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U.S. Solution Providers Still Left Out Of Microsoft Surface Strategy

Rob Wright
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Microsoft this week unveiled plans to expand channel distribution of its Surface across several countries but added no U.S. solution providers to the tiny roster of partners currently authorized to sell the device.

Jon Roskill, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group, said Monday during Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference keynote that the Redmond, Wash.-based company would expand the new Microsoft Devices Program for Surface to 28 additional countries, including Canada and Mexico, by the end September.

"We're watching very carefully what happens in the U.S. over the next three months, and watching what happens in these other countries, and we will make adjustments," Roskill said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with CRN.

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

But, U.S. solution providers are still blocked from selling Surface tablets with the exception of the 10 U.S. large account resellers Microsoft authorized last week. Neither Roskill nor Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer offered any details on when Microsoft's U.S. value channel will get to sell Surface.

"I'm disappointed they went to just the LARs first," said Jane Cage, COO of Heartland Technologies in Joplin, Mo. "For a company that claims to be channel friendly, it's really upsetting."

Microsoft hasn't disclosed how many partners in other countries will be made Authorized Surface Resellers under the program, but Roskill said the plan will be "a thoughtful, phased approach" of bringing the tablets to business users and commercial customers across the globe.

Solution providers, however, say the approach is shortsighted.

"They're continuing to alienate us with the devices program," said Brian Goddard, owner of Microsoft partner GTechserv in Charlotte, N.C. "It's a slap in the face, and to make matters worse, they're treating partners at WPC like customers by selling them Surface at discount prices."

Microsoft is currently offering WPC attendees steep discounts on Surface products, including just $99 for the original Windows RT-based Surface. But, virtually all of those partners are still unable to resell the tablets because they are not authorized under the Microsoft Devices Program.

Meanwhile, Microsoft announced a channel effort Monday called TouchWins to promote Windows 8 devices in the commercial market. The reward program offers per-device incentives of up to $10 to certified resellers that sell featured touchscreen PCs and tablets running Windows 8 Pro, including OEM and Microsoft's own products. The TouchWins Program includes the Surface Pro -- but only the 10 LAR partners authorized as Surface Resellers will be able to collect those incentives.

Cage said Microsoft's decision to limit Surface availability isn't just about the hardware itself or reselling incentives. "Our only chance at real revenue with tablets is the wrap-around services," she said, "and we can't get those services if we can't sell the devices."

Kevin McLaughlin contributed to this article.


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