Q&A: Microsoft's Roskill Says Surface Channel Rollout Is Actually Going Well

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Microsoft channel chief Jon Roskill is on the hot seat this week at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, and it has nothing to do with the fact that the event is being held in Houston in July.

Many Microsoft partners want to sell Surface tablets. So far, Microsoft isn't letting them do so. That's puzzling to partners who've been dutifully waving the Microsoft flag for years, and who've customarily been rewarded with a chance to kick the tires on Microsoft's latest and greatest before the general public.

That isn't the case this time. So, with Microsoft now selling Surface through a cadre of 10 high volume resellers, partners are growing impatient with what they're hearing – and not hearing -- from Microsoft's top brass.


[Related: Microsoft's Ballmer Avoids Surface Channel Strategy In Partner Conference Keynote ]

On Tuesday, CRN sat down with Roskill to delve into this issue, and Surface-hungry partners might feel some optimism at what he had to say. Roskill also dug into other current matters of interest for the channel, like cloud computing, Office 365 and Windows 8.1, to name a few.

Following is a lightly edited transcript from the interview.

Partners want to sell Surface, and they're frustrated by Microsoft's refusal to let them do so…

Yes, there was a [CRN] story yesterday that implied Steve [Ballmer] avoided talking about it.

It's not so much that [Ballmer] was avoiding it. He just didn't see it as that relevant to the discussion, because we're so early in Surface commercial distribution.

If Microsoft is transforming into a devices and services company, is Surface part of the devices piece of that equation?

Oh, without a doubt. Steve's been talking about devices and services internally for more than a year now, and I think there have been people inside Microsoft saying, "What does that really mean for us?"

I've been talking with the Windows team and saying look, [Surface] is here. And they've been saying look, we've got so much on our plate already. How much more they can take on, and how fast, is really what the issue has been on all of this.

We made the decision in late February to put Surface into commercial distribution, and four months later, we did. I actually think that's pretty good for a company that is not a hardware company.

Who at Microsoft is making the call on Surface distribution?

I would say it's a collective decision. Tami Reller [Windows CFO and CMO] is responsible for Surface sales and marketing. There is also myself. [COO] Kevin Turner is very clearly aware, though he's not day-to-day on this. Vahé Torossian [corporate vice president, Worldwide Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners Group] has been in on these meetings. And Chris Capossela [Microsoft CMO] in the consumer channels group. Those are the main players.

NEXT: Microsoft Talks Channel Roll Out Plans

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