Microsoft: A reporter’s notebook

Coming into this year’s Microsoft Partner Conference, the word on the street was that the Redmond, Wash-based software giant was going to address the partners at the low end of the scale.

Those with an employee-base of five or less were finally going to be acknowledged by a vendor. And that

vendor was going to be Microsoft.

But as Alison Watson, channel czar of Microsoft took the stage at the Minneapolis Convention Center, the 6,200 partners in attendance, of which 380 came from Canada, did not get any information about small business resellers.

Instead the crowd got a well organized presentation from top Microsoft executives, video case studies from partners and music.

The following is a timeline of events with commentary.

7:45 AM: Warm-up band greets incoming crowd. The people are relieved to finally sit in an air-conditioned auditorium after braving the muggy north-west humidity.

8:00 AM: Keynote starts on time. This is really remarkable because I have never witnessed this before. Alison Watson, vice-president of the Worldwide Partner Sales and Marketing Group, comes out on stage. She is wearing blue this year. Last year in Toronto she was decked out in yellow. Watson is a class act in my opinion. She is without a doubt the busiest person at this conference and has to please not only the 6,200 who attended, but more than 600,000 partners worldwide.

Last year she set aside a lot of time for CDN, which we really appreciated.

8:15 AM: Watson rolls to a Pacific Life customer video. Not the most compelling video. Banking and insurance case studies may be important and even quite lucrative for partners, but if you are in the audience watching it is boring.

8:18 AM: Luckily the video is short and Watson comes back to stage.

8:22 AM: Back to the Pacific Life video. A talking head says something about software and partnering and how they built a partner extranet using BizTalk server.

8:28 AM: Another video. This time from a partner who bet big on Microsoft Office. The company has grown 600 per cent and it turn introduces Chris Caposella, corporate vice-president of information worker management group at Microsoft.

8:29 AM: Many people do not think about Office besides the basic fundamentals, Caposella said. He is right. Can you believe the Office productivity suite now has 26 different programs? Back in the early ’90s the package just had four. And, many users complained about getting Access instead of Publisher.

Here’s a tidbit: When Microsoft acquired Groove Networks, they also acquired computing pioneer Ray Ozzie, who became the company’s CTO. Can you imagine the conversations between Ozzie and Bill Gates?

Caposella announces that Microsoft is trying to double its information worker field team to more than 1,000 specialists. The company will also devote more than US$300 million in marketing.

<Caposella quietly says that Microsoft will be gearing up to release a product called Small Business Accounting under the MBS brand. No doubt this package will compete with Simply Accounting from Sage, which currently has almost all of the market. Microsoft has to be careful here. It does not want another Microsoft Money verses QuickBooks fiasco.

Caposella talks about the competition for Office and neglects to mention Corel WordPerfect Suite. Instead he says Office competition will come from old versions and cloned versions. Boy is this sad. Microsoft isn’t even acknowledging Corel exists. This amazes me because 10 years ago Office had competition with Smart Suite from Lotus and WordPerfect, but those two shot themselves in the foot enough that the market made them insignificant products.

8:40 AM: It is demo time. Caposella promises it will only take 10 minutes. New name for Maestro. It will be called Business Scorecard Manager 2005. He brings out Oudi Antebi, a product manager, to do the demo. He says it will only take eight minutes.

8:49 AM: The demo is still rolling.

8:50 AM: The demo ends. So far I am impressed. The organizers have these executives on time. But, Caposella starts another demo, on Visual Studio for Office. Don’t get me wrong, demos are great for technicians. The audience, however, is made up of entrepreneurs who aren’t really interested in how great the technology is. What they are interested in is how this piece of software is going to make them money.

9:00 AM: A sneak peek at Office 12. Caposella said the workplace has changed from five years ago. He is right. Back then the workplace was more interested in which Internet stocks were available. Today, people are actually working. But, he does make a point that the key trend today is always on and always connected.

9:05 AM: Now here is a scary thought: Caposella predicts the Netgen, a generation of people who grew up with the PC, will meet the baby boomers in the workplace sometime when Office 12 is released in 2007. This social trend will see a generation who knows the Web and the cell phone intimately butting heads with people who do not know how to multitask. Caposella admits Microsoft is going to have to provide this workforce with the tools for change.

9:12 AM: Another demo, but this one is the first public view of Office 12. This one is very good and the crowd applauds. Shortly after, the executives clear the stage as some cool jazz music is turned on. Someone wheels out a lectern with a tower PC on top.

9:15 AM: Andy Lees, server product manager for Microsoft comes on stage. Lees gives history lesson on how SQL Server and Exchange became billion dollar businesses. Gives credit to partner base for creating the solutions. Then, suddenly, an amplified voice from the audience says: “You are welcome.”” The voice continues to say stop patting yourself on the back. Certainly a cheap stunt, but I was thinking the same thing: stop saying how great you’ve done and let the partners know new ways to make money.

9:25 AM: The reporter next to me stops taking notes and starts playing Solitaire on his laptop.

2:00 PM: Alison Watson’s press conference is about to start. She walks up to the front of the room and notices me. She comes up to shake my hand and thanks me for the great cover shot of her next to the CN Tower from last year’s partner conference in Toronto. I thank her again for devoting so much time to us. Then she says she framed the copy and hung it in her office.

Watson starts the presser by saying the conference is about delivering value to people because people drive technology success.

2:22 PM: I ask Watson about the Small Business Specialist program. She hesitates. Looks around the room, she admits she was waiting for the go ahead to release the information on this new program. Sanjay Parthasarathy, a vice-president at Microsoft, who was sitting next to her, said “just tell them!” And she does. You can read about it on CDN This Week.

4:00 PM: I am invited for a meeting with Garth Dean, director, MBS, Nancy Teixeira, product manager, ERP solutions, Krista Kuehnbaum, CRM product manager, partners Gordon Mawhinney of Bell Business Solutions, Jim Heaton of Vox Wireless Inc. and analyst Joel Martin of IDC Canada. The meeting takes place at Le Meriden hotel in Minneapolis.

Dean said this year would be a breakthrough year for CRM as well as ERP. But, Martin, who says ERP is a maturing market, later contradicts Dean’s statement. Martin says something really profound. He said, according to IDC research, people no longer want to work fast, but smart. “They are tired of working hard without getting any results.”

And on that note my day ends. Make sure to read day two of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference next week.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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