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Touting the opportunities a wave of new products being unveiled this year will create for partners, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, in a keynote speech before 16,000 at the Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto, said the event "kick[s] off what I consider to be the most epic year in Microsoft history."
Microsoft used the morning keynotes to say that Windows 8 will be released to manufacturing the first week in August and generally available by late October. The company also announced a plan to let partners resell the Office 365 cloud application suite and bill customers for the subscriptions, eliminating a point of contention that's existed between Microsoft and its partners since Office 365 went live more than a year ago.
But, channel partners had to be disappointed when Ballmer and other Microsoft executives made no announcements about whether the channel will have an opportunity to resell the Surface tablet computers Microsoft recently unveiled. At the time of the Surface announcements, Microsoft only said it plans to sell the devices through the company's retail stores and some online sites.
"I will tell you, our partners, that this year, this year, is the most important year of unparalleled opportunities," said Ballmer, as exuberant as ever despite battling several balky microphones while speaking in the cavernous Air Canada Center. "The chance to strike, the chance to make a difference, the chance to build your business, the chance to grow," he said.
The theme of Ballmer's address was the wave of new products Microsoft has already introduced this year and will be debuting later this year. "It's Windows, it's Windows Phone, it's Windows Servers, it's Windows Azure, it's Office. It's the core of Microsoft reinventing itself for a modern era," he said. "This year will be the best year ever, ever, ever, to be a Microsoft partner."
Opening the keynote session, Jon Roskill, corporate vice president and head of the worldwide partner group, said Microsoft's partners generated $609 billion in total sales last year, up 13 percent from the previous year. "Microsoft and its partners are getting it right, and we're onto something big," he said.
The Windows 8 general availability announcement, made by Tami Reller, corporate vice president and CFO of Windows and Windows Live, was one of the biggest applause-getters of the morning. Ballmer called Windows 8 "simply the biggest deal for our company in 17 years," a reference to the launch of the breakout Windows 95 desktop OS. "It's a huge opportunity for our partners."
But, upgrades to the current generation Windows 7 has also presented opportunities for partners as well. Reller said more than 50 percent of all enterprise desktop PCs are now running Windows 7 and more than 630 million Windows 7 licenses have been sold overall.