Post-Microsoft, Schuster To Focus on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

Former Microsoft Channel Chief Gavriella Schuster on Wednesday formally announced her post-Microsoft plans -- an advocacy role to bring more diversity, equity and inclusion into the tech industry.

Schuster, who has supported and advanced women in technology organizations during her seven years leading Microsoft's worldwide partner organization and gave an influential TEDx talk on allies and gender equity in November 2020, will pursue the role as CEO of Gavriella Schuster LLC and through a number of board of director and advisory board positions.

"I have joined the board of several leading organizations including Women in Cloud, Women in Technology Network, International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners, the SHE community, the Women's Business Collaborative, Corent Technology, chairman of the advisory board for Artificial Solutions, and strategic advisor to Berkshire Partners to focus on bringing more diversity, equity and inclusion into the tech industry," Schuster said in a blog post on her site.

In the post, Schuster traced her current efforts to what she called a "rude awakening" at a meeting five years earlier.

I was speaking to a room of women and transgender people talking about their various experiences at work. As I was listening to them tell their stories of times when they felt dismissed, disconnected, overlooked or invisible, I realized that many of the specific experiences they had were shared experiences. There were commonalities in the microaggressions that they were experiencing. On their own these were small, but over time built up into insurmountable walls for many of these women to progress and succeed in their teams.

As I ruminated on their experiences and interactions with the members of their teams, I realized that I too had experienced many of these same microaggressions over the course of my career. But I had attributed the reasons for those bad experiences as being my fault -- something I had done or said that had brought about the microaggression against me. As a consequence I had pivoted, changed my behavior, developed ways to respond and succeed in the face of those challenges. What I realized though, was that I had also become numb to the microaggressions.

Microsoft named Rodney Clark to take over Schuster's channel chief role starting April 1.

At the time Schuster planned to help with the transition, and Nick Parker, corporate vice president of Global Partner Solutions at Microsoft, hinted in an internal e-mail that a diversity-related future was in the cards for Schuster. He wrote that he and Schuster determined that "after nearly 7 years of leading our partner ecosystem, now would be a good time for her to shift gears and explore opportunities to focus on her passion for business development and furthering the cause of diversity and inclusion."

Schuster thanked Microsoft, the partner community and others for their support in her blog post.

Posted by Scott Bekker on August 18, 2021 at 12:12 PM0 comments

Join the RCP Editors for a Post-Inspire Tweet Chat

Another Microsoft Inspire is in the books and, as always, a lot happened.

Join the editors of on Twitter on Tuesday, July 20, to make some sense of it all.

Editors including @scottbekker, @johnkwaters and @kurmac will gather at 3 p.m. ET/noon PT for an hour-long Twitter chat moderated by the @RedmondPartner account.

Using the hashtag #RCPInspireRecap, we'll cover:

  • The biggest news from Inspire.
  • Other major news.
  • Partner program news that was significant.
  • The top Azure news.
  • Sleeper announcements (things that didn't get a ton of attention but might end up being important).
  • What's next for Inspire as a show after two years of pandemic-induced virtual events.

We'll post each question with a number (Q1, Q2, etc.). To join in, just answer it with the number (A1, A2, etc.) or reply directly on other people's comments. Use the hashtag #RCPInspireRecap to make the conversation easy to track.

Talk to you tomorrow!

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 19, 2021 at 5:13 PM0 comments

Microsoft Slashes Marketplace Fees for Partners

Microsoft rolled out a dramatic reduction in partner fees for its collection of commercial marketplaces on Wednesday as the company kicked off Microsoft Inspire, its two-day virtual conference for partners.

Charlotte Yarkoni, chief operating officer of Microsoft Cloud + AI, positioned the changes as investing in the partner ecosystem to help partners do business with Microsoft.

"Starting July 1, we lowered our marketplace transaction fee from 20% to 3%," Yarkoni said in a blog posted just ahead of her Inspire keynote. "This reduced transaction fee demonstrates our commitment to the success of partners creating value on our platform -- and helps partners keep more of their margin to invest in their growth."

Microsoft's marketplaces occupy a specific position among major technology marketplaces. They have huge potential for partners to tap into Microsoft's brand and its massive installed base of customers across commercial, government, consumer and gaming sectors. To provide a sense of the scale, Microsoft claims an audience of more than 750 million customers in 141 countries for one of its commercial marketplaces, Microsoft AppSource.

Yet the company and its partners have also struggled to realize the opportunity, with a series of fits and starts that have included a long line of branding changes, as well as a cycle of marketplaces popping up around specific products, followed by attempts to unify the marketplaces, followed by product-centric marketplaces popping up again, etc.

Because of Microsoft's unique mix of products and the marketplaces it competes against, there's no exact match for the new price model. However, it now goes from being a mid- to high-end price point to one of the lowest fee structures. For comparison, Apple and Google, both heavily consumer- and gaming-oriented marketplaces for mobile, charge roughly 30 percent, but recent moves make them closer to 15 percent for many participants. Salesforce, meanwhile, which sells business applications that compete directly with Microsoft Dynamics 365 and other enterprise applications, charges partners 15 percent for transactions in AppExchange.

Yarkoni said the move "reinforces our commitment to helping partners get to market faster, build apps for every customer need, and scale through our channels."

Specifics of the new deal are that the 3 percent fee applies to transactable applications published in the Microsoft commercial marketplace. That includes the Microsoft AppSource and the Azure Marketplace digital storefronts.

According to a company statement about the rationale for the increase: "Microsoft has seen a 70% increase year-over-year in transactable applications in the commercial marketplace and expects those numbers to continue to increase. The commercial marketplace aims to lead the way in simplifying the process of buying and procuring software for enterprise customers, as well as optimize their spending."

In related announcements from Inspire Wednesday:

  • The 2-year-old ISV Connect program is being enhanced beyond the revenue sharing changes. New elements will include go-to-market resources, ISV app license management and discounted dev/test/demo environments. The changes are expected to be implemented this fall for the program, which currently has 734 ISVs enrolled.
  • Another change to the Microsoft commercial marketplaces will make it more turnkey for publishers to work with Cloud Solution Providers (CSPs), Microsoft's community of 90,000 partners who resell Microsoft cloud services such as Microsoft 365, Azure, Dynamics 365 and other Microsoft products. In the fall, publishers will be able to set a discounted price for CSP partners, providing an upfront margin and allowing the CSPs themselves to set their own markup for sales outside the commercial marketplaces.
  • Microsoft is also opening up a section in the Microsoft Teams admin center to allow IT admins to purchase ISV apps. The functionality will become available this summer and will be at the same 3 percent revenue share as the rest of the commercial marketplaces.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 14, 2021 at 8:28 AM0 comments

Microsoft Inspire Preview: Virtual, But Way More than Just a Few Online Keynotes

Microsoft Inspire 2021, the company's partner conference that is being held virtually for the second year in a row due to COVID-19, kicks off this week.

Conference registration is available here.

The main event starts Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. EDT with a keynote from Microsoft CEO and Chairman Satya Nadella. Nadella normally provides a broad overview of the company's strategic direction and partner opportunities around those goals at the conference, which closely follows the July 1 start of Microsoft's fiscal year.

Microsoft has high hopes that the free virtual event will once again draw significantly larger partner audiences than the traditional in-person, paid event brought in.

"We reached a much broader audience [last year] than we've ever had with our Inspire conference," says Rodney Clark, who will be appearing Wednesday at his first Inspire as Microsoft Channel Chief after being named to the role in April. "We had 115,000 attendees last year, 67 percent of which were attending for the first time."

That's an order of magnitude increase in attendance versus in-person, although it's impossible to replicate the intangibles and engagement levels of an in-person version of the event, with its parties, dinners, exhibit floor and hallway interactions.

Nonetheless, Microsoft is making an effort to present a rich event online. The 45-minute Nadella talk is one of more than 260 scheduled sessions in the catalog. Many of those sessions are three-peated because the global show, once known as the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, is rerun twice for viewers on other continents. Nadella's keynote, for example, kicks off a second run of the conference at 9 p.m. EDT and starts the third run at 3:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday.

Narrowing down to the sessions in one geography, the catalog currently shows about 85 unique sessions over the two days of the conference. (The third run of the conference lasts into Friday, East Coast time.)

Session types include keynotes; theme sessions, which are like mini-keynotes; connection zone events, which include Microsoft-led sessions, panels and sponsor- and partner-led talks; breakout sessions; and then a cluster of on-demand-only sessions. Microsoft's conference platform for registrants allows attendees to build a schedule of sessions and to participate in one-on-one meetings.

The rest of the initial bloc of keynotes on Wednesday begins with a session with Microsoft Chief Commercial Officer Judson Althoff, who will talk about what he calls "Digital Optimism" and how technology will "play a central role in the world's recovery." Following Althoff is a three-part keynote with Clark; Nick Parker, corporate vice president of Global Partner Solutions; and Charlotte Yarkoni, COO for Cloud and AI.

The second day starts once again at 11:30 a.m. EDT with an hour-long "Into Focus" keynote featuring a broad array of Microsoft executives discussing cloud tools, recent Windows developments and opportunities. Closing out the Day 2 keynote bloc is Microsoft President Brad Smith.

In the first run of the conference content, sessions wrap up at 4:45 p.m. EDT on Wednesday and at 6 p.m. EDT on Thursday.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 12, 2021 at 1:45 PM0 comments

Social Impact a Focus of the 2021 Microsoft Partner of the Year Awards

Social impact is a major focus of the 2021 Microsoft Partner of the Year awards.

In an annual ritual preceding the Microsoft Inspire partner conference, Microsoft on Thursday unveiled the finalists and winners in 56 global categories and for 108 country-level awards (see the full list of winners below). Microsoft Inspire, a virtual event for the second year in a row because of the pandemic, takes place next Wednesday and Thursday.

Microsoft selected from 4,400 entries, up from about 3,300 submissions the year before.

Microsoft Channel Chief Rodney Clark called out the creation of a new super category of awards this year, called Social Impact. That super category joins other major groupings including Azure, Modern Work & Security, Business Applications, Business Excellence and Industry.

"We've evolved our awards this year to really reflect things that are most important to the company, and these are things that are impacting the world around us," Clark said of the Social Impact category in an interview Thursday.

"Last year was our first foray and step into that area where we had our first-ever Community Response award. That was to recognize partners who were building solutions that were directed at COVID response. As the pandemic continued, we decided that we wanted to actually broaden that category, and create an overall category that we call the Social Impact category," said Clark, whose formal title is corporate vice president of Global Partner Solutions, Channel Sales, and who will be participating in his first Inspire as channel chief since taking over the post in April.

For 2021, the Social Impact super category includes three awards -- Community Response, Inclusion Changemaker and a brand-new award aligned to Microsoft's recent sustainability pledges called Sustainability Changemaker. Clark said the category could be expanded next year with other awards, on topics such as accessibility.

"We've evolved our awards this year to really reflect things that are most important to the company, and these are things that are impacting the world around us."

Rodney Clark, Corporate Vice President of Global Partner Solutions, Channel Sales, Microsoft

The Inclusion Changemaker winner in 2021, Catalyte, is a Baltimore-based company that uses artificial intelligence to discover people with potential to be successful in the technology industry but who aren't in places or from backgrounds that typically produce software engineers. An apprenticeship program helps the people identified by Catalyte's algorithms to develop their tech skills.

"We're proud to be aligning efforts with [Microsoft] to create more opportunities for people historically excluded from the industry to advance their careers and become the next generation of amazing software engineers," said Catalyte CEO Jacob Hsu in a statement.

Clark highlighted how Catalyte demonstrates the potential of a few specific Microsoft technologies. "The beauty of that is that it is putting the power of things like Power Platform technologies in leveraging AI to help make those decisions, and it's creating opportunities for people that otherwise wouldn't have a chance to work in either high tech, or for companies who are hiring more of these technical specialists," he said.

Other Social Impact winners included:

  • Schneider Electric, which won Sustainability Changemaker for its EcoStruxure IoT platform that leverages Azure, Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365. In a project involving a new smart headquarters for a global real estate firm, EcoStruxure helped reduce energy use by 30 percent.
  • uPlanner, which won Community Response for public university digital transformation projects that helped the Peruvian educational system adapt to the pandemic using Azure and other Microsoft technologies.

Here is the full list of winners and finalists for 2021:


  • Winner: Icertis (United States)
  • Finalist: VU Security
  • Finalist: Wipro Technologies (Global HQ)


  • Winner: Capgemini (France)
  • Finalist: Adastra Corporation
  • Finalist: InSpark
  • Finalist: Qlik

Cloud Native App Development

  • Winner: FIXER Inc. (Japan)
  • Finalist: BrainScale Inc.
  • Finalist: Kainos
  • Finalist: TIBCO Software

Internet of Things

  • Winner: Swisscom (Schweiz) AG (Switzerland)
  • Finalist: Delta Electronics Inc.
  • Finalist: Rockwell Automation Inc.
  • Finalist: RXR Realty

Migration to Azure

  • Winner: Insight (United States)
  • Finalist: Accenture/Avanade
  • Finalist: Codec
  • Finalist: IBM-Alliance

Mixed Reality

  • Winner: PTC (United States)
  • Finalist: Bentley Systems Incorporated
  • Finalist: KognitivSpark
  • Finalist: SoftwareHut Sp. z o.o.

Modernizing Applications

  • Winner: Wipro Technologies (India)
  • Finalist: Unify Cloud LLC
  • Finalist: WinWire Technologies

OSS on Azure

  • Winner: HashiCorp (United States)
  • Finalist: Canonical

Rising Azure Technology

SAP on Azure

  • Winner: Accenture/Avanade (United States)
  • Finalist: All for One Group SE
  • Finalist: Infosys Limited
  • Finalist: Protiviti

Business Applications
Dynamics 365 Business Central

  • Winner: Websan (Canada)
  • Finalist: Bam Boom Cloud
  • Finalist: Binary Stream Software Inc.
  • Finalist: COSMO CONSULT Spain SAU

Dynamics 365 Commerce

  • Winner: RSM Product Sales LLC (United States)
  • Finalist: Sunrise Technologies_pc
  • Finalist: Thinkmax
  • Finalist: Visionet Systems Inc.

Dynamics 365 Customer Insights

  • Winner: Accenture/Avanade (United States)
  • Finalist: Avtex Solutions LLC
  • Finalist: Neal Analytics

Dynamics 365 Customer Service

  • Winner: Accenture/Avanade (United States)
  • Finalist: Hitachi Solutions America Ltd.
  • Finalist: Infosys Limited
  • Finalist: NTTDATA Philippines Inc.

Dynamics 365 Field Service

Dynamics 365 Marketing

  • Winner: Avtex, a TTEC Digital Company (United States)
  • Finalist: Coffee & Dunn Inc.
  • Finalist: Hitachi Solutions America Ltd.
  • Finalist: PowerObjects

Dynamics 365 Sales

  • Winner: eLogic (United States)
  • Finalist: Accenture/Avanade
  • Finalist: Hitachi Solutions Asia Pacific Pte Ltd.
  • Finalist: PowerObjects

Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management & Finance

  • Winner: Accenture/Avanade (United States)
  • Finalist: Arbela Technologies
  • Finalist: HSO
  • Finalist: RSM Product Sales LLC

Power Apps and Power Automate

  • Winner: Ernst & Young LLP (United States)
  • Finalist: AIS
  • Finalist: Barhead Solutions Australia
  • Finalist: OnePlanSolutions

Power BI

  • Winner: MAQ Software (United States)
  • Finalist: BlueGranite Inc.
  • Finalist: Cognizant
  • Finalist: Slalom

Modern Work & Security
Apps & Solutions for Microsoft Teams

  • Winner: Adobe Inc. (United States)
  • Finalist: Ernst & Young LLP
  • Finalist: Rapid Circle
  • Finalist: TeamViewer

Employee Experience

  • Winner: Accenture/Avanade (United States)
  • Finalist: Adopt & Embrace
  • Finalist: ClearPeople
  • Finalist: WM Reply

Meetings, Calling, & Devices for Microsoft Teams

  • Winner: (United States)
  • Finalist: MODALITY
  • Finalist: Orange Business Services SA
  • Finalist: SYMITY LTD

Modern Endpoint Management

  • Winner: Mobile Mentor (New Zealand)
  • Finalist: (India) P Ltd
  • Finalist: Rapid Circle
  • Finalist: TC1 Labs

Modern Workplace for Frontline Workers

  • Winner: Campana & Schott (Germany)
  • Finalist: Akari Solutions
  • Finalist: Engage Squared Pty Ltd.
  • Finalist: Rapid Circle

Modern Workplace for SMB

  • Winner: WeSafe IT (Sweden)
  • Finalist: Be-Cloud
  • Finalist: Calibre One
  • Finalist: SOFTCREATE CORP.

OEM Device

  • Winner: Tactus Ltd. (United Kingdom)
  • Finalist: Poly
  • Finalist: Wortmann AG

OEM Device Distributor/Reseller

  • Winner: SYNAXON AG (Germany)
  • Finalist: Bechtle Centers of Excellence (non-DACH)
  • Finalist: CDW Corporation
  • Finalist: Data#3 Limited

Project & Portfolio Management

  • Winner: OnePlan Solutions (United States)
  • Finalist: Innovative-e Inc.
  • Finalist: ProActive A/S
  • Finalist: Prosperi


  • Winner: Bulletproof (Canada)
  • Finalist: Delphi Consulting
  • Finalist: NeWay Technologies Inc.
  • Finalist: Quorum

Surface Hub Reseller

  • Winner: SHI International Corp (United States)
  • Finalist: AVI-SPL
  • Finalist: DataVision Deutschland GmbH
  • Finalist: Yorktel

Surface PC Reseller

  • Winner: Computacenter UK Ltd. (United Kingdom)
  • Finalist: CANCOM GmbH
  • Finalist: Northern Micro, a division of Converge Technology Solutions
  • Finalist: Uchida Spectrum Inc.


  • Winner: Accenture/Avanade (United States)
  • Finalist: Annata
  • Finalist: Pricewaterhousecoopers LLP
  • Finalist: PTC

Defense & Intelligence

  • Winner: Thales (Australia)
  • Finalist: CloudFit Software
  • Finalist: Kognitiv Spark
  • Finalist: Myriad Technologies


  • Winner: Classera (Saudi Arabia)
  • Finalist: Alfa Connections Sdn Bhd
  • Finalist: Ergo
  • Finalist: EY DnA Australia


  • Winner: AVEVA (United States)
  • Finalist: Accenture/Avanade
  • Finalist: Bentley Systems Incorporated
  • Finalist: Ernst & Young LLP

Financial Services

  • Winner: Capgemini (France)
  • Finalist: NICE
  • Finalist: Shift Technology
  • Finalist: Zafin


Health Care

  • Winner: Quisitive (United States)
  • Finalist: Perficient Inc.
  • Finalist: SOPHiA GENETICS
  • Finalist: WinWire Technologies


  • Winner: Blue Yonder Software (United States)
  • Finalist: Accenture/Avanade
  • Finalist: PTC
  • Finalist: Sight Machine Inc.

Media & Communications

  • Winner: Pricewaterhousecoopers LLP (United States)
  • Finalist: Accenture/Avanade
  • Finalist: MediaKind
  • Finalist: Tech Mahindra Limited


  • Winner: Wipfli LLP (United States)
  • Finalist: Accenture/Avanade
  • Finalist: Bremmar Consulting
  • Finalist: m-hance Ltd.

Retail & Consumer Goods

  • Winner: Sitecore USA Inc. (Denmark)
  • Finalist: Blue Yonder Software
  • Finalist: Sunrise Technologies_pc
  • Finalist: Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.

Social Impact
Community Response

  • Winner: uPlanner (Peru)
  • Finalist: Barhead Solutions Australia
  • Finalist: Quisitive
  • Finalist: SoftwareONE Ecuador and InterGrupo (IG Services S.A.S)

Inclusion Changemaker

  • Winner: CATALYTE (United States)
  • Finalist: Future Worx
  • Finalist: Millennium I.T.E.S.P. Pvt Ltd.

Sustainability Changemaker

Business Excellence
Advisory Services

  • Winner: Ernst & Young LLP (United States)
  • Finalist: KPMG
  • Finalist: Pricewaterhousecoopers LLP

Commercial Marketplace

  • Winner: F5 (United States)
  • Finalist: Barracuda Networks
  • Finalist: LawToolBox Main Office
  • Finalist: Mint Group

Customer Experience

  • Winner: NetApp (United States)
  • Finalist: EXCLAIMER LTD
  • Finalist: (India) P Ltd.

Global Independent Software Vendor

  • Winner: Blue Yonder Software (United States)
  • Finalist: Icertis
  • Finalist: Johnson Controls
  • Finalist: MediaKind

Global SI

  • Winner: Accenture/Avanade (United States)
  • Finalist: Cognizant
  • Finalist: Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.

Global SI Digital Transformation

  • Winner: Capgemini (France)
  • Finalist: Accenture/Avanade
  • Finalist: Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.

Indirect Provider

  • Winner: Tech Data (United States)
  • Finalist: Dicker Data New Zealand
  • Finalist: Ingram Micro Cloud
  • Finalist: Velosio


  • Winner: Trainocate (Singapore)
  • Finalist: Spectrum Networks DMCC

Microsoft for Startups

  • Winner: Hyro (United States)
  • Finalist: CadDo
  • Finalist: Uncrowd
  • Finalist: Userlane

Solution Assessments

  • Winner: Insight (Australia)
  • Finalist: Delphi Consulting
  • Finalist: LOGICALIS
  • Finalist: Neudesic

Award Winners: Country/Region

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 08, 2021 at 4:24 PM0 comments

Windows 11 Is Official and It's Slated for This Year

There will be a successor to Windows 10. It's called Windows 11, and it is slated to be generally available this holiday season, Microsoft announced in an unveiling event Thursday.

In the virtual event titled, "What's Next for Windows," Microsoft confirmed rumors that it will move forward from Windows 10, speculation that intensified in recent weeks with the circulation of a leaked build of the new OS.

Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella provided a rationale for developing and releasing what he called a first version of a new era of Windows. "Windows has always stood for sovereignty for creators and agency for consumers," Nadella said. "With Windows 11, we have a renewed sense of Windows' role in the world."

Key elements of the new operating system include user interface changes, anchored by a newly centered Start button; tighter Microsoft 365 integrations; new revenue terms for the Windows Store that are more favorable to application developers; support for running Android apps on Windows; hybrid work features; security changes; and gaming improvements.

Start at the Center
The most obvious visual change to the operating system is the Start button at the center of the taskbar at the bottom of the screen.

"We put Start at the center and made it easier to quickly find what you need. Start utilizes the power of the cloud and Microsoft 365 to show you your recent files no matter what platform or device you were viewing them on earlier, even if it was on an Android or iOS device," said Panos Panay, Chief Product Officer for Windows + Devices.

The button itself was subtly redesigned, along with other icons, as well as the sounds and fonts, Panay said, to "bring a sense of calm and ease."

It is Microsoft's first change to the Start button location since controversially removing it in Windows 8, then promptly re-establishing the button in Windows 8.1. Also notable is the removal of the Cortana icon from the taskbar. Cortana has also been removed from the first boot experience.

Microsoft is taking another swing at anticipating how users might like to organize their windows with features called Snap Layouts and Snap Groups. "These are new features designed to help you organize your windows and optimize your screen real estate so you can see what you need just the way you want in a layout that's visually clean," Panay said.

Recognizing the way people have been using their PCs during the pandemic to work during the day and for things like personal video calls and gaming at night, Microsoft is also introducing the concept of Desktops, which is similar to a feature common to Linux distributions. In that scenario, a user might have a work Desktop, and then can switch to a gaming desktop or a household management desktop.

Chat, SMS, Widgets
Connections are a major focus of the release, as well. The headline feature is called Chat from Microsoft Teams, which will integrate into the taskbar.

"Now you can instantly connect through text, chat, voice or video with all of your personal contacts, anywhere, no matter the platform or device they're on, across Windows, Android or iOS. If the person you're connecting to on the other end hasn't downloaded the Teams app, you can still connect with them via two-way SMS," Panay said.

Microsoft is creating some new real estate within Windows for itself and developers with a personalized feed called Widgets. Billed as a personalized feed, an example shown Thursday included Microsoft Edge-based information cards with weather, stocks, photos, news, calendar items, a to-do list and search box.

Microsoft Store with Android Apps
With Windows 11, Microsoft is also overhauling the Microsoft Store, with new terms for app developers that pose a challenge to Apple's current business model, and the ability for users to discover Android apps in the store and download through the Amazon Appstore.

Giorgio Sardo, general manager of the Microsoft Store, blogged that the Microsoft Commerce platform terms for revenue share will be 85/15 for apps and 88/12 for games. There will also be a way for developers to keep 100 percent of their revenue, he said: "Starting July 28, app developers will also have an option to bring their own or a third party commerce platform in their apps, and if they do so they don't need to pay Microsoft any fee."

The Amazon partnership was a surprise move that will expand the reach of Android developers, while opening Windows users up to a broad range of new apps.

"Today we offer a broad selection of mobile apps in our Amazon Appstore, available across Fire TV, Fire Tablets and Android devices that our customers use and enjoy every day," said Palanidaran Chidambaram, director of the Amazon Appstore and Cross-Screen Technology, in a statement. "With this announcement, Amazon Appstore developers will now have the opportunity to make their Android apps available to hundreds of millions of Windows customers."

What's In It for IT
For IT departments, Microsoft is aiming to make Windows 11 management very similar to Windows 10's, while reducing the frequency of updates.

"Upgrading to Windows 11 is similar to taking a Windows 10 feature update," said Wangui McKelvey, general manager of Microsoft 365, in a blog post. Common Windows 10 management experiences, including Microsoft Endpoint Manager, cloud configuration, Windows Update for Business and Autopilot, will support Windows 11.

McKelvey also acknowledged that many IT pros felt the update cadence of Windows 10 was too fast. "We've also heard from many of you that an annual update works best for you, and a simplified servicing plan makes it easier to deploy. So, Windows 11 will be updated annually with 24 months of support for Home or Pro editions, and 36 months of support for Enterprise and Education editions," McKelvey said.

Microsoft will continue the App Assure service for Windows 11 that it offered for Windows 10. Under that app compatibility program, Microsoft helps customers with 150 or more users fix app issues when upgrading.

Zero Trust will be a big theme with Windows 11. "Key security features like hardware-based isolation, encryption, and malware prevention are turned on by default. We have also made going passwordless easier by simplifying the steps to deploy Windows Hello for Business. And all these components work together in the background to keep users safe without sacrificing quality, performance, or experience," said McKelvey, adding that security baselines are also being raised in hardware in cooperation with manufacturer and silicon partners.

Gaming Is a Focus
A number of features in the new release are intended to improve the gaming experience. Those include Auto HDR for a wider range of brightness values and colors, DirectStorage for faster game load times for users with specific hardware and a built-in Xbox app.

How Upgrades Will Work
When it was released six years ago, Windows 10 marked a new delivery model for Windows with Microsoft providing regular updates that improved stability and security and added features without putting users on an upgrade cycle that required them to buy a new release every few years. It wasn't previously clear if Microsoft would ever deliver a major new launch of the operating system.

The approach has been successful for Microsoft, with Windows 10 becoming Microsoft's most-used OS in early 2018 and surpassing 1.3 billion users worldwide earlier this year.

Microsoft will maintain the free upgrade policy for Windows 11 to an extent. The company said the upgrade to Windows 11 will be free, but only for PCs that are running the most current version of Windows 10. Microsoft is also only committing to providing the free offer for one year after general availability.

On the enterprise side, McKelvey's blog noted that "organizations can move eligible PCs directly to Windows 11 using Windows Update for Business if they are running any supported version of Windows 10, which is Windows 10 Enterprise, version 1909 or higher, or Windows 10 Pro version 20H1 or higher."

Not all PCs that can run Windows 10 will be able to handle Windows 11. Minimum requirements include a 1GHz compatible 64-bit processor with two or more cores or System on a Chip; 4GB of RAM; a 64GB storage device; Trusted Platform Module 2.0; and other requirements. Additionally, many Windows 11 features will only be supported with specialized hardware, such as 5G modems, HDR monitors, USB flash drives, SSDs, cameras, microphones and speakers.

PC manufacturers and retailers are starting to label new PCs as being ready for Windows 11. For current systems, Microsoft plans to roll out the OS upgrade in stages starting later this year and continuing into 2022 based on testing and validation for different models.

For those systems that can't be upgraded, or users and organizations that don't want to upgrade, Windows 10 will have a support deadline of Oct. 14, 2025.

Insider Preview Coming Next Week
The first Insider Preview build of Windows 11 will be available next week. However, company spokesman Frank X. Shaw noted that many of the features demonstrated on Thursday will not be included in that initial build.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 24, 2021 at 12:33 PM0 comments

Sea Change in the MPN: Advanced Specializations Outnumber Competencies

The structure of the Microsoft Partner Network reached a significant milestone this week when the number of advanced specializations surpassed the number of competencies for the first time. It's a change worth paying attention to because it shows where Microsoft's priorities lie.

Competencies have been the major way for partners to demonstrate their expertise since Microsoft last restructured its program as the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) more than a decade ago. Competencies come in Silver and Gold levels. Their number has ranged from about 30 at the peak to about 18 now.

Advanced specializations have developed over the last couple of years. Earned atop a Gold competency, advanced specializations have higher costs, require more training and employee certification and can have other requirements such as a third-party audit. As recently as last fall, there were only 11 advanced specializations.

On Wednesday, Microsoft unveiled a new batch of five advanced specializations, bringing the total number of specializations up to 23. That vaults the number of advanced specializations well ahead of the number of competencies.

Rodney Clark, Microsoft's new worldwide channel chief, put competencies in context against advanced specialization in an interview this week.

"We still recognize and value the competencies, but we also have to ensure that we're investing in the channel so that they are staying one step ahead of our customers. And to do that, we have to get deeper in terms of where and how we ask our ecosystem to specialize," Clark said.

One of the challenges that Microsoft is addressing, Clark said, is that many customers now have substantial technical expertise inside their organizations. Those customers are looking to channel partners for help on very specific issues and opportunities, he said.

So, for example, competencies around cloud include broad areas like Cloud Platform or Data Analytics. Within advanced specializations, badges include areas like SAP on Microsoft Azure, Windows Server and SQL Server Migration to Microsoft Azure or Linux and Open Source Databases Migration to Microsoft Azure.

"We still recognize and value the competencies, but we also have to ensure that we're investing in the channel so that they are staying one step ahead of our customers."

Rodney Clark, Worldwide Channel Chief, Microsoft

In short, the advanced specialization process is designed to result in a partner offering best-in-class, repeatable services, Clark said.

"We are going to continue to invest in specialization because that is now the currency," Clark said. The new advanced specializations launched this week are Microsoft Azure VMware Solution, AI and Machine Learning Microsoft Azure, Cloud Security, Hybrid Operations Management with Microsoft Azure Arc, and Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure with Microsoft Azure Stack HCI.

To be clear, while the number of distinct advanced specializations is now higher than the number of distinct competencies, the number of partners with competencies is orders of magnitude higher than the number with advanced specializations. About 400,000 partners have competencies, Clark said. Somewhere in the low 1,000s have earned advanced specializations.

Part of that is that the advanced specializations are newer. Another part is they're intentionally exclusive and harder to achieve.

Dan Truax, the general manager of partner digital experiences and programs at Microsoft, has been steadily rolling out the new advanced specializations in blog posts over the last year. In the blog announcing the new specializations this week, he pitched the value.

"For services partners, achieving an advanced specialization is a powerful way to validate, differentiate and showcase your organization's technical capabilities and experience," Truax wrote. "It can be a valuable way to highlight your capabilities, differentiate your organization and stand out with customers. With an advanced specialization, your organization can gain greater visibility in customer searches and the Microsoft partner directory, which can help your organization scale both now and in the long run. And with an Azure advanced specialization, you can also gain access to additional programs to help further expand your customer connections."

Truax's post acknowledged the investment of time and resources, and Clark said that one of the top challenges his team is currently focused on is helping partners visualize and plan for the road to profitability from investing in an advanced specialization to making money from one.

"A partner investing in specialization may recognize a return six months to nine months after they've invested in it. So they're saying, 'Hey, we know that profitability is there, but help us bridge this six to nine months,'" Clark said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 17, 2021 at 11:23 AM0 comments

Nadella Adds 'Chairman' to CEO Title at Microsoft

The Microsoft board looked at Satya Nadella's work for the last seven years as CEO and decided to add "chairman" to his title.

"In this role, Nadella will lead the work to set the agenda for the board, leveraging his deep understanding of the business to elevate the right strategic opportunities and identify key risks and mitigation approaches for the board's review," the company said in a statement Wednesday evening. Nadella was elected unanimously to the role by the Microsoft board's independent directors.

Nadella replaces John W. Thompson as chair. At the same time, Thompson was also unanimously elected as lead independent director. Thompson, the former chairman and CEO of Symantec, previously held that lead independent director role for Microsoft from 2012 to 2014.

"As lead independent director, Thompson will retain significant authority including providing input on behalf of the independent directors on board agendas, calling meetings of the independent directors, setting agendas for executive sessions, and leading performance evaluations of the CEO," the statement said.

Nadella becomes the first person to hold both titles since 2000, when co-founder Bill Gates passed the CEO role to Steve Ballmer. Gates stepped down as chairman in February 2014 when Nadella became CEO. Gates left Microsoft's board entirely in March 2020.

Last year, Gates and Microsoft said he was leaving to focus on his philanthropic efforts. Last month, it emerged that Gates' departure followed Microsoft having opened an internal investigation into reports that Gates had pursued a sexual relationship with an employee in 2000.

Nadella's new dual title reflects the confidence Microsoft's board has in Nadella's leadership. Although Nadella was widely respected in Silicon Valley in 2014, Microsoft engaged in a major PR campaign to assure investors that Gates would be working closely on a near day-to-day basis with Nadella.

Over time, discussions of Gates' involvement faded as Microsoft's reputation, cloud market share and stock price rapidly increased under Nadella's oversight. In recent years, Microsoft briefly reclaimed the title of most valuable company by market capitalization; it is currently No. 2 behind Apple.

The Microsoft board, in addition to Nadella and Thompson, consists of Reid Hoffman, Hugh Johnston, Teri List, Sandra E. Peterson, Penny Pritzker, Charles W. Scharf, John W. Stanton, Emma Walmsley and Padmasree Warrior.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 17, 2021 at 8:34 AM0 comments

Microsoft Officially Shelves Windows 10X, Starts Windows 10 21H1 Rollout

Microsoft on Tuesday announced the general availability of Windows 10 21H1, as well as confirmed earlier reports of Windows 10X's demise.

Windows 10 21H1, also called the May 2021 Update, is currently available to "select devices running Windows 10," wrote John Cable, vice president of program management for Windows Servicing and Delivery, in a blog post. Cable detailed how the update can be accessed on his post, adding that broader availability will happen in phases.

"[W]e are initially taking a measured seeker-based approach to the rollout of the May 2021 Update," he said. "We are throttling availability up over the coming weeks to ensure a reliable download experience for all, so the update may not be offered to you right away."

As for Windows 10X, Microsoft doesn't plan to deliver that at all.

"Instead of bringing a product called Windows 10X to market in 2021 like we originally intended, we are leveraging learnings from our journey thus far and accelerating the integration of key foundational 10X technology into other parts of Windows and products at the company," wrote John Cable, vice president of program management for Windows Servicing and Delivery, in the blog post.

Windows 10X was part of a big announcement in October 2019 that involved unveiling Surface Duo, a foldable device running Google's Android operating system, and Surface Neo, with Windows 10X designed to power that dual-screen device. Microsoft shipped Surface Duo last fall, but delayed Surface Neo and later said Windows 10X was being repurposed to focus on single-screen devices.

Then, earlier this month, reports surfaced that Windows 10X was delayed, future uncertain.

Cable's blog post, which was billed as being about the availability of Windows 10 version 21H1, makes it official that Windows 10X is no more.

"Following a year-long exploration and engaging in conversations with customers, we realized that the technology of Windows 10X could be useful in more ways and serve more customers than we originally imagined. We concluded that the 10X technology shouldn't just be confined to a subset of customers," Cable said.

According to Cable, elements of Windows 10X are now present in Windows Insider preview builds. Those include new app container technology that is integrated into Microsoft Defender Application Guard and an enhanced Voice Typing experience. Another 10X legacy within Windows Insider preview builds involves a modernized touch keyboard with optimized key sizing, sounds, colors and animations, he said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 18, 2021 at 5:00 PM0 comments

Nadella: Microsoft Teams Users Nearly Doubled Since Start of Pandemic

Lest the impression set in that Microsoft Teams usage growth plateaued early in the pandemic, CEO Satya Nadella uncorked a massive new number this week as part of Microsoft's third quarter earnings release.

"Teams now has over 145 million daily active users, almost double the number a year ago," Nadella said during the earnings call Tuesday.

The real-time collaboration platform with video meeting capabilities vaulted from about 20 million daily active users in November 2019 to 75 million DAU by mid-March of 2020. Since then, Microsoft has been relatively quiet about Teams usage metrics. That changed this week, with Nadella providing more context for the continuing expansion of the Teams user base.

"The number of organizations with more than 1,000 users integrating their third-party and LOB apps with Teams has increased nearly 3X year over year," he said. "We are accelerating our innovation, adding over 300 features over the past year, including more than 100 new capabilities so far in 2021. ... Teams is extending beyond communications, creating an entirely new category of modern collaborative applications, as organizations use Power Platform to build custom apps, bots and workflows within Teams."

As vaccination counts increase worldwide, a big question for platforms that replace office interactions and travel-based meetings is whether the pandemic-related usage will last.

Nadella wants investors to believe that the momentum will continue. "In markets where employees have returned to the workplace, including Australia, China, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan, we have seen usage continue to grow," he said.

The remarks came as Microsoft announced third quarter earnings of $1.95 per share on revenues of $41.71 billion. Both exceeded analyst expectations, although the stock fell in after-hours trading.

The Teams milestone also came on a day with one of the higher-profile global outages for the service. The Microsoft 365 Status (@MSFT365Status) account on Twitter reported an outage initially impacting Europe and Asia around 6:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday and confirmed about 20 minutes later that it was a global issue for Teams. According to the account, the Teams environment appeared to be fully restored a few hours later at 9:03 a.m.

In other milestone metrics on Tuesday, Nadella noted that Office 365 now has nearly 300 million paid seats, Windows 10 has more than 1.3 billion monthly active devices and Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) has a paid customer base of over 300,000, more than double the total for last year.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 28, 2021 at 9:11 AM0 comments

Nuance Acquisition Marks a Major Move by Microsoft in Health Care

With its second-biggest acquisition to date, Microsoft is massively increasing its bet on becoming a prime mover in health care tech.

Microsoft on Monday announced the planned acquisition of Nuance Communications for $19.7 billion. Boards of both companies unanimously approved the deal, which is expected to close this calendar year. Only Microsoft's $26.2 billion payment for LinkedIn in 2016 was larger in dollar terms.

Burlington, Mass.-based Nuance historically has a broad portfolio of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, including optical character recognition (OCR), and had a role in the speech recognition technology used by Apple for Siri. Recently, through divisional sales and repositioning, the company has been refining its focus to health care and enterprise AI. The company's core technology is primarily focused on speech recognition and transcription.

Microsoft's messaging about the deal heavily emphasizes the health care opportunity.

"Nuance provides the AI layer at the healthcare point of delivery and is a pioneer in the real-world application of enterprise AI," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a statement. "AI is technology's most important priority, and healthcare is its most urgent application. Together, with our partner ecosystem, we will put advanced AI solutions into the hands of professionals everywhere to drive better decision-making and create more meaningful connections, as we accelerate growth of Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare and Nuance."

[Click on image for larger view.] Mark Benjamin will remain as Nuance CEO, reporting to Scott Guthrie at Microsoft. (Source: Nuance Communications)

According to Microsoft, the deal doubles Microsoft's total addressable market in the health care provider space, where Microsoft is competing for attention and dollars with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google.

For health care providers, Nuance offers conversational AI and cloud-based ambient clinical intelligence. Products include the Dragon Ambient eXperience, Dragon Medical One and PowerScribe One for radiology reporting. All three of the clinical speech-recognition platforms run as SaaS offerings atop Microsoft Azure.

For Microsoft, the health care-specific AI reinforces the company's Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare and other moves in the sector. Microsoft also plans to leverage Nuance's experts and technologies in interactive voice response (IVR), virtual assistants and biometric solutions.

In addition to the Azure foundation for Nuance's SaaS products, the companies are already technologically intertwined. They announced a major partnership in 2019 for joint work on the Nuance Dragon Medical platform and on Microsoft's Project EmpowerMD Intelligent Scribe Service, as well as underlying Azure technologies.

Mark Benjamin, who will remain CEO of Nuance reporting to Scott Guthrie, the executive vice president of Cloud & AI at Microsoft, said the deal is important for the continued growth of Nuance's business.

"To seize this opportunity, we need the right platform to bring focus and global scale to our customers and partners to enable more personal, affordable and effective connections to people and care. The path forward is clearly with Microsoft -- who brings intelligent cloud-based services at scale and who shares our passion for the ways technology can make a difference. At the same time, this combination offers a critical opportunity to deliver meaningful and certain value to our shareholders who have driven and supported us on this journey," Benjamin said.

The all-cash transaction represented a 23 percent premium to Nuance's closing price on Friday, April 9.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 12, 2021 at 1:29 PM0 comments

Microsoft UK Gets New Channel Chief

Microsoft has hired Accenture's Salesforce business lead for the United Kingdom and Ireland as its new U.K. channel chief.

Orla McGrath will run the Microsoft Partner organization as the One Commercial Partner lead for Microsoft UK.

McGrath comes to Microsoft after a 26-year career with Accenture, according to her LinkedIn profile. Other roles at Accenture included being managing director at the U.K. and Ireland level for cloud-first applications and for emerging technology around SaaS and Salesforce. She had also been involved in management and consulting roles involving SAP, CRM and ERP.

Orla McGrath (source: Microsoft)

"I am excited to help shape Microsoft's partner ecosystem for the benefit of our customers and society more broadly. I couldn't think of a more exciting and challenging opportunity," McGrath said in a statement Monday.

McGrath replaces Joe Macri, who retired last year after a 24-year career at Microsoft.

Also joining the U.K. subsidiary is Soraya Scott, previously chief of staff for Jean-Philippe Courtois, who runs Microsoft International. Scott will be chief operating officer of Microsoft UK.

Microsoft UK CEO Clare Barclay said, "We are at an important inflection point in the U.K. market, so I am excited about the depth of global experience and leadership capability both Orla and Soraya bring, and they will both play a critical role in driving the future success in the U.K. with our customers and partners."

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 30, 2021 at 12:25 PM0 comments