Microsoft is set to launch a Windows 8 Pro version of its Surface tablet this weekend, but it's a party that the channel isn't invited to, at least for now.
Microsoft has said the Surface Windows 8 Pro is only available in the United States direct from Microsoft and through Best Buy, Staples and Microsoft retail stores.
Several solution providers said customers have asked about the Surface Windows 8 Pro, but they don't have many answers to give them because Microsoft hasn't communicated much to them regarding the product.
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"Yes, I'm a little disappointed. Yes, I'd love to be on that stuff," said John Motazedi, president of SNC Squared, a Joplin, Mo.-based solution provider. The Surface Windows 8 Pro would be an ideal hardware solution for several of his healthcare clients, Motazedi said.
"We're the guys burning pavement to make things happen [for Microsoft]. I wish we had more love from Microsoft on that. I know it's going to come around, but we like to be the guys with the shiny new gadgets for customers."
More commercial customers are becoming increasingly interested in mobile solutions, which makes the Surface Pro, a touch tablet with full Windows functionality, a big opportunity, Motazedi said.
Unfortunately, Microsoft has been silent to partners, he said.
"We're asking, but we're not getting a whole lot of info. That would be nice to have, but we don't have it," Motazedi said.
Microsoft is taking a "phased approach" to Surface availability, according to a spokesperson, but did not offer specific plans for solution providers.
"We look forward to our retail partners sharing their own excitement as Surface expands its retail footprint," the spokesperson wrote in a statement.
Meanwhile, Carl Mazzanti, president of eMazzanti, a Hoboken, N.J.-based solution provider, understands that e-tailers and big-box stores can help Microsoft get a large footprint for Surface, but nobody can cover the commercial market like solution providers, he said.
"I still think it's a mistake to cut out your partner base. That's one of the strongest things Microsoft has. Not directly engaging your partner base to present [Surface] to customers is a mistake," Mazzanti said.
He noted that several other vendors, including Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard, have visited or have scheduled upcoming visits to eMazzanti to showcase their Windows 8 tablets to bring to customers.
"They're all going to come out with their 'Surface killers.' From a person that eats, breathes and sleeps in the channel, I can tell you we are looking for options that we can sell and support to customers. The Microsoft partners are going to be focused on sticking with manufacturers that they have tight relationships with," Mazzanti said.
NEXT: More Functionality Equals More OpportunityMicrosoft hasn't divulged any plans to let distributor Synnex carry Microsoft Surface tablets for either Windows RT or Windows 8 Pro, Synnex CEO Kevin Murai told CRN last month.
"They haven't mentioned anything on that. I would love to see Surface as a channel play, but they haven't been committal at all on that. I'm not sure disappointed is the right word, but I would love to see it," Murai told CRN after Synnex reported its fourth-quarter earnings.
Microsoft itself has been silent regarding the channel and Surface, only revealing last month that it was expanding the retail outlets for the Windows RT version of the tablet.
Jon Sastre, president and CEO, Conquest Technology Services, Miami, believes the channel will get its opportunity with Surface. He said he had breakfast with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer a few months back and grilled Ballmer about Microsoft's Surface strategy. While Ballmer didn't offer channel details, Sastre came away believing that Microsoft was not taking a "follow-the-leader" mentality by getting into hardware.
"As a VAR, I'm not making a ton of money selling that category of device anyway. We're making a lot of money configuring and deploying [tablets], and the value add I add is getting the right device into the hands of clients, and if it's a Surface Windows 8 Pro, that's OK," Sastre said.
The Surface Pro should be a commercial hit because of the increased functionality it provides compared to Apple's iPad or other Windows RT or Android-based tablets, Sastre said.
"I love my iPad, but it's not a computer. This really captures everything for a user that wants QuickBooks or CRM right in front of them," he said. "The ability to access files in SharePoint, that's a big deal. To edit them is a bigger deal. Surface [RT] was a great start. But, it's a start. The big gorilla still missing for our clients is Outlook. They say, 'We need a device to carry Outlook.'"
PUBLISHED FEB. 8, 2013