I read Rob Pegoraro's WP article linked from TechDirt and thought it was interesting to point out that Microsoft has several support offerings as part of the new licensing program called Software Assurance (or SA).  SA is a fairly new program designed to give a whole bunch of value to a customer on an ongoing basis, such that they will be willing to pay an annual amount for these benefits.  And they really are serious benefits.  You can read about the program at http://www.microsoft.com/licensing/programs/sa/.  Some really interesting parts of it, related to Rob's talking about support are:

  1. TechNet Online Concierge Chat - free one on one chat with a person familiar with TechNet who can help you find an answer in TechNet (which, to be honest, is 90% of what I do when I'm helping people on public lists)
  2. TechNet Plus Managed newsgroups - this is for server software only, but it's a set of newsgroups that has dedicated Microsoft support people who read and respond to them.  Quite unlike the volunteer effort that Rob mentions in the microsoft.public.* newsgroups.
  3. Problem Resolution Support - again for server software only, and you only get free phone calls if you buy the "Enterprise Edition" of the software (otherwise it's web incidents only), but free one-on-one help with problems can be worth quite a lot, whether it's web or phone.
So it's not free for life, and I wouldn't expect Microsoft to give you support free for life, but you can see that with SA, Microsoft is trying to develop more of a relationship with its customers.  Pay a little each year, you get free upgrades (that is the biggest part of SA that is often talked about - I am highlighting only the support offering parts), support, and training.