision last November to make its forthcoming Office 11 suite compatible with only Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 or later operating systems, including Windows XP.
That move could affect as much as 60 percent of Microsofts installed base of pre-SP3 Windows 2000 users.
Microsofts MVP Program, which is in its tenth year, essentially recognizes individuals with expertise in one or more Microsoft products for their active participation and efforts to help Microsoft customers in online communities.
The 670 attendees this year is almost double the 350 MVPs who attended the Summit last year, most of whom were U.S. based. This year the summit is much more international, with some 50 percent of those attending coming from outside the United States.
"We are really focused this year on driving more of a dialogue between MVPs and our development teams. They want a direct connection with our development teams so they can better understand the direction of our products and have the ability to provide input on the direction of those products," Moore said.
On Monday, Microsoft held "product immersions", where the focus was around giving the MVPs information on product direction and where the company was headed. On Wednesday, the company will hold a series of 60 "tech talk" sessions, which are in-depth technical discussions between the architects and the MVPs around the various component technologies.
"Again, this is not just us talking, but is a dialogue between Microsofts development teams and its MVPs. This gives those development teams the opportunity to understand the voice of the customer, what the needs of the broadest set of customers are," she said.
In addition, Microsoft executives will present their vision for the companys direction and strategy, followed up by question-and-answer sessions. "This is not just us talking at them, but rather them talking to us. It is most valuable for us to hear from them directly," she said.
This was evident at the session early Monday morning, where MVPs gave Rudder feedback about Tuesdays VSLive event in San Francisco, where Microsoft is expected to highlight the momentum behind its flagship development tool, along with the .Net Framework and the overall .Net and XML Web services strategy.
Microsoft is also hoping that following the summit, the MVPs will be better armed to communicate facts to the customers they deal with and to help dispel many of the rumors circulating. "One of the big benefits of this event is to enable people and arm them with factual information so they can address some of the misinformation that is out there," she concluded.
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