More than 6,200 partners from around the globe flocked to Minneapolis for Microsoft’s annual partnerfest.

And that may have been the biggest news coming out of the event. The attendees, of which 380 were Canadian, surpassed the 5,500 partners who attended this year’s IBM Partnerworld conference

in Las Vegas, making it the largest in the world.

The 380 Canadian partners also surpassed the number established in Toronto last year.

Microsoft did make several announcements for its channel. It unveiled its Small Business Specialist program, which is intended to provide benefits to resellers with five-employees or less. The program is being rolled out as a competency-like designation as part of the overall Microsoft Partner Program.

“We believe small businesses sell to small businesses,” said Alison Watson, vice president of the Worldwide Partner Sales and Marketing Group at Microsoft.“They need specific needs and we recognize that. The partner program will go there for these small business specialists,” she added.

In Canada, Microsoft plans to grow the small business specialist network through system builders. Lora Gernon, director of partner sales for Microsoft Canada, said the subsidiary has a goal to recruit 500 of these partners in Canada.

Changes to partner program

The addition of the Small Business Specialist competency wasn’t the only thing that changed to Microsoft’s Partner Program.

Watson also revealed four other solution competencies to be released later on this year along with simpler membership management, more support and training resources, and a revamp of its online tools.

The four competencies are:

Customer development solutions for partners who cater to the application infrastructure, Smart Client and Web development markets.

Mobility solutions for ISVs, system integrators, consultants and those resellers solely focused on mobile infrastructure, components and other Windows-based mobile solutions.

Licensing solutions for partners who specialize in software asset management. This competency will be rolled out in two forms: License delivery and software asset management.

OEM hardware solutions is intended for partners who build desktops and servers. Similar to Licensing solutions, this competency is also splintered with a system builder specification and an device manufacturer specialization.

Partner Learning Center, Partner Channel Builder, and Partner Marketing Center online tools have been revamped to include better tracking, more integrated collaboration between partners, and modular marketing materials. All the online tools will be housed on one site and will be rolled out to 60 countries in 34 languages.

Open value licensing

Licensing remains a hot button item for partners and in that regard, Microsoft took another step in easing volume licensing by consolidating the various flavours of the current Open Value program into one worldwide program.

The streamlining Open Value licensing program will be available in October.

Sneak peeks at Office 12

Microsoft, for the first time publicly showed the future version of Office, at it worldwide partner conference. Office 12 is scheduled for release in the fall of next year. However, the first beta version will be released to IT managers on Nov. 1. “”They will be able to understand all the features in Office and get up and running faster. Currently, Office System 2003 has earned 130 per cent annual growth for Microsoft partners. Office 12 is expected to double that between 2006 and 2007, said Chris Capossela, corporate vice-president of information worker product management at Microsoft.””Many people do not think about office besides the basic fundamentals. We want to connect business processes and people with the next release. A lot of people don’t understand how Office has changed. It has gone beyond the apps like Word, Excel and PowerPoint and become more of a content creation, and analysis tool. It can also organize information and help you stay connected,”” Caposellas said.Processing forms will be one of the new features in the new Office through the InfoPath application, according to Capossela. When Office 12 is finally release sometime in the fall of 2006, there will be 26 different programs built into the productive suite. This is a far cry from what Office started out as with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access.In that time, Office as attracted more than a million developers who build solutions on top of the suite.

A sneak peek at CRM 3.0

Office wasn’t the only product update at the conference.

Senior vice-president Doug Burgum said that Microsoft usually gets software right on the third release. Coincidentally, CRM 3.0 will be released in the fourth quarter of this year.

Microsoft designed this new version to work the way individual users do. It will also be built on service-oriented architecture on Web services and XML.

According to Burgum, the next version of Microsoft CRM will be tailored more towards 40 million customers around the world who are not part of the global 2000.

Joel Martin, a market analyst at IDC Canada, said the projection for CRM segment in Canada is expected to be more than $250 million by 2009. The CRM market in 2004 was just under $200 million.

Conversely, the mature ERP market in Canada is forecasted to be about $650 million by 2009, while last year the ERP market was worth $540 million.

“”In terms of spending by industry small enterprise (50 employees or less) is four per cent of the market in 2004 and growing to seven per cent by 2009,”” Martin said.

Martin added that the medium enterprise space (51 employees to 499) was up 20 per cent last year and will grow to 25 per cent by 2009.

Burgum said the margins for the new CRM package will be around 45 per cent.

Microsoft CRM is part of the Microsoft Business Solutions product line and Burgum told the conference today to expect a converge solution encompassing Great Plains, Solomon, Axapta and Navision sometime in 2008.

Microsoft also announced that Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006 will be launched Nov. 7.

Mid market promo

In an attempt to whittle down the number of old NT 4.0 and Netware installations in the world, Microsoft is incenting its partners with a Windows Server System promotion.

The promo will encompass Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition; Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 Standard Edition; and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005 Workgroup Edition. It will end July 1, 2006, when it will be re-evaluated. The offering will come as an integrated SKU through distribution and includes 50 new combination promotional Client Access Licenses (CALs) for Windows Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2003.

“The mid market is a challenge because of the sheer number of (legacy installations estimated at more than 40 million) we rely on the partner recruiting partners program. There is no limit on the number of partners Microsoft want to recruit in the mid-market area,” said Steven VanRoekel, director of Mid-Market Solutions in the Windows Server Group at Microsoft.

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