Microsoft's Ballmer Touts New Products, Mum On Channel Surface Tablet Sales

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The other big applause generator was the announcement of the Office 365 Open Program under which channel partners can buy Office 365 subscription keys from Microsoft, resell them to customers and directly bill customers for the subscriptions along with other services.

Until now Microsoft controlled the Office 365 billing, a policy some partners felt got between them and their customers.

Partners can continue to offer Office 365 under the existing Office 365 Advisor program under which partners received a percentage of the subscription fees for reference-selling the cloud application suite. Monday, Microsoft announced that it is increasing those margins up to as much as 23 percent, 11 points more than today, when they sell more than 150 seats of Office 365, said Kurt DelBene, president of the Microsoft Office Division.

While virtually every Microsoft executive at one point referred to the new Surface tablets, there was no specific announcement about the role the channel will play in selling them. The Surface announcement has also created tension with Microsoft's OEM partners who manufacture Windows-based tablets.

The executives appeared to be downplaying that tension: Ballmer at one point referred to the Surface devices as "just a design point" and said Microsoft has a "mutual goal" with OEM partners to bring a diversity of devices to market. In her presentation, Reller demonstrated a number of devices from OEM partners running Windows software.

Microsoft also announced that it is acquiring Perceptive Pixel Inc., a New York-based developer of large-scale, multi-touch display technology, for an undisclosed sum. DelBene said the technology can be combined with Windows 8 and hardware from OEM partners to create interactive wall displays and other products.

A demonstration of the technology by Jeff Han, Perceptive Pixel founder and CTO, wowed the audience.

Ballmer and DelBene also touted the potential opportunities for partners that Microsoft's pending acquisition of Yammer, the developer of social networking cloud applications for businesses, will bring. But other than general plans to integrate Yammer with SharePoint, Skype and Lync, there were no specific announcements made.


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