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7 Halloween Nightmares for Microsoft Partners: Worst-Case Scenarios

Here in the States it's Halloween, the day we all try to freak ourselves and each other out with scary costumes and scary movies. In the spirit of the holiday, I'll offer up my seven worst nightmares for Microsoft partners.

What would be the worst-case scenarios for solution providers who have made big bets on Microsoft technologies?

1. Windows Phone Drifts Into Oblivion
With an innovative smartphone operating system and with Nokia going all-in on Windows Phone, Microsoft believes it can build its market share from the current low single-digits into a credible third player in the smartphone market. Analysts at IDC and Gartner like Microsoft's chances and also believe the company could hit roughly 20 percent market share for Windows Phone by 2015. But if the platform's share continues to show zero growth, more partners than just Nokia will be left holding the bag. Any solution provider who invested development and other types of resources in the phone will be in trouble.

2. Windows 8 Becomes a Tombstone Instead of a Tablet
Microsoft made a huge bet on a Windows Phone-like interface for Windows 8, with a touch-first approach designed to win share on tablets. The move involves significant new industry partnerships around ARM processors -- it's no longer just Intel (and AMD) inside. Solution providers, too, are being encouraged to design solutions around Windows 8-based tablets. But what if users decide that they still like the iPad better? After all, that's what's happened to every other iPad killer on the market so far.

3. Windows 8 Sucks the Blood Out of Microsoft's Desktop Dominance
Scarier still on Windows 8: Microsoft is putting all its user interface eggs in the touch-first basket. Many observers think it's brilliant. But what if the naysayers are right -- that the tried-and-true, mouse-and-keyboard approach has worked for so long because it's how users want to interact with a PC? Could Microsoft Windows 8 catastrophically damage Microsoft's one-billion PC installed base? One other thing to note -- developers have already expressed unhappiness with some of the language and development tool decisions in the complex Windows 8 version matrix. Poor execution on the transition could alienate the developers that have made Microsoft dominant.

4. Internet Explorer Evaporates to a Shadow of Its Former Self
Windows' market share has been falling slowly, especially when you count tablets as PCs, as market research firm Canalys does. But Internet Explorer has been losing users at an extremely rapid clip. Microsoft's days of strict antitrust oversight are over, but will the company's slide in browser usage make the rekindled Windows-IE bundling possibilities irrelevant?

5. Microsoft Chainsaws Partners Out of the Cloud.
The first four scenarios involve potential Microsoft missteps, where partners are pulling for Microsoft's success because it contributes to their own success. But what about cases where Microsoft turns away from partners? Some evidence of friction is already apparent when it comes to Office 365/BPOS, where control of customer billing has been an issue. Clearly, partners need different business models to make good money in the cloud. But solution providers' bread-and-butter has been server installation and maintenance. As more and more of that infrastructure gets absorbed by large cloud providers, including Microsoft, more brutal battles could be coming.

6. Dynamics Changes Leave Small Partners in the Cold
Microsoft this month launched the Master VAR program, partially as an acknowledgement that the new Microsoft Partner Network leaves less room for small partners with stable, rather than fast-growing, practices in the business applications market. Partners who don't like the Master VAR model may find themselves with few places to turn -- at least in the Microsoft ecosystem.

7. Small Partners Become Ghosts in the Microsoft Partner Network
A common criticism of the year-old Microsoft Partner Network, which went fully live on Nov. 1, 2010, was that it's geared toward larger partner companies, not just in the Dynamics area but across the board. Requirements for minimum numbers of certified people to achieve gold and silver competencies mean companies with fewer than about 10 employees will have a very difficult time achieving competencies. Will those partners become the ghosts of the MPN -- still formally enrolled in Microsoft's program but looking to other vendors as their most strategic partners?

Will any of these nightmares come true? There's evidence of the last few taking place, although none of it is definitive or irreversible. As for Windows 8 and Windows Phone, there are a lot of reasons to be enthusiastic about Microsoft's recent strategy shifts. But talking about reasons for bullishness wouldn't be very much fun on Halloween. Check back with us on Thanksgiving.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 31, 2011