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"I'll be looking for a sense of overall direction," said Ric Opal, vice president at Peters & Associates, a Chicago-area Microsoft gold partner. "I would like some idea of how we want to shape our business going forward."
Opal was specifically referring to Ballmer's keynote speech Monday, often a forum for the chief executive to spell out his vision for the company and its channel partners. Opal's comments echoed other channel partners who say they hope to leave Houston with a clearer idea of where Microsoft is headed.
Some 16,000 Microsoft partners are expected to attend this year's WPC at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.
"We want to understand the company's key initiatives, new products and partner incentives," said Brent Carney, director of strategic alliances at Slalom Consulting, a Seattle-based Microsoft gold cloud alliance partner.
Partners will be seeking information about Windows 8.1, the upcoming upgrade for Windows 8, last year's release of the company's flagship operating system that introduced a revamped user interface and support for touch-screen tablets. Some industry observers have said Windows 8 is a slow seller, although Microsoft has said it has sold more than 100 million licenses.
Windows 8.1 is slated to launch later this year and is expected to correct some of Windows 8's shortcomings.
This week NetMarketShare, which monitors online activity, said Windows 8 ran on 5.1 percent of all computers in June, surpassing Microsoft's much-maligned Windows Vista.
Windows 8 "is the Vista of our generation," said one disgruntled partner who asked not to be identified. If the re-engineered Windows 8.1 is successful, the partner said he would recommend it to his customers. "If not, we'll probably skip a generation and wait for Windows 9 or even 10."
The partner noted that cloud computing "is where all the activity is" on Microsoft's part. "I'm worried they will think everyone wants cloud."
Brust noted that, in some cases -- SharePoint being one example -- Microsoft has introduced new functionality in cloud versions of a product before making it available in the on-premises edition. That's left some partners feeling like their connection with Microsoft is slipping away.
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