Well, let's start by getting out of acronym land: Microsoft MVP = Microsoft Most Valuable Professional. The official MVP program website is here.
First, I don't work in the MVP program so what I'm about to say is, in some cases, my perspective on the program and it may not reflect the feelings/opinions of the folks who own the MVP program. Hopefully, they will read this and add comments or ask me to update something if necessary. Additionally, I hope that some of the MVPs will add any pertinent comments. This page, written by the folks who run the MVP program, is something you should read if you want to understand the MVP program as it exists today.
I think it is important to give some historical context to the program (without telling every detail from day one though). The MVP program was originally created to reward the prolific posters to the public Microsoft newsgroups (and only those groups). That is, folks who are answering way more questions than they ask and their answers are technically accurate.
A few years ago, the program changed a bit and Microsoft began to consider folks who were participating in other non-Microsoft newsgroup venues such as message boards, forums, and listservs. Microsoft recognized that there were certainly MVP worthy individuals that enjoyed other forms of peer-to-peer communication. As a result, there were more MVPs awarded and the program grew quite a bit (and also started to reflect a better cross section of the development community at large).
Very recently, the MVP program has been broadened again. There were MVPs awarded recently that had a mix of online peer-to-peer credentials and offline peer-to-peer credentials. So, folks were now being given an MVP award for things like User Group leadership, Industry conference speaking, writing books and magazine articles, and a variety of other offline oriented activities. I wouldn't be suprised if in the future we see blogging become a factor in some folks recieving the MVP award. Some see this broadening as a good thing and some see it as a bad thing.
At some point during the MVP program lifetime, it became apparent that MVPs wanted more than a few dollars to the company store and it also became apparent that the MVPs could be much more influential and helpful if Microsoft armed them with the best information possible. The MVPs are a great vehicle for delivering technical information to the masses. The MVPs are also a small enough group that you can communicate semi-sensitive information to them in a controlled fashion and be reasonably sure that it will not be abused. I'm going to let a secret out here, many of the MVPs talk about the “private” information that is shared with them. This “leaking phenominon” is something that Microsoft field employees are also faced with every day. You have to know when and who it is appropriate to “leak” information to. I'm not talking about super secret Microsoft business plans but there are little tidbits about future Microsoft products and timing that can be very valuable to customers.
Who is a Microsoft MVP? This is an interesting aspect of the MVP program, IMHO. Microsoft awards MVPs for many of its products including Microsoft Word, Outlook, Money, Works, etc. So, the MVP program is much broader than just Software Developers/IT Pros. You can view the entire list of awards here. Microsoft MVPs do NOT work for Microsoft (there are exceptions where MVPs have worked on contract for Microsoft but not in a support capacity and it is very rare)..Before you post questions regarding this post and/or the MVP program you should hop on over and read the Microsoft MVP Frequently Asked Questions page.
Roy, thinks we should do a better job educating the community on the existence and merits of the MVP program. I completely agree. This is definitely something we have on our radar and is also a goal of the evangelism group. Hopefully you'll be hearing more about the MVP program in the future.