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7/9/2004
04:30 PM
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Microsoft Tries To Buddy Up To ISVs

New program aims to match partners with execs--including Gates

Software developers who've had a hard time navigating Microsoft's bureaucracy can now sign up to get a personal ally inside the company--maybe even Bill Gates himself.

At a conference in Toronto this week, Microsoft will introduce a "buddy program" for independent software vendors that can match them up with a Microsoft employee who'll take their calls, answer E-mail, and generally help them wend their way through the Redmond system. It's one of several initiatives Microsoft plans to unveil this week that aim to strengthen relationships with its thousands of industry partners. "It's really a way to put a face on the programs we offer," general manager Mark Young says.

CEO Steve Ballmer wants to make listening to partners business as usual. Photo by Chris Kleponis/Zuma Press

Ballmer wants to make listening to partners "business as usual."

Photo by Chris Kleponis/Zuma Press
To entice its employees to participate in the program, Microsoft is handing out bobble-head dolls of senior VP Eric Rudder, the executive in charge of the company's developer tools and Windows server products, to the first 500 staffers who sign up. "We need to make it business as usual to listen to the voices of customers and partners," CEO Steve Ballmer wrote last week in an E-mail to employees on the company's strategy.

Microsoft has always catered to ISVs and other types of software companies, and they, in turn, need access to its technical know-how. But the job has gotten harder as the company edges into more markets. Business-intelligence, enterprise-resource-planning, supply-chain-management, and application-life-cycle-management software are just some of the areas where Microsoft's own growth plans potentially conflict with those of its partners. Oracle, for example, points to Microsoft's ambitions in the ERP market in defending its attempt to take over PeopleSoft Inc.

At its annual Worldwide Partners Conference, Microsoft plans to roll out programs aimed at setting aside some of those differences and helping companies that sell products based on Windows, even as Microsoft helps itself. For ISVs, that includes targeted content on Microsoft's Developer Network Web site, hundreds of new events, and monthly Webcasts. New service and support options will be available to its full range of partners.

Microsoft will also introduce an error-reporting tool that gives other software companies access to the same kinds of bug notices available to its own engineers, but relating to their own products. Based on the Watson technology developed in Microsoft Research, the error reporting will flow through a third-party company to minimize concerns that Microsoft could view that sensitive data itself. The approach provides "a wall between Microsoft and what the ISV sees," Young says.

Microsoft is also changing its royalty program for ISVs by making it easier to bundle its SQL Server database and other server software into their products and lowering the minimum revenue it requires from such deals to $10,000 over two years, from $50,000. It plans to fold its customer-relationship-management and Axapta applications into the royalty program sometime in the next year.

John Meyer, VP of business strategy for Computer Associates' AllFusion product line, understands that uncomfortable feeling that comes with knowing Microsoft is about to enter his turf. In May, Microsoft said it would ship next year a product called Visual Studio 2005 Team System, a suite of collaboration tools for developers that offers some of the same functionality as AllFusion.

"We need them to help us determine the right level of feature richness so we can be successful in their backyard," Meyer says. He also wants better insight into Microsoft's product plans. "Don't just bring me in and tell me, 'Here's the API, and here's how to do it.'"

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