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1Seven Things Partners Want to Hear About at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference

Microsoft partners are clamoring for clarity around the vendor’s software-as-a-service play. Last year’s excitement at the introduction of Business Productivity Online Suite, in particular, has been dampened by widespread dissatisfaction with the partner business model. Partners complain that margins on BPOS resale don’t necessarily translate into a recurring revenue stream, that channel conflict looms for hosting partners and that Microsoft maintains a grip on customer ownership.

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So far, word on the street about Windows 7 is largely positive. Partners are eager to put the Vista debacle behind them – in many cases having abandoned efforts to sell it altogether – in favor of getting applications and infrastructures ready for the 7 release. At WPC, they are looking for a peek at the third-party applications available for the new OS and to hear more around enablement and ramp-up for the October launch.

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Despite the partner thumbs’ up for Windows 7 capabilities and potential, the big unknown remains demand in a down economy. New PC sales are dismal at present, but a cautiously predicted uptick should help fuel a hardware refresh and consequently Windows 7 OEM sales. Partners selling to the SMB space cannot count on their customers having newer machines and so will have to make the case that Windows 7 is worth buying new hardware.

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Partners looking to break into the emerging Microsoft business such as unified communications are looking for more information about specific partner program initiatives. Some partners have said they have not gotten much feedback on what these programs will look like and that partner account managers in the field don’t seem to know either.

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Partners applaud the momentum Microsoft’s new Bing search engine is having in the marketplace today, but lament that little is being communicated to them about how Bing will be brought into the enterprise and become a viable source of commercial business. Partners want a rich search engine with enterprise security and governance features.

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As one partner put it, “The iPhone is not god’s gift to telephones by any stretch.” But the fact remains that Apple has captured the market. Partners want to tap into the smart device/mobile application phenomenon and are looking for some guidance on what the Windows Mobile team inside Microsoft has planned.

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When Microsoft president and CEO Steve Ballmer takes the stage at the conference next week, partners will be looking first and foremost for one thing: His take on the general economy and on Microsoft’s health specifically. Call it a pep talk or a reality check, depending on what the gregarious CEO has to say, but partners are looking to Ballmer to provide some guidance and insight.

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Are you going to WPC or just following it virtually? Please let Channel Insider know what you hope to hear from the Redmond, Wash., software giant. Complaints, applause and other commentary welcome.Carolyn.april@ziffdavisenterprise.com