Microsofts Pregnant Pause

Opinion: The software-plus-services model can spell opportunity for the channel, but it also brings with it considerable risk.

For as long as anybody can remember, Microsoft has always been pregnant in one form or another in the sense that there is always some great new product launch just over the horizon that spells great opportunity for the channel.

But as we consider the news out of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Denver the week of July 9, the anxious period of gestation that Microsoft is now asking the channel community to endure now comes in two forms. The first iteration is the traditional major product rollout schedule, with Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008 all now scheduled for rollout on Feb. 27, 2008. Of equal importance to the channel community is the fact that it looks like the first major service pack of Vista is not going to arrive before the end of the year, creating a "big bang" effect in the first quarter of 2008 because most corporate customers are avoiding Vista pending the release of the first service pack.

Although Microsoft partners have a lot of products to sell today, Vista, Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server represent the big product troika in terms of opportunities for solution providers, which means the fact that they are six months or more from being ready for prime time may only serve to further entice customers to sitting pat with their existing investments rather than upgrading.

Microsoft partners have come to expect long product roll cycles given the history of Microsoft, but the second cause for pause in the Microsoft channel community is the evolution of SAAS (software as a service) as a business model that is now being embraced by Microsoft under the heading of "software plus services."

In a speech that seemed intended to assuage as much as rally, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer used his keynote presentation at the conference to differentiate Microsofts approach to software services from competitors while also promising partners that they would play a strategic role in the creation and delivery of those services.

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