HOUSTON – Partners at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference have been lining up for over two hours this week to buy deeply discounted Surface tablets; most will have to wait much longer to actually sell them.
Ten key U.S. large account resellers got a head start last week with the launch of an authorized commercial reseller program for Surface. That program is U.S.-only, and shuts out the vast majority of Microsoft partners, even in the U.S. It’s a point of friction that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer didn’t address in his WPC keynote; he sang the praises of the Microsoft-produced tablet and encouraged partners to try it out, but didn’t address the elephant in the Toyota Center.
“You can buy beautiful Windows 8 devices today in so many different shapes and forms,” said Ballmer. “We’re trying to really lead the way with products such as Surface Pro and the use of the pen, which I think is fundamental in mobility.”
The only Surface-related channel distribution news came during the keynote of Tami Reller, Microsoft’s CMO and CFO for Windows, with the announcement that the commercial distribution program announced for the U.S. would be coming to 28 other countries, including Canada, by September.
“Surface is hands-down more productive than an iPad for businesses, because it can quickly go from tablet to notebook,” said Reller. “With Windows 8.1 it will get even better, with Outlook built into Surface RT, and with manegability and serviceability made that much better.”
Reller also announced TouchWin, an incentive program to encourage partners to sell Windows 8 touch-enabled devices. Selling a Surface Pro will net partners a $10 bonus – if they’re one of the authorized few. The program isn’t Surface-specific though; touch-enabled OEM tablets and notebooks running Windows 8 will also qualify.
What is being termed as a “pilot program” for bringing Surface to the channel will come to Canada by September said Jason Brommet, director of partner business and development with Microsoft Canada, in an interview with CDN. Who the first authorized partners will be to bring Surface tablets to the Canadian channel is still being determined.
“We will identify the best partners for Canada,” said Brommet. “It’s designed to allow us to tune and learn what the channel model should be and make sure we have it right before we roll it out (more widely).”
Microsoft said it has been taking a deliberately phased and tentative approach because, while it certainly knows how to sell through the channel, selling hardware is new. It wants to make sure it has the right margins, incentives and rebates, and identifies the right partner profiles. It will be looking for partners with experience selling device, and also with expertise around value-added services such as lifecycle management, application deployment and image management.
Julie Bennani, general manager for partner programs at Microsoft, told CDN that Microsoft wants to make sure it gets the channel play right for Surface, and that’s why it’s taking its time with the channel roll-out.
“With Windows 8, you can configure any user experience you want, and in the enterprise play (Surface) rounds-out or mobility story,” said Bennani. “We’re driving a consistent user experience across platforms and that makes it easier for people to access their information and learn and interact with Windows.”