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Globalization in Tech: The Windows 8.1 Edition

Time was, a Microsoft operating system update would be the major IT event of that month, and every computer- and peripheral-maker would drop everything to be sure to have drivers and software ready for go-day.

So it speaks to Microsoft's loss of market power, at least on the client side, that much of the industry seems to yawn when Microsoft does something as major as update its flagship OS, in this case from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1. 

I encountered a separate wrinkle that points up our increasingly, geographically multi-polar world. The United States is no longer the undisputed king of tech. This has been obvious for a while, but I'm about to share my first actual experience of it.

It used to be that when Microsoft would ship something, the rest of the industry would be ready with English-first drivers, and they'd be carefully checking Microsoft's multi-language roadmap to align their non-English software and drivers with Microsoft's schedules.

Not so with Windows 8.1. I'd been using a Lenovo Ideapad Yoga 13 with the Windows 8.1 preview for months, so I thought nothing of upgrading when Windows 8.1 became available in the Windows Store last week.

Much to my chagrin, once the upgrade was complete, the audio stopped working and I had trouble staying connected to my wireless network, among other problems.

An online hunt for new Windows 8.1 drivers led me to a Lenovo support forum, where I learned from a forum participant that the Beijing-based Lenovo did have a Chinese driver available already, but didn't have an English one yet. (This was last week -- new drivers are available now.)

Comfortable with the Lenovo domain in the URL, the pointer from an official support forum and the rudimentary Google Chrome translation of the Chinese-language support page, I went for it. It was a slightly white-knuckle affair when the pop-up windows of the installation wizard presented me with mostly question marks where text ought to go, but it worked well enough. A reboot later, and audio and consistent wireless access were back.

Spare me the lectures about not doing my homework before upgrading and the potential security problems I could have opened myself up to by downloading in another language. I know I'm guilty of ranging far afield of safe-computing best practices. (Although I will say that Microsoft's loss of mindshare has also led to much, much less non-official documentation of non-obvious potential pitfalls. That's a subject for another day.)

This was my first experience of seeing non-English drivers available for Windows before English drivers. What's your take? Is this symptomatic of an inevitable erosion of influence by U.S. tech companies? Or am I reading too much into an isolated incident? Leave a comment below or e-mail me at sbekker@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 24, 2013 at 1:17 PM0 comments

Kaseya Buys 365 Command

Kaseya fully embraced Microsoft Office 365 on Thursday.

The Lausanne, Switzerland-based systems management and MSP tools vendor bought the technology of the high-profile Office 365 tool 365 Command for an undisclosed amount. The 365 Command technology was owned by Champion Solutions Group, based in Boca Raton, Fla., a company that is a Microsoft National Systems Integrator and an early cloud adopter. 

Much of the 365 Command technology came from Champion Solutions Group's acquisition of Charlotte, N.C.-based MessageOps in November 2012, and MessageOps founder Chad Mosman continued to help drive feature development of the product through 2013.

It was not immediately clear if any employees were part of the deal, which fell on the same day as Microsoft's quarterly earnings report, in which Microsoft boasted of continuing momentum for the Office 365 cloud productivity suite.

The 365 Command toolset consists of migration tools for moving on-premise Exchange mailboxes to Office 365, as well as tools for managing users, devices and permissions, among other functions. Several 365 Command capabilities are geared for MSPs, including the ability to manage multiple Office 365 clients through a single log-on.

"Office 365 is exploding in popularity. With this growth, mid-market organizations and MSPs are scrambling for a better and more efficient way to manage these applications," said Yogesh Gupta, president and CEO of Kaseya, in a statement. "This acquisition gives Kaseya yet another powerful tool in its arsenal to help our customers dramatically simplify management of their IT environments, and to make managing today's modern infrastructure and applications seamless for organizations."

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 24, 2013 at 2:17 PM0 comments

Former Channel Chief Roskill, Microsoft Part Ways

Jon Roskill is out of Microsoft, his employer for nearly 20 years, less than a month after stepping down from the high-profile role of channel chief.

Microsoft replaced Roskill with Phil Sorgen as corporate vice president for the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group in a move announced Aug. 29. In a blog post announcing the change, Roskill had said he hoped to "return to my roots of product development and take all the great insights I gained from my time with our partners and use them to create even more partner opportunity." 

However, an e-mail from RCP to Roskill's Microsoft address on Friday returned a note that Roskill left Microsoft Sept. 20. He did not respond to an e-mail to the personal address in the automatic reply, although Microsoft executives at that level are usually bound by a legal agreement not to discuss the terms of their departures for a set period of time.

In a statement provided by e-mail, a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed Roskill's departure: "Jon Roskill has left Microsoft, and we wish him well in his future endeavors."

Roskill's experience in Microsoft was a combination of operational work from his partner role and previously as corporate vice president/U.S. Business and Marketing Officer, and product/technical work. Previous roles on that side included a stint as a general manager in the Server & Developer Tools Division.

Roskill hasn't updated his LinkedIn profile yet.

According to a source familiar with the situation, Roskill's planned move to a technical role was blocked by a more senior executive. "In essence, the reason Jon left was corporate politics, nothing to do with corporate decision-making," the source said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 21, 2013 at 12:00 PM0 comments

Tech Data Spins Up New Microsoft Program

Tech Data Corp. on Wednesday launched a new program to help its solution providers expand their Microsoft practices.

The distributor's new initiative is called Microsoft Beyond!, and it includes a rewards program, education, marketing kits and incentives. 

"Microsoft has complete solutions, and there's a growing need to take those solutions into market and enable based on a solution, not just on a point product," said Stacy Nethercoat, vice president of Product Marketing, Software and Cloud Services at Tech Data, in a telephone interview.

While Tech Data has always had specialized Microsoft programs running for its partners, Nethercoat said the new effort will be more comprehensive and consistent.

"With Beyond, what's different about it is it's comprehensive across four different Microsoft workloads -- productivity, datacenter, business intelligence and cloud. In the past, we might have attacked productivity for a quarter or two, then we might have moved on to datacenter," she said. "We thought a more meaningful approach would be to pull these all together in a long-term program."

By grouping Microsoft's key SMB products into the four areas, Tech Data and Microsoft executives also hope to encourage partners who start in one area to branch out into the others.

"Our goal is to enable our partners to sell the full stack of Microsoft. Bringing Beyond together the way that we have, virtually any partner can take advantage of it," Nethercoat said.

The Beyond! name stems from the program's prize tiers, which are "Build," "Breakthrough" and "Beyond!" A top prize is a seven-day stay at Club Med, according to a Tech Data flier on the program.

The point system puts the highest value on Office 365 Small Business Premium, which is good for 5 points for every $1 sold. Office 365 Open is worth 3 points/$1, while Open Business/Open Value Commercial sales are worth 1 point per dollar.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 16, 2013 at 12:39 PM0 comments

Q&A with Microsoft Partner Andrew Brust on Live! 360

The parent company of Redmond Channel Partner magazine, 1105 Media LLC, also puts on the Visual Studio Live! event series all around the United States. I've been lucky enough to attend a few of the events, and I'm always struck by how much of the content is relevant to partners. Yet the audience is usually dominated by corporate IT developers.

In advance of the year-end blowout show, called Live! 360, I put that question about partner content and a few others to Andrew Brust, a longtime Microsoft partner himself and also one of the conference chairs.

Scott Bekker: Most of the attendees at VS Live! events are corporate IT developers. But a lot of the content seems like it would be pretty informative for developers working at Microsoft partner companies, as well. What are some of the things that a Microsoft partner could take away from VS Live next month?

Andrew Brust: I would say that partner companies, especially if they're systems integrators [SIs], need our content just as urgently as the corporate developers do, if not more so. Corporate IT shops tend to adopt new technologies at a conservative pace (as well they should), but SIs and other partners, who may need to provide guidance on the newer technologies and products, need to be up-to-speed very quickly. Live 360! is great for that. Whether it's the new Visual Studio 2012, the upcoming VS 2013, the new SQL Server 2012, the soon-to-come SQL 2014 or significant changes in SharePoint 2013, there's lots of new stuff to learn and more coming down the pike. We help tame that beast.

Scott: Are there any new capabilities of, or emerging best practices for, Visual Studio that are creating new business opportunities that Microsoft partners should be aware of?

Andrew: As Office 365 matures and reaches greater market penetration, it's creating new opportunities for partners. Getting customers on SharePoint is now far simpler and much less capital-spending-intensive than it once was, for example. Add to that the new app development model that works across Office desktop applications, Office Web Applications and SharePoint (both online and on-premises), and suddenly partner solutions can have much better reach. This impacts both SI partners and ISVs [independent software vendors], and goes a long way toward supporting the legitimacy of CSVs [cloud services vendors] as a new partner category.

Scott: For Microsoft partners, what are the top trends right now with Visual Studio that you've tried to illuminate through sessions at this show?

Andrew: The biggest trend is the orientation of both Visual Studio and .NET apps to the cloud and to HTML 5/JavaScript technologies. Whether it's JavaScript editing inside VS, or use of JavaScript frameworks like jQuery, the experience around deploying to Windows Azure or working with cloud-based ALM [application lifecycle management] tools like Team Foundation Service and its Git integration, this is an industry-wide pivot, and we're helping our attendees acclimate to the Microsoft flavor if it.

Live! 360 consists of four co-located events running from Nov. 18 to 22 in Orlando, Fla.: Modern Apps Live! SharePoint Live! SQL Server Live! and Visual Studio Live! Attendees can register for one of the events and attend sessions in the other three as part of the base registration price. More information is available here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 08, 2013 at 11:48 AM0 comments

Outdated APC Surge Protectors Recalled for Fire Risk

A line of APC surge protectors that have been out of production for a decade just got recalled over fire safety concerns.

"The surge protectors can overheat, smoke and melt, posing a fire hazard," the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said in its recall statement issued earlier this month. 

According to the CPSC, about 15 million units are covered by the recall, which involves APC 7 and 8 series SurgeArrest protectors.

The APC 7 Series (top) and the APC 8 Series (bottom).

"The firm has received 700 reports of the surge protectors overheating and melting and 55 claims of property damage from smoke and fire, including $916,000 in fire damage to a home and $750,000 in fire damage to a medical facility. There are 13 reports of injuries, including smoke inhalation and contact burns from touching the overheated surge protectors," the CPSC statement said.

It took the CPSC and APC, now owned by Schneider Electric, more than a decade to recall the devices, which were sold between 1993 and 2002 at Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA and other stores for between $13 and $50.

A Schneider Electric/APC page lists the affected model numbers and instructions for getting a free replacement.

The CPSC statement notes that it is illegal to resell or attempt to resell a recalled product.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 08, 2013 at 12:30 PM0 comments

Ballmer's Successor Likely To Have a Bigger Paycheck

Steve Ballmer's replacement as Microsoft CEO is likely to take home a much bigger annual paycheck.

Ballmer, who has been CEO since 2000 and was under pressure to leave from activist investors, announced in August that he would retire within the next 12 months. 

On Friday, Microsoft posted its 2013 proxy statement, and there was some media attention paid to the relative meagerness of Ballmer's bonus. He earned $1.26 million for the year, which consisted of a base salary of $697,500 and a bonus worth 79 percent of that at $550,000.

On a percentage basis, it was the lowest of the bonus payouts to named executive officers in the statement. In explaining Ballmer's bonus, the proxy statement balanced record revenues against the 18 percent decline in Windows operating division revenue and the $900 million Surface RT inventory charge.

That aside, the proxy statement makes clear that the Compensation Committee of the Microsoft Board of Directors believes that Ballmer, by his own request, is severely underpaid.

A chart labeled "CEO pay comparison" shows Ballmer's maximum compensation could have been $2.1 million, compared with a "Dow 30 and Technology Peer Group (average)" of $16 million.

[Click on image for larger view.] The "CEO pay comparison" chart from Microsoft's 2013 proxy statement.

"Consistent with longstanding practice and his request, Mr. Ballmer does not participate in the equity component of the Incentive Plan. His award is payable entirely in cash, and is correspondingly smaller than those made to the other Named Executive Officers," the proxy statement read. "As the principal leader of Microsoft, Mr. Ballmer focuses on building our long-term success, and, as one of our largest shareholders, his personal wealth is tied directly to Microsoft's value. While the Committee and the Board believe Mr. Ballmer is underpaid for his role and performance, they have accepted his request."

Ballmer owned 3.99 percent of all common shares of Microsoft stock as of Sept. 13.

The other named executive officers listed in the proxy statement's 2013 compensation tables all took home much higher pay packages (mostly in stock awards):

  • Kevin Turner, COO, $10.4 million
  • Satya Nadella, president, Server and Tools Business, $7.7 million
  • Kurt DelBene, president, Microsoft Office Division, $7.6 million
  • Amy Hood, CFO, $7.5 million
  • Peter Klein, former CFO, $4.1 million

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 07, 2013 at 8:53 AM0 comments

Is a 4.5 Percent Microsoft Stake the Tipping Point for Bill Gates?

Microsoft is Bill Gates' company in the popular imagination.

After all, he co-founded the company 38 years ago and outlasted co-founder Paul Allen. Gates is also reported to be spending a lot more time on the Microsoft campus lately. 

However, the August announcement that CEO Steve Ballmer would retire in 12 months fueled questions about how much control Gates still had in the boardroom. More possible evidence that his legendary grip on the board might be slipping comes in the form of reports of a lobbying campaign by three top investors to force Gates out. As reports about the campaign note, investors have been calling for Ballmer's head for years over the stock's flat performance, but the recriminations rarely included Gates.

In an effort to fund his philanthropic efforts and to gradually remove himself from Microsoft, Gates set a plan in motion years ago to reduce his financial stake in the company. If the plan continues, he'll have no financial stake in Microsoft in 2018, according to Reuters.

A look at proxy statements filed by Microsoft from 1994 up through the 2013 document filed on Friday shows how much of his financial influence over Microsoft Gates has sold off.

He owned 49 percent of the company when Microsoft went public in 1986. By 1994, he'd already cut his stake in half to 24.6 percent. In 2000, when he handed the CEO reins to Ballmer and stepped into the chairman and chief software architect role, he still held 13.7 percent of the common shares. When he backed away from any day-to-day role in 2008, he owned 8.76 percent. This year, Gates is down to 4.52 percent, which is close to Ballmer's current stake of 3.99 percent.

Although Gates is still the largest individual shareholder, it's possible that his diminishing financial stake has reached a tipping point that no longer warrants him getting his way in the boardroom.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 07, 2013 at 9:32 AM0 comments

A Little Help: Take Our Channel Program Survey

At the SMB Nation Fall Conference in October, Harry Brelsford and I will be presenting a session on why most partner programs fail. It's a (slightly) tongue-in-cheek approach to the topic of what makes a good channel program from a solution provider's perspective.

While Harry and I have lots of ideas of our own, we'd like to make sure the presentation is grounded in the reality that you're seeing out there every day. Help us out by taking this very brief, completely anonymous survey on what you value in a partner program these days. 

Click here to take the survey.

Think about attending the conference, as well, if your schedule permits. Lots of discussion on Windows XP end-of-life, partnering in the post-Small Business Server world, mobility and new security realities. Should be a productive and fun few days in Las Vegas.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 30, 2013 at 11:29 AM0 comments

Microsoft Brand Holds Its Value; Apple and Google Jump to Top

When it comes to the value of global brands, Microsoft held steady in 2013 even as Google and Apple vaulted ahead, according to a widely watched report on brand value.

Brand consultancy Interbrand released its 14th annual Best Global Brands report on Monday. It valued Apple's brand at $98 billion for first place. It was the first time anyone displaced Coca-Cola for first place in the history of the report. But Apple wasn't the only company beating Coca-Cola this time around. Google, valued by Interbrand at $93 billion, also beat out the soft-drink maker, valued at $79 billion. 

IBM came in fourth at almost $79 billion and Microsoft rounded out the top five with a $59 billion value.

[Click on image for larger view.] The top 28 brands in Interbrand's list. Download full PDF here.

Apple and Google also rode to the top on a rocket, with their calculated brand value going up 28 percent and 34 percent, respectively, compared to the 2012 results. Coca-Cola, IBM and Microsoft all had brand values going up between 2 percent and 4 percent.

To calculate brand value, Interbrand says it uses a combination of the financial performance, the brand's role "in influencing consumer choice" and the brand's "strength to command a premium price."

Tech was well represented at the top of the list. In addition to holding four of the top five spots, the tech sector held two more top 10 slots -- Samsung and Intel. Those two companies, however, were on different trajectories. Samsung had a 20 percent increase in brand value, while Intel had a 5 percent drop, according to Interbrand.

Other big gainers on the list from tech were Facebook, with a 43 percent increase in brand value for 52nd on the list, and Amazon, with a 27 percent gain for the 19th spot.

Being a top-five brand was a plus for Microsoft, but the report showed a strongly negative trend for Microsoft's recent acquisition, Nokia. With a drop in value of 65 percent to No. 57 on the list, Nokia experienced the largest decline in brand value in the history of Best Global Brands, according to Interbrand.

Even there, it arguably could be worse: Yahoo and BlackBerry fell of the list entirely.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 30, 2013 at 12:37 PM0 comments

The True Innovation of the Surface 2 Is the Touch Cover

The Surface 2 launch this week drew legitimate fire for a number of things -- the focus on speeds and feeds as if we were still in the PC refresh era, the lack of a mini version, and the failure to acknowledge or address serious pricing problems.

Microsoft deserves credit for one thing, though -- continuing to provide leapfrog innovation in user input. The real jaw-dropping component of the first-generation Surface was the Touch Cover. Microsoft started with the brilliant idea of the Apple iPad 2's magnetic cover and took it an inspired step further by converting the cover into a keyboard. 

Even though the Surface hasn't caught on, Microsoft continues to pour R&D resources into the device -- and the team working on the Touch Cover in particular is hitting its stride. What Microsoft's Surface leader Panos Panay unveiled this week was a Touch Cover 2 that opens up the possibilities for Surface as a platform, and for the first time makes a clear case for special Surface apps distinct from other Windows 8 apps.

Inside the Touch Cover 2 [foreground] is a versatile grid of 1,092 sensors. The original Touch Cover [back] had 80 sensors corresponding to key positions. (Photo credit: Scott Bekker.)

The core change is a radical upgrade in the number of sensors in the Touch Cover (see photo above). The original Touch Cover had 80 sensors corresponding precisely to where the keys were printed on the outside of the cover. The Touch Cover 2's innards will sport a grid of 1,092 sensors, and they're more sensitive, as well.

Overkill for typing, you say? No doubt, but that's not where the action is in this game. We could be talking about all manner of applications. On display at the launch in New York was a custom Touch Cover 2 for music mixing (see photo below). Panay also showed a video of a Microsoft visit to an art school, where design students imagined all sorts of scenarios for Touch Cover 2s, from fold-out piano keyboards to drawing pads.

The grid of sensors in the Touch Cover 2 enables limitless input layout possibilities. (Photo credit: Scott Bekker.)

Getting game developers interested in the platform represents a huge opportunity. Casual games exploded on touchscreen phones and tablets, but the interface has limited input options for more advanced games, and leaving finger grease all over the screen gets old.

Panay dropped some interesting hints about upcoming attachments called "blades." Game designers and other app developers could certainly design and print their own exteriors and resell the Touch Covers, although that approach swims against the tide of inexpensive apps and games. Building the price of a new $119 Touch Cover 2 into every software sale will only work for high-end applications.

It stands to reason that Microsoft would also release a versatile Touch Cover with a slot for ISVs to insert their own custom input layouts for their games or apps. They could box and mail the inputs or even conceivably have customers print them out themselves from a blueprint in the Surface Store. We'll find out more when Microsoft launches surfacemixproject.com on Oct. 22.

The Touch Cover 2 sensors are an exciting technical innovation, but Microsoft will need ISVs to sign on. The miniscule share of Surface devices in the overall tablet market won't make that an easy sell. Could this be the innovation that helps Microsoft shake off its recent habit of leading parades with no followers? Leave your thoughts below or send an e-mail to sbekker@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 26, 2013 at 12:08 PM0 comments

Condusiv Adds Elite Tier to Partner Program

In a brainstorming session about four months ago, Condusiv Technologies CEO Jerry Baldwin decided his company's partner program needed another tier.

Formerly known as Executive Software and then Diskeeper, Condusiv still sells the defragmentation software those brands were best known for. But Baldwin has steered the company's technology toward a heavier focus on I/O optimization for virtualized environments and the company's business toward a 100-percent channel model. 

"Our product line and our story is not one that is easily told through advertising and websites," Baldwin said. It takes face-to-face engagement to discuss solutions to the complex I/O problems customers have with virtualization, and having channel partners make that case is the most efficient approach, he contended.

The latest tweak as Baldwin focuses exclusively on channel-led success is an Elite Partner Program launched on Monday. Initial Elite Partners are Champion Solutions Group based in Boca Raton, Fla. and Green Pages Technology Solutions with headquarters in Kittery, Maine.

In addition to the distribution partners that source all of Condusiv's products, the company's program is now a three-tier model consisting of Registered, Premier and Elite partners. There are about 1,500 Registered Partners, but it's the 18 to 20 partners at the Premier level so far that are generating sales volume for Condusiv.

As Baldwin looked at the U.S. wall map in his office showing geographic circles of Premier partner coverage, it occurred to his team that they could spur more business by partnering more deeply with a special kind of existing Premier partners.

"I am looking for partners that really, really get it and whose business direction is the same as mine," Baldwin said. "They're focused on virtualization and cloud performance, and they only handle 15 to 20 vendors max, so all their salespeople, all their support people, know the vendors and know the products."

Other criteria are a horizontal model with a midmarket emphasis and strong regional outside sales and technical support. VMware certifications are key, along with experience in Microsoft and Citrix virtualization technology.

To Baldwin, personality and style are also important: "I'm looking for the kind of person I could do business with on a handshake. We wouldn't need contracts."

Champion meets those criteria for the Southeastern United States, and Green Pages is the Elite partner for the Northeast. Baldwin says to expect more announcements in short order, filling in an Elite partner for each of the four major remaining regions of the country, along with possibly another one or two later.

Baldwin doesn't expect conflict between Elite partners and the Premier tier, which will also probably expand by a handful of partners. Premiers are more likely to be extremely strong in one metropolitan area, have a vertical focus, represent Condusiv solutions to either SMBs or the enterprise, or carry Condusiv software as part of a very large line card. He also anticipates Elites to partner with Premiers on a regular basis.

"When we err, we err on the side of less partners," he said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 23, 2013 at 9:25 AM0 comments