Powers Unfiltered

An entrepreneur’s journey into grid computing and partnering with Microsoft, by John Powers

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Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference — Steve Ballmer’s Keynote

July 12th, 2006 · No Comments

(Composed Tuesday, 7/11/2006 at Microsoft WWPC)

I always enjoy Steve Ballmer’s presentations – he’s enthusiastic and loud, insightful and funny, and that works well with a big, supportive crowd.  He did well today, but I’ve seen him before, and I have to say he was not fully on his game today. 

He hit on the expected themes around all the new releases, and also did quite a good job going over the trends in the industry.  As a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, I was happy to hear him acknowledge in the first minute or two that partnering with Microsoft was a “bet the business” decision for us.  I was here, in part, to hear how Microsoft was addressing the big opportunities in the market today.  I liked what I heard, mostly.

I was not impressed, however, with how he addressed the delays in Vista and Office 2007.  There was no mention of dates (“around the turn of the year”), and no mention of the pain these delays have caused partners.  Steve made a lame joke about the releases being “a long time coming,” and then claimed “there will never be a gap between Windows releases as long as the gap between XP and Vista – count on it.” 

Count on it?  Really?  Why?  How?  When partners “counted on” Vista and Office being out already, and yet they’re not, what’s the answer?  A joke and oh well? This audience has long memories.  I’ve been working with Microsoft for more than 18 years, making choices to support Windows since version 2.0, and there are plenty in this room with longer histories still.  Delays matter, and the CEO needs to stand up and acknowledge them, and to be definitive about the release dates for these upcoming products.  There is still noise in the market about exactly when the products will be released, and he passed up a good chance to put that to rest.  Instead, it was all “rah rah” about the capabilities of these new offerings.  Enough – bring them out.

In addition to Vista and Office, he talked about new markets:  Business Intelligence, collaboration, search, unified communications, security, and Live.

He called Business Intelligence a “nascent” market for Microsoft, but hit on a number of products just released or coming in the next year that will make Microsoft a major player here; I agree, and we’re excited to be working with some of those teams.

His discussion of “People Ready Software” was well done.  Dan has posted about this here

Microsoft’s continuing increased emphasis on search was signaled by Ballmer’s choice of demonstrations.  He chose to carve out 10 minutes for a demo of SharePoint Search by Kirk Koenigsbauer, General Manager of Office Servers.  He was able to search a local machine (from the OS and from Outlook), and then search an enterprise via SharePoint 2007.  He showed a nice RSS feature built in, so you can subscribe to searches to be notified when new results appear.  The “search people” functionality was extremely interesting; the IDEA is that you enter a search term, and Sharepoint returns a list of people who have some knowledge or capability in that area, sorted by your “social distance” from that person.  There was no discussion of how the information about the “people” got populated, so exactly how SharePoint would learn that I’m a grid computing CEO / entrepreneur / father-of-three / Atlanta Braves fan who likes beer was not explained. 

Kirk’s demo of Windows Live Search, which goes to beta in July, showed a nice rich UI.  This looks to me like Microsoft’s latest attempt to be the UnGoogle – to present a rich UI (e.g., easily sorting of results) where Google is spare, and to integrate tightly with the desktop where Google remains desktop-neutral.  There was some very cool stuff here, but I was underwhelmed by Kirk’s presentation.  I will dig in deeper in the Microsoft area of the Expo today or tomorrow, because Kirk’s few minutes on stage were both dull and disjointed.  You could see Steve’s discomfort, trying to interject enthusiasm from time to time. 

Ballmer stressed this as a big partner opportunity – he wants to see zillions of SharePoint sales, right now, with Vista and Office 2007.  He announced 35 search partners who will be joining Microsoft to pursue what he claimed is a $13 billion opportunity.  I don’t doubt it.

He also carved out 10 minutes for Paul Duffy, Senior Product Manager of Real Time Collaboration, to show what Microsoft is doing in “Unified Communications.”  Paul started by handing a Windows Mobile phone to Steve.  Using a PocketPC, Paul sent an IM to “Kyle,” offstage, and received a reply.  It looked just like desktop IM.  He then switched to Exchange Server 2007 and Outlook 2007, showing unified email, fax, and phone messaging.  He showed that you can now phone, IM, or email a contact straight out of Outlook.  And then he replied to an email with an IM, and started a video session with “Mike,” and brought in “Kyle” into a three-way video conference, with “active speaker detection,” so only the person speaking appeared on screen. 

This session was pretty slick, until Steve got a bit carried away and decided to hold his part of the conversation with Paul entirely through the phone – which resulted in a one-second delay between what he was saying and when the AV system picked up the signal from the phone call, and you couldn’t understand half of what he was saying.  But it was an impressive demo, nevertheless.

Steve claimed that Live was “coming on strong,” with 20 new Windows Live services, 1,000 new users daily on Windows Live OneCare, and 100,000 Office Live subscribers.  How do partners play in the Live strategy?  Steve says there will be “services we host, and services you host.”  And there will be commission sales opportunities, and apdev opportunities, and so on.  He’s put together a partner advisory council around Live.  We’ll see how that works out.

He announced Dynamics CRM Live, calling this “perhaps the single most inevitable announcement in the history of Microsoft.”  He had Brad Wilson from the CRM team come out and do a demonstration of this offering, which is scheduled for Q2 2007 availability.  Just as Outlook can talk to Hotmail for email, now Outlook can talk to CRM Live for CRM.  Brad’s demo included some integration with other Live services, like a Windows Live local map, and further integration with RSS feeds of home prices.  This has some potential, but he was clear that his demo required significant customization and coding (he pitched this as a “partner opportunity”).  Brad also had some gadgets on the desktop that picked up key indicators from CRM Live – a simple idea, but nicely implemented and quite cool. 

Overall, Steve did well, but not great.  I was at the Microsoft WWPC in Minneapolis last year, and the energy during Steve’s keynote there was definitely higher than here.  Nevertheless, I look forward to a worthwhile event.


Tags: Events · Partnering with Microsoft · Presentations

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