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Sheldon Fernandez, a director at Infusion, a $60 million 12-year Microsoft partner based in Toronto, is also a big fan of Ballmer and the technology unveiled under his stewardship. Infusion's goal is to more than double from 400 to 1,000 employees as it tackles the Microsoft opportunity over the next few years.
Fernandez sees the biggest Microsoft differentiators as Windows 8 and the Metro interface. "It's going to be huge," he said.
"Businesses want to leverage new digital [Metro] UI experiences in ways that they never traditionally did before," he said. Combining Windows 8 mobile devices and then connecting them seamlessly to the Microsoft cloud will open unimaginable vistas for customers, he said.
But not everyone is pleased with the new Microsoft, and the company's new "era" has some partners crying foul. They point to Microsoft's decision to refuse to let partners sell Surface and its move earlier this month to discontinue Windows Small Business Server as shots across the bow of partners.
Requiring that partners buy Surface from Microsoft.com or a Microsoft retail store could have a backlash, pushing more partners into the growing Apple camp. A CRN survey of 60-plus solution providers shows Microsoft may have missed out on a big opportunity by going direct. The number of partners rating the Windows 8 tablet opportunity as outstanding or good soared from 34 percent to 64 percent after Microsoft introduced Surface, giving the product a thumbs-up. But that was before partners learned they would not be able to sell it.
Bob Venero, CEO of Future Tech, a Holbrook, N.Y.-based solution provider, said Ballmer telling partners to buy Surface from Microsoft.com is an "insult."
"It is a sad day when Microsoft wants to become Apple," said Venero. "Instead of trying to be Apple, they should stick to what makes them successful, which is their partner community. If you look at the history of what partners have done for Microsoft over the years, it is a smack in the face. We helped to create the vast enterprise that is Microsoft. If we look at the integration work, solution sets, [software] rollouts, licensing management, all of those things that we have done [for] small/medium businesses, midmarket, all the way up into the enterprise and government, that has all been driven through partners. Just because Apple is eating Microsoft's lunch on the tablet doesn't mean their route to market should exclude the partners."
Bob Nitrio, CEO of Ranvest Associates, an Orangevale, Calif.-based solution provider, sees the same kind of disregard for partners serving small-business customers. He said Microsoft's decision to discontinue Small Business Server is a move to strong-arm partners and their customers to move to the cloud.
"A lot of small businesses either because of the nature of their business or regulatory requirements don't want to or can't move certain things to the cloud," he said. "Microsoft doesn't care. They have huge investments in data centers and want to start making money off them."