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Microsoft Preps Partner Aids

With Longhorn at least two years on the horizon and delays announced for Yukon and Whidbey, Microsoft is aiming to keep its more than 800,000 partners happy in the meantime with a redesign of its Partner Program.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor Wednesday profiled two new components, Microsoft Competencies and Partner Points, which are being added to the next release of its partner program. The goal is to get partners to focus on core business values while delivering Windows-based and Microsoft Office-based solutions.

Microsoft began developing the program in August 2002 and debuted the program at its inaugural Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans last year. The company calls the initiative the first "comprehensive new direction" for Microsoft partner programs since it launched its Solution Provider program in 1993. Microsoft said partners would be able to enroll in both Microsoft Competencies and Partner Points at the end of April.

"Partners play a critical role in delivering solutions and applications to customers with the Microsoft Office System," Jeff Raikes, Microsoft group vice president of productivity and business services said in a statement. "The value of Microsoft Competencies is that they enable Microsoft to deliver resources and training to partners who are meeting the customer needs. And, for partners, the opportunity to highlight their expertise to customers is tremendous in the growing information worker solution market."

The development of its partner program is critical to Microsoft's success, say analysts, considering the increased dependency on partners to spread the Windows message, the ferocious amount of market competition and the company's recent shortcomings when it comes to releasing its own software.

"Microsoft must understand that if partners don't get the sales support necessary, they'll go someplace where they can make money; Linux would be one place to start," Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox said in a recent blog (Jupiter Research and internetnews.com are properties of Jupitermedia Corp.). "Making partners wait until 2006 or so for Longhorn won't feed the kiddies or put them through college. So Microsoft needs to find better ways to help partners generate sales and services revenue."

The Solution Competencies component lets partners define what their areas of expertise are and gives them a road map they can use to extend their business or collaborate with other partners. Microsoft said the program is for qualifying partners in Networking Infrastructure, Advanced Infrastructure, Security, Integrated E-Business, Business Intelligence, Information Work Productivity, ISV/Software Solutions and Learning Solutions. The company said its Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) Competency program will be unveiled in the July timeframe, timed with the traditional June/July program year MBS partners have traditionally held. Microsoft said it would also be launching its Licensing, Reseller, and System Builder/OEM Competencies in the fall.

With its Partner Points, Microsoft said partners can improve their certification status, such as rising from a Certified Partner to becoming a Gold Certified Partner, by meeting specific criteria for a variety of activities. Partners can make points for training customer or developing, reselling, servicing and supporting the Microsoft product line.

Specifically, Partner Points can be earned for Microsoft Premier Certified Professional certifications, tested Microsoft-based software, customer satisfaction and unit sales of official Microsoft learning products and distributed licenses. The company said partners could also accrue points by participating in its Microsoft Solution Competency program. Certified Partners must earn at least 50 points, while Gold Certified partner need to earn 120 points and are required to declare at least one Microsoft Competency.

In addition to offering the new programs, Microsoft said it is providing webcasts and other tools and resources designed to help partners learn about Microsoft Competencies and Partner Points. Current partners are grandfathered into the program at their current level.

"We are working on delivering new value and benefits for partners as we continue to implement the new Microsoft Partner Program throughout calendar year 2004 and into 2005," Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group Vice President Allison Watson said in a statement.