MS Taps Bloggers to Promote Longhorn

With Longhorn Beta 1 slated for June 30, Microsoft is restarting efforts to promote its next generation Windows release with a group of dedicated volunteers. Dubbed "Team 99," the evangelism effort will be composed of bloggers that will become Microsoft's voice to the masses and endeavor to bring the hype back to Redmond.

Team 99 was originally kept a secret, but with its rebirth Microsoft has decided to open the door for community nominations. Initially, about 20 individuals will be selected for the team ranging from developers to power users. The goal is to involve trusted, visible members of Microsoft's blogger community.

In a Web log posting first reported on by Microsoft Watch that announced the Team 99 restart, Microsoft evangelist Robert Scoble explained the team's history.

"Longhorn got its name from the bar that's between Whistler and Blackcomb up in British Columbia. 99 is the road you drive from my house to get up to the Longhorn bar. So, Team 99 is the team that'll take us to Longhorn's launch," he said.

Scoble also provided some details, but admitted Microsoft was in the early stages of planning Team 99 and no formal process was established. "All will need to sign NDAs cause there are things in Longhorn that we don't want to leak out, but they'll be your proxies. They'll tell us where we're screwing up, what we're doing well, and will be world's top authorities on Longhorn."

"All members must be bloggers," Scoble added.

The creation of Team 99 follows a black eye Microsoft took last week during its yearly WinHEC conference in Seattle. The company invited top bloggers and Windows enthusiasts to get the first peek at Longhorn in over a year, but the release was largely met with criticism and disappointment.

Furthering the frustration among attendees, Microsoft ordered all screenshots of the Longhorn build taken down, citing a clause in the beta licensing agreement. "Microsoft has handled this situation extremely poorly, and it's not appreciated," enthusiast Paul Thurrott wrote in his Web log. "Way to throttle back the enthusiasm even further, guys."

But Jupiter Research senior analyst and Microsoft Monitor author Joe Wilcox questioned whether Team 99 is the right approach to heal the rift between Microsoft and its loyal fans.

"Microsoft is right to court enthusiasts, but I don't believe that a structured Team 99 is the right approach," said Wilcox. "At one time enthusiasts were the greatest Windows evangelists, and Microsoft courted them with user group programs and free software. Those efforts have all but disappeared and the free software incentives along with them."

"Blogs could be a highly effective way of evangelizing Longhorn, but I wouldn't recommend creating an orchestrated team of outsiders, presumably bloggers, as evangelists," added Wilcox. "The best evangelism will occur naturally, from people truly excited about the software."

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