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"Microsoft lacks cohesion," said TekLinks' Powell. "Are they a gaming company? A search engine company? A cloud company? It's hard to be good at all those things. The first thing Microsoft needs is a cohesive, unified strategy and then they need a partner community to execute and deliver that message."
Christopher Hertz, founder and CEO of New Signature, a $15 million Washington, D.C., solution provider that focuses exclusively on Microsoft, said he is sorry to see Ballmer step aside for a successor. "I was shocked," he said. "I figured he would be the CEO forever. To me, he is Microsoft."
Hertz credited Ballmer with bringing back the software giant's "swagger" with the product and services refresh over the past two years. "We rise and fall with Microsoft," he said. "That is all we do, and we have been growing at an insane clip. The last two years have been the best ever from a systems integrator perspective. We are a pure-play Microsoft partner and our business was up 47 percent last year and will be up 57 percent this year without any additional head count."
Alan Weinberger, chairman and CEO of The ASCII Group, an association for thousands of SMB solution providers, said all in all Ballmer has been a great partner advocate and often doesn't get recognition for the good things Microsoft has done over the past decade, from Windows XP and Windows 7, the Xbox, and moving Microsoft software to the cloud.
"He's a better leader than I think a lot of people give him credit for," said Weinberger. "I think he's done a lot of good things that he doesn't get credit for. I give him a decent grade for his tenure. He was committed to his employees and his partners. He wasn't arrogant or too high-minded. He's humble, energetic and he's a smart guy. And I think he related to partners well. Microsoft's Surface channel strategy aside, I think he's been loyal to the channel and been a strong advocate for partners and their businesses.
"It's going to be a big shift for Microsoft," Weinberger said. "Ballmer's been there since 1980, and that's a long time for anyone to be anywhere, let alone in the fast-changing technology industry."
Rick Jordan, director of sales and strategic alliances at Tenet Computer Group, a Toronto-based Microsoft partner, said his company is putting more resources than ever before into the Microsoft partnership.
"What's ironic is that we have always been a Microsoft partner and it's only as of the probably the last two months that we have invested more of our resources into a partnership with Microsoft. We just signed an agreement to be a Windows Azure partner."
Jordan said that despite the positives Ballmer brought to the company, Microsoft could use some new blood to take the company forward.
"From people I talk to from large companies to small companies, from SMB to the enterprise side, either you like the guy or you hate the guy," added Jordan. "He's been with the company 30-plus years, since Bill Gates, so maybe it's time to get somebody different at the helm and think about things a little differently."
ROB WRIGHT contributed to this story.