As Microsoft Corp. gets more serious about three relatively new businesses -- search, unified communications and security -- the software vendor is encouraging its partners to come along for the ride.
“Partners will have choices who to work with -- us or their traditional partners," said Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive officer. "Some choices will be less comfortable than others." He gave the opening keynote address at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston, which runs Tuesday through Thursday.
This year, Microsoft is entering both the search and security markets in "full force," according to Ballmer. The vendor is also intensifying its attentions on business intelligence (BI) by building BI capabilities into its SQL Server database and Excel spreadsheet. "BI's nascent for us," he added.
Microsoft is in the midst of three waves of major product launches, Ballmer said.
The first wave aimed at developers took place in November as the company rolled out new versions of its Visual Studio development tools, .Net and SQL Server. The second wave is set to take place at the end of this year and run into 2007 as Microsoft unveils its Windows Vista client operating system and its Office 2007 desktop application suite.
Ballmer didn't comment on the exact launch date for the consumer versions of Vista and Office 2007, which have slipped several times already, with the products now expected out in early 2007. He did, however, make an admission and a promise. "Vista has been a long time in the making," he said. "You can rest assured we'll never have the kind of gap between XP and Vista again. You can count on it."
Microsoft debuted Windows XP, the previous version of its client operating system, in October 2001.
The third wave of new products focused on enterprise users is set for the third quarter of 2007, Ballmer said, when Microsoft plans the next major release of the Windows Server operating system, code-named Longhorn, along with other infrastructure software.
Ballmer highlighted a number of new announcements from Microsoft in his keynote, notably the unveiling of Dynamics CRM Live, a hosted version of the company's CRM (customer relationship management) software. "This is the single most inevitable announcement in the history of Microsoft," he said.
Microsoft used an early version of CRM Live to demonstrate a mashup of technologies for a fictitious property seller. The demonstration combines data from CRM Live with local maps and overlays to show the status of individual property lots, which had been sold and which were yet to be purchased.
Ballmer and other Microsoft executives also showed off Windows Live Search Center, a future service that will combine desktop and online search results, and some of the capabilities of the upcoming Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007, which will facilitate multiperson audio and video conferencing and call management.
As Microsoft moves to offer more hosted Live software, there will be plenty of opportunities for its partners, according to Ballmer. He announced the formation of a Live Partner Advisory Council to educate partners on Live. He laid out some of the areas where partners can be involved in Live in terms of subscription revenue sharing, receiving payment from Microsoft for referring customers to Live and the ability to resell and customize Live services.
This story has been corrected.