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Microsoft won't pull plug on free help service

After an outcry from customers, Microsoft decides to reinstate a free program where high-tech professional volunteers provide technical help and other services.

    After an outcry from customers, Microsoft has decided to reinstate a free program where high-tech professional volunteers provide technical help and other services.

    Microsoft reversed its earlier position, telling users today that it will not shut down the program as it had planned. Microsoft initially said the effort, dubbed the Most Valuable Professional (MVP) advocacy program, would end as part of its efforts to revamp its MSN online newsgroup program.

    The Most Valuable Professional program offered advice from professionals who voluntarily assisted customers on technology developed by the software giant. They've also acted as Microsoft's unofficial ambassadors at product launches and trade shows.

    "Clearly, the feedback received recently is in strong support of the MVPs," an email sent to the MVPs said today. "Based on this feedback, we will reinstate the MVP Program effective immediately."

    In addition, Microsoft will expand the program to add an "advisory council" to improve the MVP service, the company said. The turnaround was prompted by an "overwhelming" amount of customer feedback, a spokesperson said.

    The company offered few details on why the program was terminated in the first place. "Microsoft is reevaluating its newsgroup program based on customer feedback," a Microsoft spokesperson explained previously.

    Microsoft circulated a memo informing MVPs of its decision to pull the plug on the program. The company was planning to integrate the MVPs into Microsoft, staffing newsgroups with Microsoft employees.

    The controversy could have been prompted by the company's desire to improve its relationship with software developers. Microsoft officials have said they are more concerned than ever with increased competition for software developers.

    Company president Steve Ballmer said earlier this year that the combination of Internet technologies, the Java programming language, database-driven application development, and growth in use of the Linux operating system is threatening Microsoft's ability to attract programmers to Windows.

    According to the first memo, the "shift in focus in the newsgroups will allow the company to respond to customer requests for more contact with Microsoft support professionals and guaranteed response times."