We've been issuing Community Tech Previews (CTPs) for some time now including the most recent for Team System code named "Rosario", and I recently asked our MVPs to help me understand what value they derive from these releases.  I received a flurry of responses and since the results were interesting, I thought I'd share what I heard in hopes that you find it interesting or might even have something to add. 

First, just to set a little context, we started issuing CTPs in the middle of the Visual Studio 2005 project and made them available several times during the Visual Studio 2008 project as well.  In some cases, these are issued as virtual images to ease the need for installation testing as well as impact on customer machines.  In all cases, these releases are lightly tested and don't meet the stringent quality requirements of our various beta releases.  Essentially, we're looking for a low cost way for us to expose our current in order to get early feedback.  This program has met with mixed success ranging from "madness" to some fantastic early feedback from customers.  Obviously we're always looking to move away from the former and towards the latter. 

The MVPs suggested several benefits they get from CTPs including the ability to:

  • see the direction of the product in a way that's more detailed and concrete than product roadmaps
  • influence product development at a point when things haven't completely settled down yet
  • demonstrate to customers what's coming up from Microsoft so they can see the direction and plan for the future
  • inform our partners of our direction to enable them to build add-ons
  • gauge how far along we are in order to make the mental shift in preparation of the eventual release

They also provided suggestions on how we can continue to improve the value of the releases:

  • continue doing the mini-story walkthroughs and demos which make it easy to try out new features
  • provide release notes outlining features added, removed and fixed since the last release
  • run webcasts and publish videos outlining new features and areas we'd like feedback in
  • provide builds that are ready to install so they can try them out in alternate configurations beyond the virtual image we provide
  • more specific blog articles on key features and improvements that we'd like feedback on

I'd like to hear from you on this.  What value do you get from the CTPs?  What could we do to make them more valuable to you?  What sort of frequency would work best for you? How can we get more early feedback from you on these releases?

I look forward to learning more from you.

Thanks!