Editorial: Ins and outs of Office

Editorial: Ins and outs of Office

Over the last few weeks there has been no shortage of discussion about Microsoft’s new productivity suite, Office 2003.

Microsoft launched the product with its usual marketing onslaught, highlighting all the new functionality and the reasons why users should upgrade.

Selling the IT channel on a product update is usually almost as tough as it is selling it to end-users. But Microsoft has done its homework on this one and it appears that many people in the channel are already sold on it.

As explained in a story on page 4, Microsoft has released a low-cost, bare-bones version of the product for the education market — and rather than only sell it through authorised education resellers, the product can be sold by any reseller and purchased by just about anybody. So it is likely to be a hot ticket item in the coming months.

It is the latest in a series of moves by the vendor to open up its channel and remove any barriers to doing business with its partners. Just a few months ago, Microsoft began opening up its Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) products to the wider Microsoft channel.

Such strategies mean that in the short term, there will be winners and losers. The winners are those that have access to a new product that they were not previously accredited to sell. The losers are those that spent considerable resources on gaining accreditation so that they could access select markets, only to have to share that market with a flock of new competitors that have not made the same commitment to the vendor.

Many MBS resellers, particularly those that came from the acquisitions of Great Plains and Navision, were upset by Microsoft’s decision to open up the MBS channel. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft’s certified education partners will feel about having to share their market with the software company’s entire dealer channel.

It would be safe to suggest that as most vendors mature, they tend to structure their channel by separating their partners according to skills, volume or other commitments. They look for ways of rewarding those partners that go the extra yard for them.

While Microsoft has always had tiers and levels of accreditation, these latest moves in the education and business software market are aimed at opening up opportunities for a larger set of partners. It is more of a “one size fits all” approach.

One can only speculate on Microsoft’s motivation in opening up its channel, other than the obvious attempt to simply make more sales. Seeing as a good percentage of ARN readers sell Microsoft software, perhaps you might want to shed some light on it. Is Microsoft so popular (dominant) that it no longer needs to separate its channel partners to motivate them? Or is it just merely desperate to sell yet another new version of its productivity software? I’d be keen to hear your thoughts.

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