Microsoft Desktop Initiative To Push Windows XP, Office 2003 Deployments


Funds will be focused on partner enablement


As it faces a more serious threat from Linux on the desktop, Microsoft will invest $50 million during its next fiscal year to accelerate more corporate deployment of Windows XP and Office 2003.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant will announce at its Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto a revamped "Desktop Deployment Initiative" that provides partners with more business investment funds, resources and personnel to help get customers upgraded to Microsoft's latest fleet of desktop software.

Most significantly, the fund will pay for 57 new hires worldwide who will be deployed as desktop specialists in the field. In the United States, Microsoft will deploy 24 desktop experts who will be empowered to help partners and customers realize a return on investment (ROI) on software many have licensed as part of their Microsoft upgrade contracts but have not yet installed.

Microsoft estimates that only 30 percent of its installed base currently runs the three-year-old Windows XP, while a much smaller percentage has installed Office 2003. And only a third of the total Office installed base today runs Microsoft's Office XP.

The $50 million -- a substantial increase from last year's budget -- will be spent primarily on partners and will open up channel opportunities on the desktop and server, said Mark Hassall, group product manager for the Windows Client Division at Microsoft.

The initiative will be announced this week as Microsoft prepares to release Service Pack 2, a significant update to Windows XP, later this summer.

"It's a huge service opportunity for a partner," said Hassall, noting that Microsoft wants to dispel customers' notion that what they have on the desktop is good enough. "We're only at 30 percent of [Windows XP] licenses being deployed to date. The majority [of corporate customers] have licenses for Windows and Office [upgrades], but they haven't deployed it."

To that end, Microsoft plans to launch sub-competencies and other tools and prescriptive guidance to reduce the cost of deployment, one major obstacle to adoption.

The first sub-competency will qualify enterprise partners on a solution accelerator for business desktop deployment that vastly reduces the cost of PC deployment and provisioning for Windows XP and Office 2003. The enterprise edition, as it is known, will enable a "zero-touch" deployment for large customers that is fully automated using Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 and requires no manual intervention by customers.

The second sub-competency is a "lite touch" deployment accelerator for solution providers serving customers in the midmarket space.

The company also plans to make available to enterprise partners a "zero touch provisioning" accelerator that will enable end users to self-service tasks such as requesting the installation of an application or resetting a network password.

"We built in a rules-based engine based on BizTalk that can automate requests, get approved by a manager, and install a new application," Hassall said. "And the opportunity is not just for desktop deployment but add-ons for server infrastructure using SMS and Active Directory and BizTalk in providing an infrastructure for installation and provisioning services."

Microsoft also plans to make available a standard edition of the solution accelerator for business desktop deployment for VARs, value-added providers and solution providers serving the midmarket space.

One solution provider said the desktop initiative is a wise move.

"To be sure, the Linux threat is real and they are trying to stay ahead and competitive, but Microsoft realizes that the threat is not Linux as much as from its own installed base," said Ken Winell, CEO and President of Econium, a solution provider based in Totowa, N.J. "There are lots of Win 2000 desktops out there, and Office XP/2000. Hopefully, this new initiative by Microsoft will help tear down the resistance."

Another partner said it's important to get more Windows XP and Office deployed on desktops to drive an upgrade cycle of server applications, such as Exchange 2003.

"The more deployments that take place on the desktop, the more the Windows Office platform is seeded and the more the customers will embrace the next product releases and platform," said Braden Barras, director of partner alliances at Intellinet, a solution provider in Atlanta. "It indirectly drives future server sales which directly drives services business for us."

Microsoft will also urge partners to use a Total Cost of Acquisition calculator developed by Nervewire, which will enable technical specialists to perform custom analyses of deployment costs.