Microsoft always plays long games, and the Microsoft Surface is no exception. But a recent analyst's credible downgrade of Microsoft Surface RT sales for the fourth quarter suggests the long game is getting even longer.
I argued recently that with the pricing of the original Microsoft Surface, Microsoft wasn't aiming for a blockbuster success. Instead it just probably wanted to stay in the consumer conversation and keep a place in line for the Microsoft Surface Pro, which is Microsoft's best chance for beating Apple back from the enterprise. (The full column, along with a lively thread, in which readers alternately make good points and/or tell me I'm completely wrong, is available here.)
The analyst is Brent Thill at UBS AG and he cut his estimate from 2 million units to 1 million units for the quarter ending in December. Yes, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said Microsoft expected to sell a "few million" Surfaces in its first year. But selling 1 million in the quarter when it launched, during the holiday season, in conjunction with a huge ad campaign? I find it hard to believe that kind of number was even on the low end of anybody's "slow but steady" sales projection PowerPoint slide in Redmond.
Because the numbers appear to be disappointing, don't expect any word at all from Microsoft. When a product performs poorly, Microsoft has a big enough balance sheet to bury it and hide the details from investors. Next week's earnings call is almost sure to be devoid of numbers for Surface sales.
Nonetheless, Microsoft is used to disappointingly slow starts for its long games lately. Look at Bing vs. Google or Windows Phone vs. iPhone/Android. If those two are any guide, expect Microsoft to do what it's been doing -- keep diligently plugging away. The company took the time (probably too much) to set a coherent mobile strategy behind the current product mix, and it has little choice now but to press on.
Next up, the Surface Pro. Panos Panay, the general manager for Microsoft Surface, Tweeted this week, "On my way to the factory to check out #Surface Pro coming off the line...arriving in the coming weeks." In his report, meanwhile, Thill wrote, "Surface Pro is the more promising" model.
Be that as it may, given Microsoft's recent track record, expect a slow start for Surface Pro.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 16, 2013 at 11:58 AM9 comments
Kaseya began shipping a major update of its core management framework this week for managed service providers and corporate IT departments.
The Kaseya 6.3 Framework and several new and updated modules make hundreds of improvements across the IT automation platform. Some of the most noteworthy enhancements are:
- Version parity. Kaseya now boasts parity between the on-premise version and the Software-as-a-Service version.
- Improved discovery. A new Kaseya Discovery module is designed to cut the time needed to bring a new network under Kaseya's management. A consolidated network discovery process uses multiple scanning methods, including ping, NMAP and domain scans, to quickly collect data on available devices.
- Endpoint OS support. The Framework adds support for Windows 8, Windows Server 2012, Apple OS X Mountain Lion and Apple iOS 6.
- Best practices. Kaseya built in hundreds of pre-defined views, maintenance routines and policies to help users get the most out of the toolset based on previous users' and Kaseya's experience.
- Scalability increase. Each server can now manage up to 25,000 devices.
- Automated policy management and more customizable reporting.
More information on the release is available here.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 16, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments
As he embarks on his post-Microsoft career, the executive force behind Windows 8 and the Microsoft Surface took 15 hours to cruise the Consumer Electronics Show floor in Vegas.
Upon his return from CES this week, Steven Sinofsky wrote up his observations in a massive blog post called "Learning by Sharing: Snark-free CES observations." The whole thing is worth reading for observations on mobile computing, design trends, product quality and other topics from an ultimate tech industry mover and shaker.
But a portion of the blog that's especially interesting from the former president of Windows for Microsoft is Sinofsky's take on the PC hardware on display at CES. Sinofsky is largely responsible for the Microsoft Surface, a piece of technology that angered many of the PC OEMs that are traditionally Microsoft's closest partners. Opinions vary on whether Microsoft was trying to crowd OEMs out or inspire them with better designs, but neither approach was very encouraging for Microsoft's longtime hardware partners.
Sinofsky had enthusiastic words for the new Windows 8 PCs on display, including the categories of devices most similar to the Surface.
"There were a number of hybrid PCs (tablet with removeable/hideable/flippable keyboards) that are becoming clearer and more refined -- I especially liked the Samsung and Lenovo entries," Sinofsky wrote.
He noted that Dell, HP and Microsoft didn't have their own booths, but pointed out that there were plenty of PCs designed for Windows 8.
"Samsung, LG, Toshiba, Sony, Panasonic, Lenovo all had very nice PCs with hiqh-quality touch, nice trackpads, great screens, thin, light, and in a variety of screen sizes 11-15," he wrote. "The All-In-One PCs with touch were quite nice as well, especially Sony and Samsung's models. The Vizio lineup continues to evolve and show unique designs and good value."
He called out a Razer Core i7 gaming tablet for having "some awesome gaming attachments" and described being blown away by a Panasonic 20-inch tablet. "Seeing the quality of AutoCAD drawings showed a real value to the full 'stack' of hardware and software," Sinofsky said of the Panasonic.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 15, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments
Continuum is opening up its network operations center to provide custom projects on behalf of its MSPs.
The Boston-based company announced the program, called Continuum Tech Advantage, this week as an addition to its SaaS-based managed services platform that currently serves 3,300 MSPs and around 500,000 endpoints. In short, Continuum MSPs can now take advantage of the expertise of 200 of Continuum's certified engineers and technicians who will offer a menu of about 80 server and desktop projects.
Examples of projects Continuum's NOC staff can carry out for customers on behalf of an MSP include Active Directory setup; installation and configuration of VMware vCenter, ESX and ESXi; Exchange Server migrations; and installation and configuration of Citrix XenApp.
In a statement, Rob Autor, senior vice president of global service delivery at Continuum, said the 24x7 service will be expanded in the coming months to cover more types of low-cost, high-value projects.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 15, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments
Juniper Networks used its partner conference in Las Vegas this week to make two big, public bets. One is to realign the company's products around Software Defined Networks (SDN). The other is to go deeper with the channel.
"SDN is a major shift in the networking industry. At Juniper, we think the impact of SDN will be much broader than others have suggested. It will redefine networking and create new winners and losers," Bob Muglia, executive vice president of the Software Solutions Division at Juniper, said in a statement. Muglia, who like many on Juniper's executive management team was a longtime Microsoft executive, also detailed Juniper's vision for SDN in a whitepaper-like blog post this week.
In concrete terms, Juniper plans to take several steps through 2013 to realign its products around SDN. Much of it involves the separation of networking software into new layers and realigning management software and hardware to centralize network control. Significantly, Juniper also introduced a software licensing model, called Juniper Software Advantage, which will allow for Juniper's networking software to be virtualized and moved back and forth between networking devices and x86 servers. Juniper says the program will also allow customers to calibrate their purchases to actual usage for flexibility and cost savings.
On the partner side, Juniper is doubling down on the major investments the company made a year ago to beef up its channel presence. Last January, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based networking company launched Juniper Partner Advantage, which included partner segmentation, financial incentives, sales resources and marketing investments.
Juniper is expanding Partner Advantage throughout 2013 with the addition of services and cloud solutions, which the company describes as "incremental" opportunities for its 12,000 partners.
Partner Advantage Services has two specializations, Partner Support Services and Partner Professional Services. The support piece focuses on support and maintenance services and will be enhanced later in the year with troubleshooting workshops in four areas -- service provider routing, enterprise routing, enterprise switching and security. On the professional services side, Juniper will be sharing internally developed best practices with partners to help them gain expertise and establish authority. In a statement describing the professional services specialization, the company said, "Juniper Networks is building a deliberate dependence on its partners to deliver these services while helping generate more revenue per engagement and grow profit for partners."
Partner Advantage Cloud covers a newer area and is less prescriptive. According to Juniper, partners in cloud solutions will be developing unique cloud-based solutions to meet customers' needs, supported by Juniper's internal resources along with technology partnerships and marketing development funds from a new Juniper Cloud Innovation Fund.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 15, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments
If you're looking for a quick visual tour of some of the Windows 8 hardware options for yourself or your customers, Microsoft put a nice one online this month.
Microsoft's U.S. OEM chief Peter Han leads the five-minute walkthrough in a showroom on the Microsoft corporate campus. He runs through some of the best features of some convertibles, tablets and all-in-ones. Models include the Sony VAIO Duo 11, Dell XPS 13, Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13, Toshiba Satellite U945, ASUS VivoBook, ASUS VivoTab RT and HP TouchSmart.
Plus, it's not every day you get to see a convertible shown off on a table with a grass surface.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 14, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments
Eric Ligman, who has been a main social media face of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group for the past three years, is heading back to his former home in Microsoft's U.S. partner organization and a less public role.
Ligman blogged last week that his role as the lead for the Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners (SMS&P) Customer and Partner Experience is ending. He is now the Microsoft Sales Excellence Program Manager for U.S. SMS&P.
In his post, Ligman also makes clear that whoever replaces him won't be communicating directly with partners -- the role of the CPE lead is changing and also moving from the Worldwide Partner Group to Worldwide SMS&P. If you're interested in more of the inside baseball details, check out Ligman's lengthy post.
Eric's done a lot in his WPG role to keep Microsoft partners up to speed on a lot of initiatives, and he's gone out of his way many times to highlight opportunities and to clarify confusing elements of Microsoft policies that were causing pain to partners.
As a journalist covering Microsoft for partners, I'll miss what Eric was doing. I think Microsoft is making a mistake if the move signifies that it's downplaying the importance of having a public figure who can address some problems and offer an official context on other issues in an informal framework. Other WPG executives could pick up that function on their blogs; we'll see over the next few months if they choose to do that.
Nonetheless, knowing how energetic and communicative Eric is, I'm confident we'll be hearing more from him in the future. Let's hope so.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 14, 2013 at 11:58 AM2 comments
The rate of growth in the Windows Store tailed off substantially from December to January, compared to the previous month.
The dropoff isn't surprising, given the holiday season in the United States and the fact that it's hard to maintain triple-digit growth rates as the underlying numbers get bigger. Still, at just under 25,000 apps, Microsoft is so far behind the relevant app stores -- Apple and Google -- that it needs the explosive growth to continue if it's going to be a factor in the app world.
RCP first counted the apps in the Windows Store on Nov. 7 and found 7,096 apps. A month later on Dec. 9, the raw number of apps was up to 18,125 for a 155 percent growth rate. Another count on Jan. 9 found 24,629 apps for a 36 percent month-over-month increase.
Things look slightly better, but only slightly, when comparing raw numbers. In the November-to-December period, the store gained 11,029 apps. In the December-to-January period, the store picked up 6,504 apps.
Overall, Microsoft's Windows Store has grown nearly 250 percent over the two months, which roughly correspond to the availability of Windows 8 and Windows RT, which became generally available on Oct. 26.
Windows Store App Growth by Category:
|CATEGORY ||DEC. 9 |
(# OF APPS)
|JAN. 9 |
(# OF APPS)
|Books & Reference ||1655 ||2676 ||62 |
|Sports ||483 ||757 ||57 |
|Finance ||213 ||316 ||48 |
|Games ||2438 ||3610 ||48 |
|Government ||65 ||94 ||45 |
|Music & Video ||588 ||846 ||44 |
|Travel ||658 ||928 ||41 |
|Business ||428 ||580 ||36 |
|Photo ||377 ||501 ||33 |
|Entertainment ||2465 ||3255 ||32 |
|Lifestyle ||762 ||999 ||31 |
|Education ||2551 ||3311 ||30 |
|Tools ||1708 ||2174 ||27 |
|Productivity ||841 ||1067 ||27 |
|Health & Fitness ||568 ||711 ||25 |
|Food & Dining ||523 ||654 ||25 |
|Shopping ||128 ||158 ||23 |
|Social ||379 ||467 ||23 |
|News & Weather ||1159 ||1375 ||19 |
|Security ||136 ||150 ||10 |
|Total ||18125 ||24629 ||36 |
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 10, 2013 at 11:58 AM7 comments
Lenovo is making a strong case that it's Microsoft's most committed OEM partner on Windows 8.
Anecdotally, the company's been the heaviest advertiser, in U.S. markets at least, for convertibles that take full advantage of the Windows 8 OS. On the shows I watch and sites I visit, IdeaPad Yoga ad saturation has been very high.
What's more important, though, is that the company has a diverse and compelling line of convertible PCs that really run with the idea that a Windows 8 PC can be your tablet and your PC -- more expensive than one or the other device but fully capable of doing everything either could do.
Nor is Lenovo sitting on the laurels of the Yoga and the ThinkPad Twist, two of the most interesting Windows 8 designs so far. At CES this week, Lenovo introduced another laptop/tablet hybrid that takes some of the ideas of those earlier models and moves them even further along.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix has a new design that Lenovo is calling "rip and flip." Like some other convertibles, i.e., the Microsoft Surface and some Dell, Acer and ASUS models, the screen separates from the keyboard to be a tablet. Lenovo's innovation hinges on, well, the hinge.
|The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix |
Like some other Windows 8 convertibles, the hinge is built into the keyboard, but on the Helix, it's much more pronounced. It makes for a less aesthetically pleasing keyboard when the Helix base is sitting around tablet-less, but the flexibility far outweighs the disadvantages.
The hinge allows the tablet to be removed, spun 180 degrees and reconnected -- enabling both tablet-style usage with the keyboard attached and "Stand" usage, similar to the Yoga and Twist, in which movies or presentations can be viewed while the screen is upright. As a tester of the Yoga, I found the Stand mode incredibly useful. The benefit of the new Helix design is that it would avoid some of the keyboard damage that might occur in Stand mode on the Yoga. With the Yoga's 360-degree hinge, the Stand mode puts the keys face-down, potentially leading to wear and tear. The Helix rests on the keyboard base.
The only other real problem I had with the Yoga was that the tablet mode was heavy. Because the Helix tablet can come free of the keyboard, that issue is also resolved in the Helix.
Lenovo has also separated the batteries on this Ultrabook PC. The tablet portion of the Helix has its own six-hour battery. But the keyboard also boasts a battery that can recharge the tablet battery or combine with it to provide 10-hour battery life, according to Lenovo.
With a 4G option, Near Field Communications capabilities and a pen built in to the tablet, Lenovo's Helix means it's also well positioned for when future apps start taking advantage of those technologies. Availability is expected in late February with a starting price of $1,499.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 09, 2013 at 11:58 AM4 comments
Arlin Sorensen is getting out of the IT services and managed services provider business, for the most part, but he will remain a major force in the channel through his peer-to-peer and consulting projects.
Sorensen last week sold Heartland Technology Solutions, the company he started in 1985 on his family farm in Iowa, to another firm in Iowa -- WesTel Systems, a Remsen-based telecom and computer services company. The deal, for an undisclosed amount, moves 57 HTS employees, almost all of them, into WesTel. The rest, including Sorensen and a handful of key executives, will mostly serve in advisory roles for about a year while focusing on the other companies in the Heartland group.
|Arlin Sorensen |
Despite Sorensen's many contacts in tech through his advocacy of the P2P model, Sorensen said in an interview that this home-state deal actually involved people he hadn't met. WesTel was looking to diversify its business, and a broker in Des Moines connected the companies. "We started talking about three months ago or so and it just fell into place in a big hurry," Sorensen said.
It was an opportunity Sorensen and his company had been thoroughly prepared for. Through his Heartland Tech Groups, he's advocated for years that computer industry-pioneer owners put succession plans in place for their companies (see RCP's November 2009 feature "Passing the Torch," which includes sage advice from Arlin on the topic.) He'd stepped back from day-to-day management of HTS in 2009 when he promoted Connie Arentson, former vice president of professional services, to HTS president.
There's a different feel to being on the sell side of a transaction than the buy side, said Sorensen, who has been part of seven mergers and acquisitions. "When you're on the buy side, you're the driver, the pusher, you're the guys trying to get it together and make it all fit," he said. Being on the sell side required more patience than anything else, he added.
Sorensen's remaining companies are HTG, with its peer groups that include more than 300 MSPs and VARs; Heartland Leadership Group; HTS Ag, a new spinoff of precision agricultural solutions; and Varvid. In all, he'll still have 40 employees and a $2 million payroll.
"It's been 27 years. It's bittersweet. The good news is I'm not kidding myself that I'm going to go sit on a beach and retire. I've still got four companies to run. I'm excited about the opportunity to actually focus on some of these more startup organizations that have been taking the backseat the last couple of years," Sorensen said. "I'm not leaving the industry. I'm still doing HTC and the Peer Groups, but it won't be as an IT business owner. Overall, I'll still be hanging around the same people and doing the same things."
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 08, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments
Solution providers and their small-business customers have a few more weeks to take advantage of Section 179 deduction limits for 2012 taxes.
In an image gallery on Windows 8 PCs for small business, Microsoft noted a late November blog entry from the U.S. Small Business Administration. In that entry, the SBA calls out the 2012 "Section 179" deduction limits.
According to the blog:
"Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Section 179 of the tax code provides tax benefits for equipment purchases made before the end of the year. Typically when you purchase an item for your business, you can claim a tax deduction for it. But fixed assets are not counted in the year of purchase. Instead, they must be depreciated over a number of years. Section 179, however, allows you to fully deduct the cost of assets such as computers, furniture, certain business software, vehicles, manufacturing equipment and more in the year of purchase -- up to a certain amount."
Key words: computers and business software. This has been a popular section of the tax code for Microsoft partners for years both for internal use and to help spur sales with customers (see this 2006 RCP article.)
The limit for 2012 for an individual piece of equipment was $139,000, which would buy a pretty powerful system at current prices. The equipment purchased must be in place by Dec. 31, 2012. See more complete details here.
Posted by Scott Bekker on December 18, 2012 at 11:58 AM0 comments
When Microsoft launched Windows 8 on Oct. 25, former Windows chief Steven Sinofsky discouraged reporters from counting apps.
"Some might rush to start to count apps or look for their favorite apps to arrive in the store," Sinofsky said. In trying to explain why that shouldn't be the focus, Sinofsky, who quit Microsoft a few weeks later, said, "We see today as a grand opening, and a very solid one. On the screen behind me, you can see some of the thousands of new apps that are available today around the world. Developers everywhere are adding hundreds of new apps every day and that rate of addition is increasing as well."
While there has been anonymously sourced reporting that CEO Steve Ballmer's unhappiness with the app count at launch may have contributed to Sinofsky's surprising departure, Sinofsky's prediction about Windows Store growth is largely coming true.
Like many journalists, I viewed Sinofsky's admonishment not to count apps not as a deterrent but as a red cape waved in front of a bull. Early reviewers of Windows 8 or the Microsoft Surface RT noted that there were between 3,000 and 5,000 apps in the Store. When I got a chance to do a count of my own with a Windows 8 system on Nov. 7, I found about 7,000. A recount a little over a month later on Dec. 9 I found more than 18,000 for a 155 percent growth rate. It's nowhere near Apple's 275,000 iPad apps, but it's an impressive improvement rate. If Microsoft can keep developers coming in at that clip as the months roll by, the Windows Store should have a pretty serious app count by mid-2013.
Windows Store App Growth by Category:
|CATEGORY ||NOV. 7, 2012 |
(# OF APPS)
|DEC. 9, 2012 |
(# OF APPS)
|News & Weather ||308 ||1159 ||276 |
|Books & Reference ||479 ||1655 ||246 |
|Business ||126 ||428 ||240 |
|Food & Dining ||184 ||523 ||184 |
|Entertainment ||869 ||2465 ||184 |
|Lifestyle ||273 ||762 ||179 |
|Music & Videos ||211 ||588 ||179 |
|Education ||950 ||2551 ||169 |
|Health & Fitness ||229 ||568 ||148 |
|Security ||55 ||136 ||147 |
|Tools ||697 ||1708 ||145 |
|Social ||158 ||379 ||140 |
|Sports ||210 ||483 ||130 |
|Finance ||93 ||213 ||129 |
|Travel ||291 ||658 ||126 |
|Shopping ||62 ||128 ||106 |
|Games ||1209 ||2438 ||102 |
|Government ||33 ||65 ||97 |
|Photo ||197 ||377 ||91 |
|Productivity ||462 ||841 ||82 |
|Total ||7096 ||18125 ||155 |
Ed.'s Note: Due to a typo, the percentage increase in productivity apps from November to December was misstated in an earlier version of the table. The correct figure for the increase is 82 percent.
Posted by Scott Bekker on December 13, 2012 at 11:58 AM0 comments