Microsoft to pitch security as 'competitive advantage'

Microsoft will pitch security as a "competitive advantage" at its worldwide partner conference in Toronto next week, but it may...

Microsoft will pitch security as a "competitive advantage" at its worldwide partner conference in Toronto next week, but it may be a tough sell to attendees who are still waiting for the software maker to deliver on some of last year's security-related promises.

Microsoft's second annual Worldwide Partner Conference is focused on helping its partners to sell more Microsoft products.

Attendees at last year's event welcomed Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer addressed head-on some of the security challenges the software maker faces and outlined steps it said it would take to address them.

However, Microsoft has yet to deliver on most of the promises Ballmer made. For example, customers are still waiting for a single patching experience and an update to the Software Update Services (SUS) patch management tool, both of which Ballmer said would be out in the first half of 2004, and both of which have been delayed.

Additionally, Ballmer promoted the security enhancements in Service Pack 2 for Windows XP. That update was scheduled to be released in the first half of the year but has also been delayed and is now expected some time in the third quarter.

As a result, many of Microsoft's partners will come to Toronto with the same concerns about security that they had last year, said Paul DeGroot, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. The concerns may have even grown because of the recent attacks on Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser, he said.

"There have been enough fires between now and last year's Worldwide Partner Conference; security is still going to be a preoccupation for partners," DeGroot said. "The things that Ballmer promised progress on haven't been achieved."

IDC research director Marilyn Carr agreed. "You can expect to hear the same issues tabled this year, as they have not gone away," she said.

Partners, just like end-users, want Microsoft to make it less of a headache to keep up with security patches, she said.

Microsoft has planned 10 sessions in a special security breakout track at the event. The introduction to the track on Microsoft's website makes it seem as though the supplier believed its security challenges are a thing of the past.

"Clearly security has become a competitive advantage as we engage with our mutual customers," it said.

Ballmer is set to address the partner audience on the final day of the conference. He will be joined on stage by Mike Nash, head of Microsoft's Security Business and Technology Unit.

Partners come to the event looking for guidance on Microsoft's strategy and for information that will make it easier for them to sell their products. It includes keynote speeches, breakout sessions and hands-on labs, as well as an extensive opportunity to network with other partners and Microsoft experts.

Over 5,000 paid attendees have registered this year, about 20 percent more than last year, according to Microsoft. Tracks that include some of the sessions include sales and marketing, business leadership, application platform opportunities and vertical markets.

Aside from security, another challenge for Microsoft is persuading users to upgrade to the latest versions of its software. Microsoft sells most of its software through its partners, so it is important for it to give them the right training. Sessions have been planned on moving customers from Windows NT 4.0 and Exchange 5.5 to newer editions of those products.

On the desktop, Microsoft has made it a priority to sell more copies of Office 2003 and Windows XP. At the event it will discuss its latest "desktop deployment initiative" and a tool called the "solution accelerator for business desktop deployment" to make it easier for partners to deliver systems with those products.

This year's partner conference will be the second event to combine Microsoft's "traditional" partners with those that it inherited when it bought Great Plains and Navision, applications suppliers that are now part of Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS). 

Microsoft has also been consolidating its various partner programmes into a single, global Microsoft Partner Programme, announced in October. The programme went into effect in January and will be implemented in phases through 2005. MBS partners started to join this month, and the transition has not gone completely smoothly.

"Microsoft is at a very transitional stage," Directions on Microsoft's DeGroot said of the supplier's partner organisation.

"I expect them to announce a few additional services for partners at the conference, but I think they are in a situation where they probably don't want to significantly tweak the partner programme."

Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference starts on 10 July.

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service

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