Without Gates, Microsoft`s Channel Changes Little

By Sharon Linsenbach  |  Print this article Print

Few doubt Gates influenced Microsoft’s channel philosophy, but the sheer bulk and inertia of a 400,000-strong partner program will roll on with or without the company’s founding father.

In our celebrity obsessed culture, we make superstars of musicians, elevate rich heiresses and B-movie actresses to global fame and create entire communities devoted to showcasing our own crudely produced Web videos.  So it’s little wonder that the departure of a corporate icon such as Bill Gates is met with a mix of fear and wonder.

For the 400,000 resellers whose businesses depend on Microsoft’s partner programs, the past year has been spent watching Gates wean himself from the software giant and wondering what the future holds for the world’s biggest technology partner ecosystem. While few doubt Gates significantly influenced Microsoft’s channel philosophy, the common wisdom is that the sheer bulk and inertia of the reseller program—one that’s evolved around the Windows operating systems, Office productivity suites, Exchange server, and other business products--will keep things rolling in the Microsoft channel with or without the company’s founding father.

Microsoft’s 400,000 worldwide partners drive about 95 percent of Microsoft's revenue, according to Michael Speyer, Senior Analyst, Forrester, so it's in Microsoft's best interests to maintain the status quo. 

"It's really in the DNA of the company, and it's in their best interest to keep the VAR channel stable and keep their resellers supported," he says.  With such an incredible amount of personnel and infrastructure devoted to maintaining those 400,000 partners, Speyer says there's no question the management team will avoid rocking the channel boat. 

"Microsoft has always been and will continue to be very active with their channel whether or not Gates is there," he says, and will continue to be even as Ballmer takes the reins, meaning VARs and their customers shouldn't have to worry much about Gates' departure impacting them.

Derick Bahl, owner of Microsoft partner Quality Systems Solutions, says part of the reason for that is that Gates, though realizing how important the channel was for his company, remained really hands-off, preferring to focus on Microsoft's products themselves rather than their go-to-market strategy.

"He's always viewed himself as the software architect and the chief evangelist.  Certainly he recognized the value of the channel, but I don't think it was a significant area of focus for him," says Bahl.  Rather, the channel grew organically as a result of the incredible need for Microsoft to scale in the wake of the huge successes of Windows.

"Microsoft’s vision has been channel-centric from the beginning," said Robert Deshaies, vice president of Microsoft's U.S. Partner Group. "We recognized early on that we needed the partner channel in order to provide the deep value customers need to realize their full business potential. As we move toward the future, we’re committed to evolving the Microsoft Partner Program to deepen our engagement with partners, continue to help them grow their business profitably, and renew our strong commitment to customer satisfaction." 

Sharon Linsenbach Sharon Linsenbach is a staff writer for eWEEK and eWEEK Channel Insider. Prior to joining Ziff Davis, Sharon was Assistant Managing Editor for CRN, a weekly magazine for PC and technology resellers. Before joining CRN, Sharon was an Acquisitions Editor for The Coriolis Group and later, Editorial Director with Paraglyph Press, both in Scottsdale, AZ. She holds a BA in English from Drew University and lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her significant other and two neurotic cats. When she's not reading or writing about technology, Sharon enjoys yoga, knitting, traveling and live music. Sharon can be reached at Sharon.Linsenbach@ziffdavisenterprise.com.