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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

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.”