Microsoft raises stakes at partner conference

Microsoft kicked off the company’sworldwide partner conference in Toronto last month by hiking the company’s channel commitment in a big way.

The commitment increased to $1.7 billion, up from $1.5 billion last year (all figures in U.S. dollars), said Allison Watson, vice-president

of partner sales and marketing.

Of that, $100 million will go toward independent software vendors to support products such as Windows Server 2003, the Microsoft Office System and Visual Studio .Net. This comes while company CEO Steve Ballmer is tightening Microsoft’s belt on spending, she said.

The investment will include partner programs such as the ISV Royalty Program, the ISV Buddy Program, and Channel Builder along with portals such as ISV Community on MSDN and Windows Error Reporting for ISVs. The company will also introduce event-driven opportunities such as ISV Community Days and the ISV Show.

“”It’s about velocity. It is about speed to market, speed to value and the speed of money changing hands. We have to achieve all this today,”” she said. Beyond the formalized ISV programs, Microsoft is also building ISV ROI tools, which help partners marry applications with customer situations.

“”These people usually come from a technical background and typically do not have the business skills,”” Watson said in a follow-up interview.

Last year Microsoft’s goal of enrolling 10,000 ISVs into its Empower ISVs program was achieved, she said. As of last week the program had signed up 10,500 ISVs. Watson said there are more than 65,000 ISVs worldwide.

Lora Gernon, manger of partner sales and marketing at Microsoft Canada said the Canadian subsidiary’s goal in this program was 400 and the team reached a total of 461.

System builders

Microsoft partners were a quiet lot through most of the second day of the conference.

However, there was enthusiastic applause at the announcement that they’ll soon be able to enter forbidden territory: Build PCs around Windows XP Media Centre Edition.

“”System builders are a great group of people who can bring creativity and new form factors to that product,”” Neil Charney, director of Windows client product management, said in an interview explaining the Media Centre move.

The news was welcomed by Dragoslav Minic of MDG Computers. Media Centre “”is something quite exciting for the industry,”” he said. “”It will be even a stronger boost to all of us than the arrival of Windows XP.””

As part of the plan ATI Technologies and nVidia Corp. are creating hardware bundles for builders can assemble MCE computers with the right video cards, tuners and remote controls.

Media Centre is a version of the operating system that Microsoft hopes will make the PC the centre of a home entertainment system. Because MCE computers need (and buyers often demand) high-power components, they sell at higher prices than standard PCs and pull in higher margins.

Until now only a few private OEMs have been allowed to build Media Centre Edition PCs and brand them with the Designed for Windows logo. Among them is Winnipeg’s Mind Computer Products. Another is Seanix Technology of Richmond, B.C., which has been building MCE PC’s for two years.

MBS partners

Microsoft’s enterprise applications VARs have nothing to fear from the new partner program which came into effect this month, backers of the change said the conference.

“”Any time there’s change in the model there’s a little bit of concern until people understand the details,”” Lynne Stockstad, general manager of marketing strategy for Microsoft’s Business Solutions, said in an interview. MBS includes Navision, Great Plains, Solomon and Axapta applications.

“”But overwhelmingly, at least in the discussions I have been in, partners are very positive once they get a chance to see all the components,”” she said.

CDN has learned that some Navision resellers and solution providers are worried. Under the old program the MBS division was separate from other partner programs, helping to prop up the image of exclusivity for these apps. The new program brings all integrators, consultants and resellers under one roof, which causes some MBS members to fear other partners will now be eyeing their turf.

“”Certain areas are still a question mark,”” said Chandra Sekhar, regional director of the Kanata, Ont. branch of Kshema Technologies, a Navision integrator.

The new program lets partners resell MBS software without taking all of the certification courses required of solution providers. “”I don’t see any incentive for a partner to get competency certification, except for customer satisfaction,”” he said.

Security

Microsoft also encouraged partners to deliver several new security initiatives.

Mike Nash, Microsoft top security chief, announced the immediate availability of ISA Server, an application firewall, virtual private network (VPN) and Web cache solution. Ten solutions providers announced supporting products.

On the hardware side, Hewlett-Packard released the HP ProLiant DL320 firewall/VPN/cache server running ISA Server. Celestix Networks, Network Engines Inc., Pyramid Computer, RimApp Technologies and Wortmann AG announced plans to release hardware solutions based on the application.

Nash also announced that 25 firms will support Microsoft’s Network Access Protection technologies. They include Computer Associates, Symantec, and Citrix Systems.

Network Access Protection, based on an open standards-based architecture, provides users increased security when accessing their corporate network through network policy validation, restriction and policy compliance.

The solution will be available in an update release of Windows Server 2003, code-named “”R2,”” which has been delayed until next year.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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