Microsoft promises partners a 'feeding frenzy' on new software next February

Updates of Windows Server, SQL Server and Visual Studio to be launched together

Microsoft Corp. officials said Tuesday that the software vendor plans to release updated versions of Windows Server, SQL Server and Visual Studio at the same time early next year.

Kevin Turner, Microsoft's chief operating officer, said during a keynote speech at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference 2007 in Denver that Windows Server 2008 -- formerly code-named Longhorn Server -- will be launched worldwide next Feb. 27 along with SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008.

The main launch event will be held in Los Angeles, according to Turner, who called the trio of products the "big dogs" of Microsoft's enterprise software portfolio. He told a packed hall of Microsoft business partners at the Denver Convention Center that the group rollout will produce "a feeding frenzy of opportunity, creating hundreds of billions of dollars in the [Windows] ecosystem."

The early 2008 launch plan may seem somewhat of a long way off for customers who were expecting Windows Server 2008 to be available before the end of this year -- the shipment plan that Microsoft had previously disclosed. Company officials said that the late 2007 release schedule isn't being changed, although the formal product launch won't occur until next year.

At the partner conference, which is expected to attract more than 10,000 resellers, systems integrators and developers, Microsoft today also launched a hosted version of its Dynamics CRM software for customer relationship management applications.

In addition, Turner said that Microsoft is making fundamental improvements to its partner program in an effort to help its 600,000 business partners worldwide make more money, even as it moves "full steam ahead" toward a software-as-a-service strategy via offerings such as the new Live CRM product.

For instance, Microsoft in September will roll out an online dashboard that lets partners measure themselves against similar companies on sales, profitability and other performance indicators, Turner said.

He added that Microsoft's field sales representatives who support partners are now being compensated based on new metrics that emphasize partner satisfaction just behind overall customer satisfaction. In addition to those metrics, the software vendor during its current fiscal year is emphasizing, in decreasing order of importance, Windows Server license growth, sales of enterprise search software and the addition of voice over IP capabilities by users via Office Communication Server.

Turner also promised that Microsoft will continue to increase its $7 billion annual investment on software research and development, and that it will make available a "clear software road map." And he vowed that the software vendor won't turn away from its partner-oriented business model.

"We are committed to winning with partners," Turner said. "That's the way the company was built, and that is the way the company will continue to run."

But, he noted, partners do need to be willing to adapt, especially to the software-as-a-service model, in order to remain well-fed by Microsoft users. "Look, this is gonna happen," he said. "Customers are going to want choice. We all have to build that door and then walk through it."

As an example, Turner touted Microsoft's Office Live offerings, which he said are being used by more than 400,000 small businesses, as a growing opportunity for partners. "I fully believe that in two to three years, Office Live will be one of the top three or four deployed products by Microsoft," he said.

Turner credited business partners for helping Microsoft's Exchange e-mail server to attract more than 2.5 million e-mail users that were formerly on IBM's Lotus Notes software. Over the past two years, Microsoft has released a series of tools for migrating from Lotus applications to Exchange. Turner said the company's goal this year "is to get 4 million Notes seats."

On complaints that Windows Vista was proving unattractive to end users because of device incompatibilities, Turner said that there are now more than 10,000 devices that have been certified as either Vista-ready or Vista-capable.

Alluding to recent hardware problems with Microsoft's Xbox 360 game consoles that will result in a $1 billion-plus charge against earnings, as well as to slower-than-expected sales of Windows Live and Office Live, Turner said that while the company has "worked hard to grow market share in the last couple of years, we are now working hard on profitability."

Elizabeth Montalbano of the IDG News Service contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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