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The Microsoft Tsunami Crests

Microsoft head honcho Steve Ballmer calls the software releases for 2006 the greatest wave of innovation in the company's history -- perhaps the history of the IT industry. In fact, you might say that it's the tsunami that will wash over the entire IT landscape and, in particular, the channel.

No matter what, Microsoft will not abandon its traditional partners who provide software and supporting infrastructure for its software packages. But, it's more obvious than ever that the software giant is on collision course with its peers and, eventually, Microsoft will force its 600,000-plus partners to make a choice of allegiance.

Take the security market, for instance. During his keynote at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston, Ballmer said, "This is the year we will enter the security market in full force." We've been watching Microsoft creep along in the security market from a company's whose software needed the warmth of other vendors' security blanket to one that provides the utility software and the security that protects it. No surprise there, and it's part of the reason we're seeing many security vendors -- particularly Symantec, Cisco and SonicWall -- diversify their portfolios.

What's new is what Ballmer implied with this statement: "While there will continue to be healthy co-opetition [with best-of-breed players like a Symantec], a rich security offering from Microsoft will help customers and give incredible alternatives for partners." He went on to talk about "uncomfortable" conversations and choices partners will have to make in the future.

Microsoft is on a collision course with several of its traditional industry partners. In security, Microsoft will slam into Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro and Cisco. In business software, it will be Hyperion, SAP, Oracle and Business Objects. In search, Google and Yahoo are clearly in Redmond's sights. And in services, it seems everyone could be a potential target.

Granted, Microsoft is pledging the full weight of its marketing and technical support. Channel chief Allison Watson is rolling out profitability metrics and support tools almost on a daily basis. And the entire Microsoft infrastructure is bracing to train partners on the innovations and opportunities the wave of product releases will bring them. With an existing market base of 600 million desktop users and 20 million small businesses that still don't have a server, the potential is huge.

Difficult choices for partners? Yes. If Ballmer's remarks are interpreted as "exclusive Microsoft relationships," solution providers will be faced with making the difficult choice of abandoning proven products by Oracle, Symantec and Cisco in favor or a company that has a history of getting technology right on the second try.

We'll see if solution providers will catch the wave or get swamped by the tsunami with the release of Vista's business version this fall (at least that's the latest target).

What do you think about Microsoft's coming competitive conflicts and the choices solution providers will have to make? Send me your thoughts.

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