Goodwill hunting -- Microsoft gives away Windows

Microsoft may have a lot of cash, but the company is now seeking something money cannot buy -- the love and respect of its customers. And nothing says "kinship" like free copies of Windows Server 2003.

It's the great Windows Server 2003 giveaway.

Microsoft is giving members of selected user groups free copies of Windows Server 2003 as one way of building good will and also to introduce customers to the recently released operating system.

The company plans to hand out tens of thousands of free copies of Windows Server 2003 Enterprise version with 25 client-access licenses, worth about $4,000.

These are not "for resale" copies; they are not time-bombed said Bob Crissman, director of marketing for the Windows Infrastructure Group at Microsoft.

Customers who attended last month's launch in San Francisco received the copies, but the initiative has spread to include members of about 15 of Microsoft's largest user groups. Any user group member who attends one of the 60 launch events in various cities is eligible, Crissman said.

The effort is part of Microsoft's community initiative -- driven by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer -- to do a better job getting closer to IT professionals. Microsoft's product groups are making it a priority to create stronger relationships with customers in an effort to mimic the grass roots spirit seen in the open-source world, Microsoft executives have said.

Reaction from the user community so far has been positive. Rick Zach, chairman of the Boston Area Windows Server User Group, said that the typical perception of a cash-rich company like Microsoft is that they can buy whatever they want. In this case, what they're delivering a non-renewable commodity that is much more precious than money, Zach said.

"They are now delivering their time and their serious attention to the needs of IT pros and the user groups that represent them," he said.

In Microsoft's early years, the company was closer to its customers, said one source. Bill Gates himself used to attend some of the local meetings. But over time the younger generation of Microsoft employees chose to focus on daily activities within the company and lost touch with customers.

Microsoft wants to change all that. Today there is a significant disparity between how user groups are treated by Microsoft, mainly because the relationships were managed in a decentralized fashion.

Some field offices make better efforts (than others) to have a close relationship with these organizations. User group relationship management is now centralized under the umbrella of Microsoft's community initiative, and not managed locally, the source said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Communal computing -- Microsoft courts Windows community

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