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Ballmer Asks Partners to Bet on Microsoft in Security, Search, Unified Communications

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer used his Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference keynote to give partners a choice.

In his speech Tuesday morning to kick off the four-day conference in Boston, Ballmer repeatedly used the term "coopetition" to express the idea that Microsoft would be competing hard with some of the company's major partners in areas that Microsoft identifies as big opportunities.

"Search and portal, unified communications and security" are the areas where partners will have to choose Microsoft or competitors, Ballmer said. "Those three businesses we want to build together."

Calling his talk "The Winning Choice," Ballmer asked partners to support Microsoft's effort, place a bet with Microsoft and get trained on Microsoft technologies.

Ballmer acknowledged it wouldn't be comfortable for partners to choose. Without naming competitors in security, such as Symantec or McAfee, or the other fields, Ballmer asked, "Will you choose to work with us or your traditional partners?"

On security, Microsoft promised a full-court press as Microsoft introduces stand-alone security products for the first time. In the past, Ballmer noted, Microsoft's security efforts focused on hardening the core products. "Really this year, we will enter the security market in full force," Ballmer said.

Microsoft has pushed unified communications hard in recent weeks, with a strategy day in late June. Some core capabilities of unified communications will be coming in Exchange Server 2007, including the ability to access an Exchange server via telephone and to receive voice mails and faxes in a single inbox. Microsoft will also be delivering other elements of unified communications technologies in Office Communications Server 2007, the Office Communicator 2007 client, Office Live Meeting and Office RoundTable, a collaboration device with a 360-degree camera.

In the area of search, portals, workflow, content management and collaboration, Ballmer also asked for partners to commit to Microsoft's approach rather than the alternatives. The company made major investments in Office SharePoint Server 2007, and Ballmer also announced a new product that enters beta in July – Windows Live Search Center.

During his keynote on Tuesday Ballmer laid out a roadmap for Microsoft's Dynamics CRM line of products including a new software-as-a-service offering called Microsoft Dynamics CRM Live. "This is the single most inevitable announcement in the history of Microsoft," Ballmer joked. The upcoming service will be operated and managed by Microsoft from within its Windows Live data centers. Ballmer claimed it will offer partners another way to address CRM requirements of their users.

The company will use the same code base as the on-premise and partner-hosted versions of Microsoft CRM. Ballmer claimed CRM Live opens up more options for partners and users. The CRM Live service will be integrated with Microsoft’s Windows Live and Office services.

According to Ballmer, CRM Live will help partners more easily create and deploy pre-packaged solutions. The product will share the same meta-driven configuration tools now used in all versions of Microsoft CRM, allowing partners to develop pre-packaged applications once and deploy them across three different deployment options.

Microsoft will debut the product in North America sometime during the second quarter 2007, and it will be offered as a range of different services on a monthly subscription basis. There will be no limit to the number of users the system can support. The company will initially target the product at small businesses.

Also announced during the keynote was the formal launch of Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2. New features in the product include the “Green Check” of software health that helps partners and users protect mission critical data, and to keep networks, PCs and servers up to date.

The product will be available in August. The Standard Edition of the product will carry an estimated retail price of $599 and the Premium Edition will cost $1,299. The product Windows will also be available pre-installed later this summer through hardware makers including Dell Inc., Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Gateway Inc., HP and IBM.

Microsoft also announced changes to its licensing program to offer partners who sell Office 2007 suites designed to give OEMs and systems builders more flexibility in selling the product. For the first time, distributors can pre-install the application suite and sell Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, versions previously only sold at retail.

The company also made changes that allow system builders to sell Office by enabling them to offer users a 60-day trial version of the product on a new PC and allowing them to sell the Office license after the PC purchase.

The company also strengthened its partner program adding a new specialization called the Windows Desktop Deployment Specialization. According to company officials with the upcoming release of Windows Vista, this specialization is designed to help partners work more “systematically” with users wanting to deploy the operating system.

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