[This story is running in the print edition of The Seattle Times.
I’m in Toronto, covering WPC beginning with this morning’s keynote from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, CVP and CFO of Windows Tami Reller and Office President Kurt DelBene.
Tuesday’s keynote will feature Server & Tools President Satya Nadella and Business Solutions President Kirill Tatarinov.
(The keynotes will be streamed live starting at 9 a.m. EDT/6 a.m. PDT here.)
Follow along with this blog, or on my Twitter account — @janettu. And send along questions you’d like to ask of Microsoft execs or partners and I’ll try to get answers.]
From the expected launch of Windows 8 later this year to Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Yammer, to the company’s decision to produce its own branded tablet, a lot is on the line for Microsoft as its annual Worldwide Partner Conference begins this week.
Taking place Sunday through Thursday in Toronto, the conference is Microsoft’s yearly chance to gather with some of its 640,000 partners worldwide to give them a road map for what’s coming up with the company’s products in the year ahead and for the partners to network and mark their achievements.
About 16,000 people, representing resellers, consultants, systems integrators, developers and others who have built businesses based on Microsoft platforms and services, are expected at this year’s conference. That makes it the largest partner conference Microsoft has held.
Karl Noakes, Microsoft’s general manager of partner-channel marketing, attributes the spike in registrations — especially in the last few weeks — to “new excitement around what Microsoft’s doing. Some of the recent announcements have really spiked our partners’ interests.”
Undoubtedly, the latter half of this year and early next will be a big testing ground for Microsoft, as it launches:
* Windows 8: a radical revamp of its flagship operating system.
* Surface: the first-ever Microsoft-branded computing device.
* Windows Phone 8: which will share the same core kernel as Windows 8.
* Windows Server 2012.
* New version of Office.
* New version of Azure.
“It’s probably one of the biggest launch years in Microsoft’s history,” Noakes said.
Perhaps as much as excitement, though, these moves by Microsoft may be giving rise to trepidation among partners as well — or at least simple curiosity about how the moves will affect them.
After all, the company’s announcement that it would be producing Surface could be seen as knife in the back of its longstanding partnership with hardware manufacturers such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard.
Its decision that current Windows Phone users won’t be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8 means that partners such as Nokia are now left selling handsets that will be outdated in a few short months.
Windows 8, with its touch-centric focus, has a very different user interface from the Windows that most people have become accustomed to. Will consumers and businesses adopt it?
And will the company’s recent acquisition of business-social-networking company Yammer mean trouble for Microsoft partners who have built their own social networking capabilities on Microsoft’s platforms?
“It’s a superinteresting time for Microsoft,” said Birger Steen, CEO of Renton-based Parallels who worked as a Microsoft vice president before joining Parallels.
Parallels offers virtualization and automation software as well as a program that allows Mac users to run Windows on their machines. The company helps telecom providers and Web hosters, among others, to use Microsoft technologies for their services.
The value of a conference, Steen said, is that while Microsoft is expected to present its own story of what’s happening, there are so many partners attending, each with his/her own views, that it helps to construct a larger picture of what’s really going on — not just what Microsoft wants people to hear.
What Steen is hoping to hear is that “Microsoft’s partner orientation — the whole thinking about having hundreds of thousands of partners — that that orientation is still primary and still super strong.”
And that Microsoft still values its partners and plans to continue working with them for mutual benefit, rather than selling directly to consumers and businesses itself, Steen said.
Alex Wilson, director of special projects at Long Beach, Calif.-based Laserfiche, is looking to the conference for insights into the latest developments on SharePoint, Microsoft’s collaboration offering, and Office.
Laserfiche offers business content-management solutions, including software to streamline documents and records. Its suite of offerings runs on the Microsoft platform.
Kimberly Samuelson, director of government strategy with Laserfiche, says she’s interested what Microsoft has to say about the increasing use of social networking in businesses.
“I think they’re going to make some moves,” she said.
Noakes, the Microsoft general manager, says Microsoft execs at the conference — including CEO Steve Ballmer, Office President Kurt DelBene, Server and Tools President Satya Nadella — intend to emphasize that partners are still important to the company.
Microsoft’s strategy has traditionally been to offer platforms that partners can “add unique value on top of, whether that’s designing hardware or writing software or using professional services skills,” he said.
“All Microsoft’s product and service announcements (at WPC) are true to that.”