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Microsoft WPC 2011: A newbie's top ten list

By Pat Ouellette, Associate Editor

LOS ANGELES — It’s been an eventful 24 hours since I hit the tarmac at LAX Sunday to attend my first Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC). From Dodger Stadium and its army of police officers to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer explaining why his “all in” cloud message at WPC 2010 scared him, there has been a lot of action. And more questions than answers. Here are 10 things that struck me as I made my way through the LA Convention Center and the Staples Center.

1: Do partners have faith in Jon Roskill?
Aside from telling partners to hiss at the mention of VMware, I wonder how convincing Roskill was in his keynote. Unlike, Ballmer, Roskill didn’t seem excited up on the stage. But then again, who could replicate that? Not mentioned was that coming into the show many partners are unhappy with the lack of information about their role (or lack thereof) in Windows Azure and Office 365. Some of that will be addressed Tuesday, or so we are promised. But if I’m a partner struggling to make ends meet and hear about how, for  very dollar Microsoft makes, I can make $8.70 or that 58% of partners are “in the cloud,” I have to wonder.

2: Steve Ballmer’s partner love.

Steve Ballmer sure can command a room. He “loves partners” and though 95% of Microsoft’s business comes from partners, he says he has no clue what the other 5% is. This drew applause and makes me even more interested to hear what Microsoft’s plan will be for partners with Azure and Office 365. Ballmer said Tuesday will be all about the cloud.
3: What exactly will Bing do for partners?
Ballmer acknowledged that Bing is pretty low on partner priority lists, but said that with the new Yahoo! Integration partners will use the search browser more over the next few years. Stefan Weitz, Microsoft’s Bing search director and a dead ringer for Professor Jeremiah Lasky from Saved by the Bell: The College Years, did a detailed Bing’s non-Google-like search capabilities. But it’s unclear to me how using Open Table to make dinner reservations on your browser will end up making partners money.

4: The long and winding road from Windows XP through Windows 7 to Windows 8.
Although, partners are having moderate success with Windows 7 migrations, Tami Reller, corporate vice president of Windows and Windows Live, said partners must move customers through Windows 7 to get to Windows 8. This may be no easy feat. Windows 8’s touch screen and application capabilities are nice – downright iPhone like — but are they enough to get customers to migrate again in a year or two of taking on Window 7?

5: How will Skype be able to take on Google Voice? And what about Lync?
Ballmer said that along with Skype, Microsoft Lync is the “Kinect of the enterprise.” How exactly does this fit into Microsoft’s strategy and where are the non-consumer opportunities? And how does this not conflict with Microsoft Lync?

6: Why so much time on XBOX Kinect?
A Kinect SDK is available for business apps and demo’d its new voice command wireless capabilities (think Apple TV without a remote). But why so much time? Kinect is cool and could clearly find business application but It seemed that partners had a lot more questions about profitability and certification requirements for Microsoft Partner Network competencies.

7: Missing Smashmouth.
Because of my flight out of LA on Wednesday, I’m inadvertently skipping out on seeing Smash Mouth. Needless to say, fifth-grade me would be pissed.

8: Mixed messages on Windows Phone

As for phone OSes, “we’ve gone from very small to very small, but it’s been one hell of a year,” Ballmer said on Windows Phone share. His graphic read “9/10 people love their Windows Phone” and that Gartner predicted Windows Phone will be No. 2 in the market come 2015. Yeah, that report raised a LOT of eyebrows given the huge lead that Android and iPhone enjoy and the perception that Microsoft bought its way into a big Nokia deal. The fact that developers and VARs still aren’t sure about the phone strategy doesn’t help. As Colin Steele wrote, partners are weary of Microsoft’s mobile strategy.

9: Steve Ballmer’s scary cloud message

He said that last year’s “we’re all in” cloud message was scary. Yes it was—for partners — because it meant that they needed to decide whether they’re on board as well. He was nervous that some wouldn’t be and it’s clear from show attendees that there is basis for his worry. Despite the 58% number tossed out during Roskill’s keynote, I bet he’s still scared because many partners still haven’t wrapped their heads around Office 365 and Azure and are not happy about the revenue model that’s been presented thus far.

10: How many partners will actually email Ballmer? And will he respond?

“As partners go, so goes Microsoft,” Ballmer noted as he wrapped up. He told partners how to reach him via e-mail with questions.  He does this every year. I sure would love to get a look at those messages.

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