How would you like to have 24 x 7 Microsoft support at your fingertips? Now you can! Effective immediately, the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) is providing managed newsgroup support for all Universal, Enterprise, Professional, and Operating System subscribers. Eligible MSDN subscribers can post a question to any of 150 .NET product and technology newsgroups and expect an answer within 72 hours.

"By participating in these newsgroups, Microsoft is hoping to foster and contribute to the building of a vibrant online developer community," the company says on its Web site. "Everyone benefits from both the questions and answers posted in these newsgroups. Whether customers have an MSDN subscription or not, they see all threads, communication, and answers provided by a member of the community or the Microsoft Support Professional."

You'll find details about the program and the complete list of managed newsgroups on Microsoft's Web site.

Microsoft promises that eligible MSDN subscribers will receive an answer to all questions within 72 hours, but it's important to note that the company doesn't guarantee that the answer will come from a Microsoft engineer. These newsgroups are active peer-support communities, and Microsoft will respond only to questions that someone in the community hasn't already answered correctly. What happens if several people post answers and one or more of them are incorrect? Microsoft told me that "the Microsoft Support Professional will identify the correct response when there is a conflicting answer." That's a lofty goal; Microsoft might have a hard time following through on its pledge. For example, what if the answer isn't clear-cut or multiple answers have varying degrees of correctness? What if five different answers are incorrect? Presumably, Microsoft will have to read all questions and answers that the public community posts and respond to each question that contains incorrect information. I'd love to see the company do so, but I suspect the occasional incorrect answer will slip through the cracks. However, the fact that Microsoft is attempting to set the bar this high is encouraging.

Only time will tell how valuable the managed newsgroup support will be. But the price of an MSDN subscription might be worth it simply to receive this new benefit. MSDN subscriptions are available at different price points; the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for an MSDN Operating System Platform (the least expensive way to purchase an eligible MSDN subscription) is $499. Many professionals—including Microsoft Certified Trainers (MCTs) and Microsoft Certified Solution Providers (MCSPs)—and users with valid licenses for Visual Studio 5.0 or later can receive the upgrade pricing, even if they don't already have MSDN subscriptions. If you fall into one of these categories, you can essentially purchase unlimited, 72-hour turnaround email support for $499 a year. If you don't qualify for upgrade pricing, the full price for this level of MSDN support is $699. In many cases, getting that one correct answer could justify the expenditure.

I'm anxious to see how Microsoft performs in this endeavor. Tell me about your experiences—good and bad—with the managed newsgroup program. I'll share your stories with the SQL Server Magazine UPDATE community in a future issue.