Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer delivered a trademark upbeat speech to partners at the company's partner conference.
"We're growing faster than anybody else and together we can really grow our businesses in important ways," Ballmer told an audience of about 5,500 partners from around the world on the final day of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference.
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Microsoft sells most of its products through partners. The company's recently revamped Microsoft Partner Programme has about 800,000 members worldwide.
Microsoft perceived two "unique opportunities" - converting Novell users and IBM's Lotus Notes users, Ballmer said.
"Those two installed bases are ripe for a little winning time for our partner base," Ballmer said. "Let's go out and really get after that Novell base and help them come into the modern world."
Ballmer also said that he has seen more interest in a Lotus Notes-to-Exchange migration than in the past five years.
Microsoft is putting its money where its mouth is and announced a $200m (£108m) increase in its investment in partners to $1.7bn this financial year compared with last year. It has also earmarked more money for co-marketing campaigns with partners.
The extra financial resources will be used so that Microsoft can better support its partners, Ballmer said. Its plans include putting additional technology specialists in the field who can help partners with things such as joint demonstrations to potential customers.
All Microsoft partners will benefit from the budget boost, though a slightly larger portion of the money will benefit partners who sell Microsoft Business Solutions (ERP) products, said Don Nelson, general manager of partner sales and marketing at Microsoft.
In addition to increasing its partner budget, Microsoft has instructed its subsidiaries to reallocate 35% of their budgets for direct marketing to joint marketing with partners. This is a substantial change for some subsidiaries, especially in Europe, but not a big shift in other areas, Nelson said.
The company also announced a repackaging of its services offerings in an effort to better cater to systems integrators, resellers and independent software suppliers.
This comes in the form of two plans that are available to partners of all sizes over $8,000 and offer access to Microsoft experts and tools to help partners to develop on the Microsoft platform or implement and support Microsoft products.
Some partners expressed fears that Microsoft will compete with them in the services space, but Ballmer promised that the Microsoft services group exists only to help partners. "We are not in the services business," he said.
Aside from converting Novell and IBM Lotus Notes customers to the Microsoft platform, Microsoft also targeted upgrading existing customers as a significant market opportunity.
"There are 2.1 million [Windows] NT 4 Servers still left," said Paul Flessner, senior vice-president of the Server Platform Division at Microsoft. With support for NT 4.0 Server set to end this year, Microsoft anticipates a lot of demand for upgrades.
Many of the NT servers host the Exchange 5.5 mail server, which Microsoft also wants customers to upgrade. A migration also means implementation of Active Directory, which translates into more work for Microsoft partners, Flessner said.
The desktop is also a major upgrade target. Many still use older version of Windows on the desktop. Research from Gartner last year found that only 14% of people who attended its US symposium had upgraded to the three-year-old Windows XP. The poll, answered by 186 people, represented more than 1.7million PCs.
Microsoft is making $50m available to channel partners to persuade users to upgrade to Windows XP and Office 2003 from older versions of the software and it has added 57 desktop deployment experts worldwide, who will work with the software maker's partners on the upgrade persuasion effort.
The move is part of Microsoft's key sales strategy for 2005. Ballmer, in his annual strategy missive to Microsoft employees earlier this month, said that Microsoft must work to "change a number of customer perceptions, including the views that older versions of Office and Windows are good enough".
Visibility is important for many partners. The additional marketing spend will help customers to find them, but Microsoft also announced that the company web site will be changed to link to a partner search engine so that potential customers can find Gold Certified partners.
Also Microsoft will make an online marketing tool available later this year. It will allow partners to create and manage marketing campaigns using standard Microsoft ads on which the text can be customised and a partner company logo can be added.
Microsoft will make a low-cost training programme available for partner organisations. Up to 40 sales and marketing people can receive online "Microsoft Solutions Selling" training for a single $500 charge, the company said. A new channel builder tool will allow partners to find one another and share information.
For independent software suppliers, Microsoft announced several enhancements to its partner offerings. These include:
- a Royalty Programme to provide a simple way for independent software suppliers to embed Microsoft technology into their products
- a new independent software suppliers buddy program that links them with a Microsoft employee to improve technical support and access to resources throughout the development, sales and marketing process
- Windows Error Reporting for independent software suppliers, allowing independent software suppliers to use Microsoft's error reporting tools in Windows to collect information on user issues with their applications
- ISV Community on MSDN, a special part of the Microsoft Developer Network web site for independent software suppliers
- ISV Community Days, quarterly seminars in more than 25 countries at which Microsoft will deliver technology road maps.
Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service