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Microsoft Opens Third-Party Surface Tablet Distribution

Microsoft announced today that group of high-volume U.S. resellers are authorized to sell its Surface devices under a new program.

Under the two-tier Microsoft Devices Program (MDP), three distributors will supply 10 resellers who can then sell the productivity-focused tablets to commercial, public sector and education customers. Previously, Microsoft sold the Surface only through its online Microsoft Store, its retail stores and through some retail chains, such as Best Buy.

The distributors are Ingram Micro Inc., Synnex Corp. and Tech Data Corp. The 10 authorized partners are CDW, CompuCom Systems, En Pointe Technologies, Insight Enterprises Inc., PC Connection Inc., PCM Inc., Softchoice, Softmart, SHI International Corp. and Zones Inc.

To date, the Microsoft Surface hasn't had a huge impact on the tablet market. Following Microsoft practice since the Surface launch, Jenni Flinders, vice president of the Microsoft U.S. Partner Group, on a conference call with media and analysts on Monday, declined to specify Surface sales. Analysts at IDC reported that Surface sales accounted for 900,000 of the 49.2 million tablets sold in the first quarter of 2013.

Not all observers are optimistic that a channel push will accelerate demand for Surface. Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said serious obstacles include the overall lack of apps in critical vertical markets, the short battery life of the Surface Pro and the generally non-corporate-friendliness of the Surface RT, illustrated by its Office 2013 Home & Student license, its lack of support for corporate re-imaging and its inability to be joined to a domain.

"It will be easier for corporations to buy these devices in bulk. There's no question that will help corporations," Cherry said. "The bottom line for me is -- OK, they put the Surface Pro into the channel; that's just another machine. They put the Surface RT in the channel; if I were a big corporation, I'm not sure why I would buy RT devices."

Bob Bogle, senior vice president of sales at En Pointe, generally agreed that the Surface Pro was similar to a PC, but he puts the Pro in "a very small class" of very portable, fully functional PCs. "I would say the Surface Pro is in line with the Lenovo Helix and the Lenovo Yoga," he said.

He also added the caveat that for licensing, some of the challenges involved with corporate use of the Surface RT are overcome by the customers' existing Enterprise Agreements (EAs).

"Microsoft has done a good job of penetrating the market with EAs. There are some areas where [customers] are not necessarily penalized for having an extra device. I'm not as concerned in the enterprise space," he said. "There may be a hidden cost for a lower mid-market customer [with fewer than 250 employees] where there's not an EA in play."

In a blog post announcing Surface in the channel, Cyril Belikoff, director of Surface marketing, detailed some of the services the MDP partners will deliver. "In addition to offering Microsoft's extended warranty and accidental damage, resellers bring a variety of additional value-added services to the Surface family, such as asset tagging, custom imaging, kitting, onsite service and support, device recycling and data protection," Belikoff wrote.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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