Microsoft is making $50m available to channel partners to help get users to upgrade to Windows XP and Office 2003.
Microsoft has also added 57 new desktop deployment experts worldwide who will work with the software maker's partners on the upgrade persuasion effort, Mark Hassall, a group product manager at Microsoft said at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto.
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The upgrade campaign will be targeted mostly at enterprise customers and at midsized businesses. Most of the enterprises already own licences to use the latest versions of Windows and Office, the midsized companies do not, Hassall said.
The idea is that large organisations who bought Enterprise Agreement licenses will be more likely to resign such volume license agreements, which include upgrade rights, once they have the latest version of the software deployed, Hassall said. Also, Microsoft wants to sell more of its latest software to midsized businesses.
The move is part of Microsoft's key sales strategies for its 2005 financial year, which started 1 July. Chief executive officer Steve Ballmer in his annual strategy missive to Microsoft employees last week 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".
Many businesses continue to rely on older version of Windows on the desktop. Research firm Gartner in a poll of attendees at its US Symposium last October found that only 14% of attendees had upgraded to the three year-old Windows XP. The poll, answered by 186 people, represented more than 1.3 million desktops and 460,000 laptops.
The $50m upgrade fund will be available to Microsoft resellers to help customers solve issues they might have moving to the latest versions of Windows and Office. These issues could include application compatibility, issues with applying new images to desktop systems and general upgrade costs, Hassall said.
"We're funding services through our partners to help customers overcome their problems with desktop deployment," he said. "We're not going to fund the complete deployment cost, but we're going to help."
Hassall did not specify how the money would be distributed.
This is not the first time that Microsoft has pushed its partners to get customers to upgrade.
Last year, it released a tool called the Business Desktop Deployment Solution Accelerator to help quickly deploy Windows XP Professional and Office XP Professional or Office Professional Edition 2003.
The supplier is now redoubling the effort and adding new tools including a "zero touch" enterprise deployment tool which promises upgrades with minimal labor needed from IT staff.
Microsoft is adding two new subcompetencies to its Microsoft Partner Programme that focus on desktop deployment.
The Desktop Deployment Solution is targeted at midsized businesses as part of the Networking Infrastructure Solutions competency and Desktop Lifecycle Management is aimed at enterprises as part of the Advanced Infrastructure Solutions competency. Competencies define a partner's specialisation in the Microsoft Partner Programme.
The Business Desktop Deployment Solution Accelerator is a key part of both subcompetencies. The tools provides project management and technical guidance, project templates, and scripts to execute deployment projects. The enterprise edition of the deployment toolset is planned to be available by year's end.
Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service