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Microsoft makes a huge pitch to its partners, boasts of 'epic' year

Windows news made big headlines this week, but the most significant story had to do with downsizing.

It's never boring in Windows world, especially when there's long-awaited news about release dates and licensing. These topics and others got Redmond experts riled up this week.

"It's a huge opportunity for partners. Huuuuuuuuuuge."
-- Microsoft's ever-exuberant CEO, Steve Ballmer, talking about Windows 8 during the company's Worldwide Partner Conference. The operating system is a centerpiece of Microsoft's "epic" year, according to Ballmer. During the opening keynote session, Tami Reller, Windows chief financial officer and chief marketing officer, showed off a range of Windows 8-compatible hardware and announced a general availability date of October 2012 (it will release to manufacturing in August).

"They're trying to make an effort to simplify it so the average mortal can understand what's going on."
-- Chris Steffen, principal technical architect for Kroll Factual Data, who assessed Microsoft's elimination of the Enterprise edition of Windows Server 2012. The move was one of several licensing changes that reduced the total number of SKUs to four. Small Business Server and Home Server were among the SKUs that will no longer exist. Server 2012 will be available generally in September, Microsoft announced.

"Since I took this job two years ago, it is the No. 1 thing that you have been asking me for."
-- Jon Roskill, president of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, speaking to partners about the Office 365 Open program, which will allow them to bill customers directly and package Office 365 along with other services. The program, which already is available for other Microsoft products, is expected to boost overall sales of the cloud-based productivity suite, which has been slowly adopted by enterprises during its first year (Microsoft now is adding 1,000 cloud partners per month, Ballmer said). There are still some questions out there, however, such as when the Open program will begin.

"Siri, what's the best smartphone?"
-- Kevin Turner, Microsoft's chief operating officer, speaking to the iPhone personal assistant in a promotional video shown during the Worldwide Partner Conference. The answer (at least until Apple sent out an update): "Lumia 900 Windows Phone."

The video brought chuckles, but Siri and Apple might have the last laugh if Microsoft can't give consumers a reason to switch from iPhone or Android to Windows Phone. Company officials touted the forthcoming Windows Phone 8's "enterprise-ready" features to much applause this week (Windows Phone marketing vice president Thom Gruhler said that 81% of CIOs think it's a great business phone). As Colin Steele writes on, however, consumers will dictate Microsoft's mobile success, not IT.

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It is nice to see Apple caught with their pants down once in a while.