Ballmer At Microsoft WPC: Integrated Platforms Mean Big Partner Opportunities

Microsoft is moving to integrate as many of its platforms and applications, particularly with public and private clouds, as possible, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on Monday said at his keynote presentation at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference.

Ballmer, speaking at the Staples Center in Los Angeles before a crowd of about 12,000 partners from about 120 countries, also used his Microsoft WPC keynote to emphasize the strength of the company's partner network.

Prior to Ballmer's keynote, Jon Roskill, corporate vice president of the company's worldwide partner group, said that about 95 percent of Microsoft's business came through partners.

Ballmer, who called the Microsoft WPC his most exciting event of the year, said that Roskill may have underestimated the importance of partners.

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"Jon said 95 percent of our worldwide business comes through partners," he said. "But I can't find the other 5 percent. So I'm going to say, we do 100 percent of our business through our partners."

Ballmer said Microsoft had a strong year with double-digit growth in the first three quarters across its Office and Windows Server product lines, giving it a solid base on which to build new partner opportunities.

"Microsoft is absolutely unique in both the breadth and integration across our platforms," Ballmer said.

Microsoft in the last year has released a SDK (software developer kit) to help developers turn its Xbox 360 Kinect controller into a business device, seen its Bing search engine and Azure public cloud grow, had a strong Windows Server business, released Office 365, and had its Windows operating system deployed on 350 million new PCs, Ballmer said.

"The other guys have 20 million PCs," he said. "Twenty million seems small. We think it's too big. But 350 is much bigger than 20."

Microsoft is also seeing movement on its Windows 7 Phone operating system, although it has not caught on like its other technologies, Ballmer said. "Phones? We've gone from very small to very small," he said. "But it's been a heck of a year."

About 20,000 apps have already been built for the Microsoft Windows Phone 7 platform in the last eight months, which Ballmer said is a faster ramp-up than either the Apple or the Android platforms experienced. He said he expects Microsoft Windows Phone 7 to be the number two mobile device platform by 2015, based on IDC and Gartner projections.

Ballmer also said that the next version of Microsoft Windows Phone 7, known as "Mango," is slated to ship this Fall with 500 new features.

All those various platforms are offering Microsoft's partners new opportunities to take advantage of integration opportunities, especially in terms of the cloud, Ballmer said.

Over the last 12 months, Microsoft has helped partners and customers integrate private clouds with its Windows Server and Hyper-V virtualization technologies, and has made major strides in developing the Azure private cloud, giving partners the opportunity to compete against such giants as VMware, Google, and Amazon, he said.

About two-thirds of Microsoft Dynamics CRM (customer relationship management) wins in the last year were done with the cloud, and Microsoft will add its ERP (enterprise resource management) solutions to the cloud in the coming year with a new version of Microsoft Dynamics AX, he said.

Office 365, Microsoft's cloud-based service based on its Office applications suite, also shows much promise, Ballmer said, as 50,000 businesses have signed up to try it in the two weeks since it went live.

Next: Integrating Skype, Lync, Xbox, Kinect, Bing, Voice, More

Microsoft also looks forward to integrating Skype with its Lync unified communications application, Ballmer said. Microsoft in May said it plans to acquire Skype, a provider of IP-based communications, and in June received regulatory approval for the deal.

Microsoft will add digital meeting and whiteboarding capability to Lync this year, and plans to integrate Lync with Skype to give customers and partners complete control over all their communications, Ballmer said.

"And together with the combination of Skype and Lync, we'll be able to drive even better things this year," he said.

Microsoft is also in the process of integrating live TV through its Xbox 360 gaming console, allowing users to use the Kinect wireless controllers to access television shows and movies via Netflix without pressing buttons, Ballmer said.

The company will also integrate voice control and its Bing search engine as well, he said. "You say it, and Xbox finds it. . . . Just think how you can apply the same concepts at work," he said.

Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Fairfax, Va.-based managed services provider and infrastructure provider, said Ballmer's presentation was much tighter and clearer vision than last year's.

"The tidbits of reality were nice to hear," Sobel said. "He said things like Microsoft's mobile phone market share grew from 'very small' to 'very small,' and that it didn't grow like he thought it would. That's good."

Sobel said it was also nice to hear real projections about the expected growth of Microsoft's phone business, particularly the IDC and Gartner projection that Microsoft would have the number two market share. "It's going to be a tough fight for them," he said.