Microsoft Corp. next week will host about 1,500 of its Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) at its Redmond campus, where the software titan plans to announce big changes to how it incorporates their feedback into its product life cycles.
The 1,500 attending this years summit hail from 65 countries across the globe and comprise more than half of Microsofts current 2,600 global MVPs. It is also double the 750-odd MVPs who showed up for last years summit.
Attendees will be treated to an executive session in Seattle on Tuesday, where they will hear from key executives including CEO Steve Ballmer; Jim Allchin, the group vice president for platforms; and Eric Rudder, the senior vice president for servers and tools.
Attendees also will get to choose from more than 200 technical drill-down sessions at the Redmond campus Monday and Wednesday, which will span more than 70 Microsoft technologies and range from large group meetings to one-on-one, specific technology meetings between individual MVPs and Microsoft engineers and technologists.
Microsofts MVP Program, which is in its 11th 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 theme for this years summit is “Inspired communities inspiring people” and is Microsofts way of acknowledging that community for its deep technical expertise, knowledge, feedback and voice in its product-development life cycle, Sean ODriscoll, the director of Microsofts MVP and Technical Communities in Redmond, Wash., told eWEEK in an interview Friday.
“One of the single biggest opportunities for improvement for us is how we continue to make progress on connecting feedback from communities, and specifically from our MVPs, deeply into our product development life cycle.”
“And so we will be making announcements next week around some steps in that direction that we think are an important way of moving that initiative forward. One of the biggest themes of this MVP Summit is driving bidirectional connections and creating conversations between Microsoft and its community,” he said.
: Office 12, Longhorn and more”>
Asked if attendees would be briefed on upcoming products such as Office 12, the next version of Microsofts desktop productivity suite; and Longhorn, the next version of the Windows server and client not slated for release before late 2006, ODriscoll said there would be “no holds barred” in terms of the content and sessions being run with the MVPs.
“We will be going through virtually everything on the current plan and future plan with the MVPs throughout the three days. Of course, the level of depth and granularity in some of those areas will vary based on where we are in the planning process. But absolutely, all of those things will be discussed and updated for our MVPs in those respective technology areas,” he said.
The MVPs had already had access to the technical preview for Longhorn from last October, when it was handed out at Microsofts Professional Developer Conference in Los Angeles, “and we expect them to continue to be a key part of that process,” he said.
But ODriscoll did caution that there a lot of things around these upcoming products that Microsoft would not get into, as it was too early in the process. “I expect the Office team will be more focused on the current technologies and issues they are working through and some of their work around connecting Office out to communities,” he said.
Microsoft also will not be handing out any technology alphas, betas or code previews to its MVPs this year, but “there will be some announcements next week about upcoming releases that will be getting into their hands. Timing didnt work out perfectly for builds alongside the summit, but expect some announcements about upcoming betas that we will broadly distribute to the MVPs,” he said.
Giving its partners access to the alphas and betas and capturing their feedback as part of its software development process was an integral part of the program, ODriscoll said.
While he declined to give many specifics around next weeks announcements, he did say they would focus on enhancing some of the benefits its MVPs had, such as new ways for MVPs to contribute their expertise and be recognized for it.
“Rather than rolling out major new benefits, this years announcements would be about enhancing what Microsoft had already committed to and getting even deeper into those connections to make this real for them and us,” he said
Asked about access to Windows source code, ODriscoll said that while about 200 MVPs had signed licenses for access to available source code, the company did not have any plans to announce at the summit the inclusion of any incremental products to the available pool of source code.
Microsoft had also stepped up and formalized the processes in which it engaged with its security-focused MVPs over the past year, following the spate of security vulnerabilities over that time, especially as many of these vulnerabilities are first noticed in online communities.
“We designed a way to more systematically connect with them so that when there were situation, and between those, that we had the right connections built and that dialogue can easily take place,” he said.