TORONTO — For the first time in several years Microsoft is pointing its silver bullet not at Linux, but at IBM.

During the opening keynote session of the company’s annual worldwide partner conference, held here, the approximately

5,500 plus partners heard several Microsoft executive switch the focus from open source operating systems toward Big Blue.

Allison Watson, vice-president of partner sales and marketing group for Microsoft, kicked off the conference Sunday by saying that IBM’s “”on demand”” strategy does not go deep enough and that IBM is a services company at heart. “”I do not believe in an on demand world and we will deliver the best partnerships and customer promise,”” Watson said.

Orlando Ayala, senior vice-president and COO of Microsoft Business Solutions took another shot at IBM, saying its services are only meant to build complexity, while Microsoft is all about repeatability of solution within specific vertical businesses.

Simon Witts, former Microsoft Canada president and current vice-president of enterprise partners there isn’t usually much head-to-head competiton with IBM and in some cases the two firms work together to support mutual customers.

Witts confirmed, however, that the keynote references were intended to be direct shots at Big Blue. “”They are our No 1 competitor — why wouldn’t we (take shots)?”” he said.

Large and small partners said they also recognized the renewed competitive battle between Microsoft and IBM.

Gerry C. Rivers, senior vice-president of Integrated Technology Management for CGI Group, said his company looks at the possible business opportunities of the rivalry. These include moving IBM mainframe technology to the Microsoft server environment.

“”As long as a lot of the large legacy systems are mainframe hosted or based, I am still feeding the fuel that fires the IBM engines. I want to have other options for my customers,”” he said. “”If I can find a way to migrate legacy systems for a (better) total cost of ownership (I will provide that) option so that customers are not locked in.””

Microsoft may be targeting IBM as its primary rival, but the company hasn’t forgotten about Linux as a challenger. Witts placed Linux as his company’s second largest competitor and called the open source movement “”an intellectual property competitor.””

Brad Bushell, COO of The RSC Group of Vancouver, said he views IBM and Linux as the same thing, but he and Rivers both said their respective companies come across Linux very infrequently. At RSC, a smaller channel partner, the focus is building on competencies with Microsoft within the Microsoft Business Solutions group. “”The Canadian Microsoft team has been very innovative in (building up my) skill sets,”” Bushell said.

Bushell added that Microsoft partners with him on events and helps his company with market response issues.

For CGI, it comes down to the total cost of ownership for its customers, Rivers said. “”If you compare the Linux pool of developers, consultants and specialists against the Microsoft pool it is very easy to figure where you will get the greatest draw and the most opportunities,”” he said.

Witts added a third competitor to the mix — Microsoft itself.

Microsoft’s installed base drives good enough computing, he said. “”We have frankly over licensed and under deployed customers and it puts us collectively at risk to retain and grow the customer,”” he said during his keynote presentation.

Later in a one-on-one interview, Witts said IBM is leveraging those customers who think old Windows 95 and Office 97 is good enough by offering StarOffice or Linux desktop software as cheaper refresh alternatives.

Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference continues through Wednesday.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+