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HTG's Sorenson, for his part, says Microsoft has made a strategic miscalculation by trying to copy Apple's product, sales and marketing strategy, even adopting Apple's tight lipped communications stance when it comes to Windows 8 and Surface. That decision not to work closely with partners, he says, has set the Windows 8 channel sales effort back six months.
"We didn't get started with Windows 8 nearly as early as we should have," said Sorenson, noting it was a complete break from all previous releases of Windows. "As a result we are still learning it and not really selling it as we would have been with other releases. They made a mistake in the way they approached the market, not allowing partners access with early testing. That has slowed the whole rollout process. We have been living in kind of a [Windows 8] black hole for the last year."
"I have never seen this from Microsoft," added Sorenson. "It is totally different than from the way they brought product to the market in the past. It was a calculated decision. I understand the logic in it, but they kind of overdid it. They are not Apple. They tried to be Apple, and it was the wrong approach in my opinion."
Sorenson isn't the only one that feels that way. A number of Microsoft partners say that Microsoft's Surface effort has been flummoxed by Apple envy.
"I am not surprised that Microsoft is looking for greater distribution for Surface," said Bob Nitrio, CEO of Ranvest Associates, an Orangevale, Calif.-based small business-focused Microsoft partner.
"It makes sense from the standpoint that they want additional sales. But, I honestly feel they botched the entire Windows 8 launch, including Surface. It's obvious to me they are looking at ways to emulate the Apple ecosystem, and they have in place new elements to do that with a cross-platform effort from the phone to tablet to desktop to server with Windows 8. But, then Microsoft goes out and says we are going to distribute Surface through retail stores just like Apple and sell it themselves. The SMB community is asking: 'What is going on here? Are they truly becoming just like Apple -- so everything goes direct?"
Nitrio says Microsoft would have been better off pushing forward at the same time as Surface RT with an aggressive launch of Windows 8 Pro-based Surface, which unlike Surface with Windows RT, can run Microsoft Outlook. "Microsoft should have launched the fully vetted [Surface running] Windows 8 Pro at the same time," asserted Nitrio. "There are people in the business community that would like to get their hands on it and are being forced to wait until the first quarter. Surface [Running Windows 8] Pro could really have re-energized the SMB market with the help of partners. Instead Microsoft focused on the consumer side first and tried to emulate Apple." Partners say Microsoft would have seen better sales traction if it exploited its monopoly position and huge installed base in the business-productivity software market with Office and Windows. Instead they say Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer decided to battle Apple where the iPad and iPhone marketing machine is almost unassailable: in the consumer market.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that Microsoft is determined not to cede any consumer ground in its battle with Apple when he asserted earlier this year in an interview with CRN that Microsoft would leave no "stone unturned" in its innovation battle with Apple.
"We have our advantages in productivity," Ballmer told CRN in July. "We have our advantages in terms of enterprise management, manageability. We have got our advantages in terms of when you plug into server infrastructure in the enterprise. But we are not going to let any piece of this [go uncontested to Apple]. Not the consumer cloud. Not hardware software innovation. We are not leaving any of that to Apple by itself. Not going to happen."
At the same time, Ballmer told CRN that if Microsoft partners want to buy Surface, they can buy it from Microsoft.com.