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Microsoft WPC Reporter’s Notebook: Day One

Microsoft partners are enduring long lines to get their hands on discounted Surface tablets at WPC.

HOUSTON – The first full day of Microsoft’s 2013 Worldwide Partner Conference is in the books. My two main news stories from day one are on the cloud/Office 365 and Surface’s slow-motion entry into the reseller channel, but here’s some other news and notes from the opening day that didn’t make it into my coverage.

SURFACE MEGA-LINE: As I reported, most partners will need to wait before they can sell Microsoft’s Surface tablets; that’s not stopping them from limning up to buy one though. The vendor has a special deal for WPC attendees, offering them the chance to buy a Surface RT 64MB with Touch Cover for US$99 (regular $699) and/or a Surface Pro 128GB for US$399 (regular $399). I joined the que right after registering Sunday and I spent two hours in line; partners Monday were reporting waits closer to three hours, but most are toughing it out. And missing education sessions in the process. IDC’s Darren Bibby called it a missed opportunity; Microsoft should have trainers working they line. They did have staff working the line, but they were pushing tablet accessory upsells. As any good hardware partner knows after all, the money is in the peripherals.

HOUSTON CAN’T TOP TORONTO: About 15,000 attendees have descended on Houston for WPC 2013 where, knock on wood, it hasn’t been as hot and humid (yet) as I’d feared. An impressive figure, but it appears the all-time attendance record set at WPC 2012 in Toronto – some 17,000 attendees – will remain safe for now. Over dinner Monday evening, a Microsoft executive assured me the vendor would be bringing WPC back to Toronto soon. As a BC boy at heart, I made a pitch for Vancouver, which was warmly received by the Microsofties – they could just drive up from Redmond.

BY THE NUMBERS: Microsoft has 750,000 partners globally, and partners representing 90 per cent of the vendor’s revenue are represented at WPC. The vendor’s partner business grew by 6.5 per cent year over year. With partner revenue topping out at US$650 billion, that’s a pretty impressive growth figure. Imagine if they’d let partners sell Surface…

NOWHERE BUT UP FOR WINDOWS PHONE: Windows CMO & CFO Tami Reller sang the praises of Windows Phone 8, and said its growing at 6x the rest of the smartphone market. Of course, its starting nearly from scratch, so it has nowhere to go but up, and we’re not talking huge net numbers. Those I’ve spoken to that use it though are impressed, particularly business users, which is probably Microsoft’s core market. I’ve been watching the hands of WPC attendees for an informal smartphone poll: I’d put it at ½ iPhone, ¼ Windows Phone, ¼ Android. I’ve only spotted two BlackBerries so far – mine, and a fellow Canadians. We still love you, Waterloo.

LOTS ABOUT WINDOWS 8.1: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer thinks Windows 8 is the bee’s knees, but he’s a pragmatic guy, and recognizes not everyone shares his Win8 love. They’ve heard the feedback, and he said to expect lots of Windows 8.1 updates during WPC. He said they’ve particularly incorporated feedback on the PC and enterprise use cases. Reller also had an interesting choice of words when talking about Windows XP end of life, encouraging partners to move clients to “modern Windows.” A tacit acknowledgement that many enterprises will be parking with Windows 7 for the time being?

SANTA BRINGING WINDOWS 8.1: No firm date yet for the release of Windows 8.1, which will be available across platforms as a free update in the Windows store. But Reller did said Microsoft intends to release 8.1 to OEMs by the end of August, which means vendors *should* be able to have 8.1 offerings under Christmas trees by the holiday season.