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No 1: Partner Program Morphs — Again

Partners are going to do some serious digesting of the new program,
now called the Microsoft Partner Network. Beyond the name change, the
most notable difference for partners is a new membership structure that
is going to require more investment in competency specialization, more
proof of ongoing customer satisfaction and a higher bar for both direct
and influence revenue. There’s no sugarcoating this; Microsoft is
raising the bar considerably.
Some partners love the new Advanced Competency and Regular Competency
concept, which over the next 18 months with replace the well-worn Gold
Certified and Certified membership tiers. They say more emphasis on
specialization will help them differentiate themselves in the
marketplace. Yet just as many partners could be heard grumbling about
the changes, citing the costs associated with training, certification
and sales and marketing requirements.
What will be most interesting to see is how many of the 16,700 Gold
Certified partners worldwide make the transition to Advanced Competency.

No. 2: Azure Gets a Pricing Structure
Now partners know what Microsoft is going to be charging for its Azure
cloud-computing services. Now what? On a positive note, Microsoft is
letting developers use the Azure platform today start building apps
free of charge for the next four months until the company officially
launches Azure into general release in November. What remains hard to
figure is whether or not partners are going to be able to pass these
costs along to customers as a service in order to make margin. Some
partners are dubious.

No. 3: Office Web Apps for Free
Google announces an operating system and a week later Microsoft
counters with free Office Web apps for all. The company was positively
breathless about the free Office Web apps, though similar productivity
software from Google, Sun and others has been widely available for some
time. Meanwhile, the company announced that Office 2010 has reached the
technical preview stage

No. 4: Most Overuse Ever of the Word ‘Tenacious’
Steve Ballmer’s always boisterous but he really outdid himself in
Tuesday’s keynote, at one point gesticulating wildly as he made the
point that Microsoft might not be a leader in every market, but they
don’t quit. They are, shall we say, TENACIOUS. He must have said
tenacious or tenacity at least 10 times. Here’s one of the better
quotes, on persistence in entering new markets:

“We don’t go home, we just keep coming and coming and coming,” Ballmer
shouted. “Tenacious? How about virtualization? You’re seeing some
tenacity there. Unified communications, voice/video? Boom! Management
[software]? We keep coming. Our track record of having our tenacity
turn into success is quite high, that’s why you keep coming back.”

No. 5: Kevin Turner’s Channel Investment News

"This year, ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to increase what we
spend with partners from $2.9 billion to $3.3 billion. That’s a
$400-million increase for you this year."

No. 6: Test Driving BPOS
Microsoft dipped into its arsenal
and rolled out a combination of new tools, incentives and clarified
messaging to help shed greater light on the partner opportunity around
the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) of services. Since last
year, partners have wanted answers when it comes to Microsoft’s
software-plus-services play and what the partner business model will
look like. Among the complaints? Partners worried that the resale
margins on BPOS subscriptions did not constitute a true recurring
revenue stream, and that Microsoft, because it would own the customer
billing and payment process, had too much control. In addition to a
host of tools and branding initiatives that are aimed at helping
partners with BPOS, Microsoft took it one step farther, making 250 BPOS
seats available to partners for free internally, so they can test drive
the services and become better equipped to sell and customize.

No. 7: Have You Been to NOLA in July?
Steve Ballmer called the weather the most humid he’s experienced in his
life. That’s likely a tad hyperbolic, but you know it’s muggy in the
extreme when the cab drivers are complaining about the heat. Humidity
aside, the city’s determined spirit was on display four years after the
Katrina disaster, despite evidence that much rebuilding still needs to
be done. To that end, Microsoft execs and many partners got into the
spirit of giving back, braving the humidity Sunday (bandannas galore)
to take part in various rebuilding projects across the city.

No. 8: Ballmer Disses Google – Sort of
You know the week couldn’t pass without someone questioning Ballmer
about Google. On stage after his keynote Tuesday he was asked about the
impact of Google’s Chrome operating system and the glib CEO snipped,
“Who knows what this thing is?” I mean, the Chrome OS is highly
interesting. It won’t happen for a year and a half, and didn’t they
already announce an operating system? You don’t need two client OSes.
We tried that with Windows 95 and NT. What we really do need is a model
of the future that brings together the best of the rich client and the
best of the Web.”

No. 9: The Band
OK, shameless plug here. But rarely has a technology conference landed
a more inspiring and flat-out talented and cool musical act than
Microsoft did this year. Playing for Change
is the name of the band and the organization they represent is,
according to its Web site, “dedicated to connecting the world through
music by providing resources (including, but not limited to facilities,
supplies, and educational programs) to musicians and their communities
around the world.” Suffice to say, these musicians made 8:30 a.m. feel
like a night out on the town or the best outdoor festival you’ve ever
attended, and their story is inspiring. Their cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” was hauntingly beautiful.

No. 10: Were you at WPC?

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