Microsoft Offers Customers $20,000 in Partner Services

By Jacqueline Emigh  |  Print this article Print


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But many partners have yet to be told about the program. And is the deal around Office 2003 really as sweet as it sounds, anyway? Not everyone's so sure.

In rough conjunction with public statements about a future of better integration for its Office suite, Microsoft Corp. is quietly promoting a sweet-sounding deal around the current Office product. Although many partners say they haven't even heard about the program yet, Microsoft is offering as much as $20,000 in partner service subsidies to "qualified" users who buy Office Professional Edition 2003.

According to a blurb currently posted on Microsoft's Web site, customers can receive up to $100 in partner service subsidies for each Office license purchased by May 31.

Industry analysts and Microsoft consultants are quick to point out that Web-based incentive offers—in and of themselves—are nothing new. "Microsoft has done this sort of thing before," said Paul DeGroot, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

"But I don't think I've ever seen [a deal] from Microsoft this expansive," noted Craig Steele, a senior network engineer at Progent, a Silicon Valley-based systems integrator. "It sounds as though if a customer buys 50 copies, [the partner] can get reimbursed for $5,000 in services by Microsoft. And I can tell you that payment from Microsoft is the 'gold standard.' If Microsoft says they'll pay, then they will pay."

Microsoft has actually set a $20,000 cap on the offer. "Purchase 200 licenses and you will get up to $20,000 [in services]," the blurb on the Web informs the customers.

Last week, during the first-ever Microsoft Office Systems Developers Conference, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates publicly demo'd software integration enhancements currently envisioned for the next generation of Microsoft's software. Observers generally expect improvements of this sort to spring from the new Visual Studio 2005 Tools for the Microsoft Office System—and quite possibly from the next edition of Office, too.

But Microsoft seems to be giving the Office 2003 deal a lower profile than its future prospects. Not one of the five Microsoft partners contacted by eWEEK.com this week was aware of the customer incentive program, even though the offer has been posted since at least Friday.

"Getting hold of these kinds of offerings means a lot to us, but these things aren't always very publicly known. I don't think Microsoft always makes the effort," said Pinooz Javan, chief operating officer at MetroStar Systems. Beyond running a consulting service, MetroStar has been integrating its BI (business intelligence) software product with both Microsoft Office and SharePoint.

From the sounds of it, Microsoft's new program will provide some leads for larger projects, beyond the reimbursements for initial services, according to partners. "Any additional lead is an opportunity for additional revenues—and a lead is a lead, whether it comes from Microsoft, or wherever," said Steele.

But is Microsoft's offer truly as generous as it seems? Not everyone's so certain. To qualify for the "free" services, customers must buy the software through Open License Value, Microsoft's software assurance program. "These are your $700 copies of Office, not your $495 copies," DeGroot observed.

The analyst pointed to some parallels between the Web-based incentive plan and Microsoft's recent pronouncements about future integration enhancements.

"We don't really know yet what will be in the next edition of Office. But Microsoft has definitely been moving in the direction of using Office as a front-end interface to back-end [Windows] services," DeGroot said. "There might be kind of a [push] on [customers participating in the program] to migrate to Windows 2003 Server, and then to upgrade SQL Server, for example."

Yet observers also suggested that sales of the current Office product could use a big jolt. "Customers have been slow to migrate to Office 2003," according to Steele.

"The features in Office 2003 haven't been that remarkably from [the features] in previous editions. A lot of the new stuff has been 'integration stuff,' and Microsoft really isn't done with all that yet," DeGroot said.


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