An insider's view of the Microsoft MVP Summit

More than 2,500 people in 60 countries received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional award this year, and Bernie Klinder is proud to say that he's one of them.

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There are about 70 MVP categories based on Microsoft technologies. My MVP award was in the Windows 2000 Server category for my work on LabMice.net and SearchWin2000.com. Other MVP categories cover everything from SQL Server and Exchange to Windows Media Player and Outlook Express. In addition to the MVP designation, MVPs receive a number of perks and an invitation to the annual MVP Summit in Seattle.

This year's MVP Summit was the largest ever, with about 1,500 attendees, half of whom came from outside the United States. The four-day event is an opportunity for Microsoft to thank MVPs for their efforts and give them a chance to meet program managers, developers, Microsoft executives and, of course, other MVPs.

The summit, which was held last week, kicked off with an early registration event at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. The highlight of the evening was a tongue-in-cheek video about the MVP program, as well as an impromptu appearance by Albert Kallal, an Office Systems MVP who looks remarkably like Bill Gates. Unfortunately, a small group of non-English speaking MVPs didn't realize that he wasn't really Bill Gates, and Kallal spent the rest of the evening fulfilling requests for autographs and group photos.

Talk of Longhorn and XP SP2

The technical sessions were filled with seminars and previews of new products and technologies, including Longhorn and XP Service Pack 2. All MVPs have to sign a non-disclosure agreement before being officially accepted into the program, so I can't get into details about what specific products and technologies were demonstrated. However, I can say that Microsoft appears to be really listening to customers' requests for security and stability over new features. I spent about a half-hour with one very patient Microsoft manager, who took copious notes on suggestions for improving Microsoft documentation, both online and in print.

On the summit's "big day" we met with top Microsoft executives. Lori Moore, vice president of product support services, thanked the MVPs and gave a brief introduction to the program. Next, Eric Rudder, the senior vice president of servers and tools, discussed the impact the MVP program has had on Microsoft and highlighted contributions made by specific MVPs, as well as the community in general. Later, Jim Allchin, the group vice president of Microsoft's platforms unit, outlined Microsoft's roadmap for upcoming products and gave a preview of what's to come in XP Service Pack 2, Longhorn, Windows XP Media Center Edition, 64-bit computing and more.

Also that day, Microsoft aired a very funny and well done video spoof of "The Matrix" featuring Bill Gates as "Morpheus" and Steve Ballmer as the hacker "SteveO." When the "live" Ballmer finally stepped on stage, he spoke at length about Microsoft's commitment to building a community and announced the Community Solutions Content Program, which enables MVPs to author community solutions content that will be hosted in the Microsoft Knowledge Base. He also answered a few "frequently asked questions" gathered by a survey team, before opening up the floor to a no-holds-barred Q&A session.

Updates on TechNet and MSDN

Ballmer is a hard act to follow, but Rich Kaplan, vice president of the content development and delivery group, did a good job of outlining the improvements under way for TechNet and MSDN, as well as enhancements to Microsoft.com search capabilities.

During these sessions, there were several moments that set the tone for the event. First, each Microsoft executive started their speech by thanking the MVP community, and in many cases they honored specific MVPs. In addition, every executive -- including Steve Ballmer -- shared their internal Microsoft e-mail address and encouraged feedback from MVPs. Finally, every executive took questions from the floor, and didn't duck out when things got tough.

Breakout sessions were held in the middle of the week on Microsoft's campus in Redmond, Wash. MVPs were split up by their technology groups and areas of expertise and met with product managers and the senior members of their development teams. Since my specialty is Windows Server, I joined six other MVPs in a meeting with the admin frameworks team to talk about improvements in Microsoft scripting technologies and Microsoft Management Console.

Ballmer downplays Linux 'threat'

Overall, the event was amazing. I finally got a chance to meet Thomas Lee, Steven Bink, Paul Thurrott, Robert Stein and other MVPs that I've known for years online, but had never met face to face. These relationships -- built both within the community and with Microsoft product managers -- will benefit the entire Windows technical community. More importantly, the summit shows that Microsoft is listening to customers about how to build better products and technical tools.

When someone asked Steve Ballmer whether he viewed Linux as a threat, he said that he didn't like the word "threat" because it implies fear. He said he prefers to think of Linux as a serious competitor -- one that would keep Microsoft on its toes and help drive the organization to innovate and constantly improve its products. Embracing the power of the technical community is one of many steps Microsoft is taking to be more competitive and responsive.

We can expect to see some very cool things come out of Redmond in the next 18 months. Maybe even sooner.


About the author: Bernie Klinder is the founder and former editor of LabMice.net, a comprehensive resource index for IT professionals who support enterprise Windows and BackOffice products. Before joining SearchWin2000.com as a contributing editor and operating system troubleshooting expert, Bernie worked as a technology consultant for several Fortune 500 companies in northeast Ohio. For his contributions to the technical community, Bernie was reselected as an MVP (Most Valuable Professional) by Microsoft in 2004.

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