Microsoft and community

Are Microsoft getting more involved with the communities around their products or are they withdrawing? (I’m thinking Excel mainly.)

I have recently felt they are getting much more involved, with blogging, newsgroups, public betas etc.

But then I was thinking about the (big and regular) MSDN roadshows they used to run where most of the presenters were industry folks not MS staff like now (and the roadshows are smaller and less frequent).

And the fact that many books now seem to be written by the product teams rather than community members.

So now I’m not so sure, what do you think?



9 Responses to “Microsoft and community”

  1. Ross Says:

    I think as there products develop faster, and into wider reaching things they have been forced to some extent to produce there own matter expertise. Hopefully this will change over time and the new batch of products become established and more widely used. Maybe that last point also has something to do with it, in that not as many people are using the new products as the absolute number of people writing about them is lower, even if the percentages are the same (say for every 100’000 users, 1 will blog or somthing)
    I also think MS have tried hard to push new products though “social” means – blogs, books, magazines etc rather than too much classical advertising?

  2. Harlan Grove Says:

    If the only people who know how to automate Excel workbooks on SharePoint servers of through Excel services are the people on the development teams, should it be a surprise most recent books have been written by them?

    A few years ago Excel development required Excel on a client machine and maybe a second machine running SQL Server under Windows Server 2003. Now you’d need a server running SharePoint and able to serve up Excel Services. I have no experience with either, but I’d guess it takes a bit longer to set up and administer such servers and their software. Not to mention the cash outlay.

    I may be wrong, but I don’t recall many Excel books written by people who weren’t professional Excel developers. Given what’s involved in Excel development and the impracticality of multiple people working on a single workbook at the same time, I figure most of them work[ed] solo. If so, I can’t see how the economics work out to keep up with SharePoint and Excel Services unless they have just a few big customers who give them access to the customers’ servers.

    The days of ‘power users’ developing into competent if not professional programmers is over. Those are the people who would have bought Excel books written by independent authors. The economics of who’s going to be doing Excel development over the medium to long term (if there is a long term) leads to the situation you describe.

    As for Microsoft communities, aside from the article on VBA’s continued survival, see how many Excel team blog articles over the last year DON’T involve Excel Services. To the extent Microsoft is participating, they seem to be doing so in a manner designed to push users and developers towards their server products and away from simple, stand alone Excel.

  3. Jon Peltier Says:

    Let’s see, of the Excel blogs out there, only one comes from within Microsoft. That’s the bog that heavily advertised the new features of Office 12. The blogs that deal with real issues, like Dick’s Daily Dose, that Smurf thing, and a large smattering of others, are independent.

    Of the various Excel-related web sites, I guess we could include Microsoft’s Office Online, and maybe the help content on MSDN, but the vast majority is by non-MS people.

    The microsoft.public.excel.* newsgroups are rarely visited by anyone from MS, and I think I’ve even seen statistics showing they are slowly declining in traffic (though I think they’re still healthy). There are some msdn-related newsgroups that cater to Excel, but in general traffic is anemic, as is the actual support. There has been no MS activity on busy forums like MrExcel and VBA Express.

    So I think Harlan’s hit the nail on the head. MS is pushing the big development: the Sharepoint-type applications, the VSTO, the dot-net, etc.; while those of us in the real world support other individuals working on worksheet and VBA solutions. I’m not sure that we (the small developers) are on the way out, but I know it’s the way MS is pushing.

  4. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    In my opinion, both Jon and Harlan are right. It’s obvious that the blogs & books are the latest marketing channels for MSFT. While selected forums give special attention and treatment to ‘cover’ the selected technologies.

    But MSFT was last year smart enough to cover most of the non-MSFT forums by awarding at least three persons as MVPs per forum. The only forum that was excluded is OzGrid.

    By the end of the day it’s business driven for MSFT while it’s more likely to be passion driven for us mortals.

    What I find interesting to see is that despite the size of MSFT they are very sensitive. The recent discussion about “VBA-will-not-survive-next-new-version” is a good indicator for it.

    Kind regards,

  5. Simon Says:

    good points.
    I’d have said the eco-system was always a shrewd marketing move, as defence from competitors.
    I guess now they are trying to move us off VBA holes are starting to appear. They want to invest their community support in VSTO and SP, but most of us are not using those, we’re still on VBA, where there is a gaping hole of MS support.
    Before VSTO etc we were all interested in the same tech, now I guess they are totally out of step with the community and trying desperately to drag us along (with zero – limited success so far)

  6. sam Says:

    Microsoft and Community :

    What has changed in the recent times is MS is just using Blogs/Websites to “inform” the community about their products…… I very much doubt if the products are getting developed based on inputs from the community…

    Excel 07 is a classic example ….did the community say give us a new interface….did the community say we want our shapes to glow….did the community say we dont want new charts……did the community say we want more colour every where…. I think not…

    I wonder if MS takes feedback from MVP’s really seriously…..forget the “general” community…..

    The only thing that has changed from the past is that now we know one year in advance what the next version of excel has in store for us……its take it or leave it….


  7. Harlan Grove Says:

    A cynical thought. Given the variety of newsgroups Microsoft already hosts, why wouldn’t there be one specifically for Excel on SharePoint? Or Excel Services? Could it be because Microsoft doesn’t want them to be as little used as, say, *.datamap or *.interopoledde?

    Their problem is that there are few independent experts on either Excel under SharePoint or Excel Services at this time. They may want to nudge the Excel user base towards these products, but they don’t seem eager to devote Microsoft resources to provide help in forums like newsgroups specifically for these new products. Better the occasional blog posting and a few Microsoft Press books.

  8. Simon Says:

    there is nothing worse than ghost forums with only 2 posts a year – thats a massive signal to stay away from that product/service/application.
    A lot of software vendors seed their own notice boards with questions and answers to make the app look more popular.
    Sam good points.

  9. Stephane Rodriguez Says:

    Most of what begins blogs.msdn. is self-promotional stuff.

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