It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in the world of "free" online support for Microsoft products. For many years, Microsoft has sponsored the Most Valuable Professional (MVP) program. MVPs were geeks like me who were crazy enough to provide free product-specific support in public forums such as the Microsoft newsgroups at msnews.Microsoft.com. Two weeks ago, Microsoft canceled the program on very short notice. The IT community complained, and last week Microsoft reinstated the MVP program. This about-face turned out to be a great thing.

First, it was nice to see Microsoft react so quickly to customer and marketplace feedback. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly Microsoft was willing to admit a mistake. Second, the world of free online support is poised to be better than ever.

In part, Microsoft canceled the program because customers said they wanted more direct involvement from Microsoft. Microsoft decided to pony up and it plans to invest a huge amount of resources to provide support through new developer community Internet sites that Microsoft is launching almost as you read this. Fortunately, Microsoft realized that MVP support and more Microsoft support were not mutually exclusive, so customers will soon end up with more online help than ever before!

While we're on the subject, many of you take advantage of the great SQL Server peer support resources available at SQL Server Magazine, www.swynk.com, msnews.Microsoft.com, and other sites. If you’re not already using these peer support sites, you should be. Say thanks the next time someone gives you a hand. These forums have regular contributors who donate an amazing amount of their time for the love of SQL Server. Say a special thanks to those people. You’d pay thousands and thousands of dollars for their expertise if they were charging normal billing rates.

On an unrelated note, Unisys recently unveiled what it calls an "Intel mainframe," a 32-processor server that represents an opportunity for Microsoft to get customers onto Windows 2000 Datacenter Server in greater than 8-way configurations. Check out the article "Unisys Unveils 32-way 'Intel Mainframe" on ENT’s site for more information. I think two words nicely sum up this announcement: Very cool. Windows NT Datacenter 2000, plus 64-bit Intel architectures, plus integrated 32-processor boxes, plus the next generation of SQL Server and OLAP Server? Come on, all you Oracle fans out there. Start singing along with me: "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, good-bye."