Microsoft partners are disappointed but not distraught that the company’s annual conference has been moved from Toronto to New Orleans because of SARS fears.

The decision means thousands of Microsoft integrators and resellers won’t be coming to this country for the annual four-day educational

and networking festival, now called Microsoft Partner Momentum Event, the first time it was to have been held in Canada.

As compensation, however, Microsoft has promised the city the conference will be here next year.

“”It’s a decision I’m not happy about at all,”” said Harry Zarek, president of Toronto-based Compugen Inc., a member of the conference advisory committee. “”But they (Microsoft) were getting a lot of worried calls from partners around the world . . . saying if the conference was in Toronto they didn’t feel comfortable coming.””

Zarek said he tried but failed to convince committee members at a meeting in Seattle at the begining of the month the concerns were overstated.

However, others felt there was too much of a risk that attendance would suffer if the location stayed.

Most resellers have quietly accepted the decision.

“”We still see participation in this event as a good investment, and it will continue to be one regardless of the location””, said Todd Irie, director of marketing at NexInnovations Inc, a consulting and integration firm with offices across the country.

The move, he said, won’t likely have any effect on the number of people the company will send to the event.

Paul Estabrooks, business development manager at Agora Consulting Partners, a Microsoft Gold partner, said the Toronto company hadn’t decided if any of its staff would be going to the conference when it was still slated to be in Toronto. He wasn’t sure how much an effect it would have now that the event will be thousands of kilometers away instead of in his back yard.

“”Obviously any time you have to pick between home and away it’s a factor,”” he said.

The annual conference had been called Fusion and was to come to Canada for the first time in July. Usually it attracts at least 6,000 attendees, but this year there will be more because it’s being combined with the annual partners conference of Great Plains, which Microsoft bought last year.

Shortly after the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome early this year, Microsoft shifted the event to October 9-12.

When the World Health Organization cancelled its travel alert for Toronto in the spring that appeared to ease public concerns. However, a second outbreak of the disease appears to have bothered some VARs.

“”Both partners within Canada and around the world were concerned with things they were seeing in the media around the SARs issue in Toronto,”” said Ken Headrick, managing partner for marketing and development at Microsoft Canada.

“”Our concern was the purpose of the event was to bring all partners together and let them network. We were concerned about attendance. So a decision was made both with input from management here and from folks from the world-wide (conference) team in Redmond to move the event.

“”We tried to hold off the decision as long as possible,”” he said. However, this month is when registration would normally open and with SARS still capturing headlines it was difficult.

“”It’s disappointing,”” he said, “”but we’ll be back next year.””

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