Encountering Steve Ballmer is somewhat akin to running across Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. He bounces on stage like an overenthusiastic children's TV presenter and clearly has enormous difficulty in not jumping up and down in excitement at every pronouncement he makes. Well, you've probably all seen the video clip of him making a bit of a prat of himself on stage at a US conference. His performance in London last week wasn't on that scale, but it was pretty ebullient to say the least.
Ballmer was in town to talk to Microsoft partners, mostly about .Net, but also about a number of other software related issues. Sometimes these were slightly embarrassing. Remember all the fuss from customers about changes to Microsoft licensing policies. Microsoft's counter claim was that its changes were simplifying licensing and that was good for all concerned.
Hmmm, nobody seemed to have told that to the channel faithful in London. When asked if they found the new licensing better or simpler, it was amusing to observe the lack of hands that went in the air. Indifference, or a lack of understanding? Certainly some of those present afterwards commented that it more of the latter than the former, suggesting that Microsoft has a lot of work to do selling this particular idea.
Of more interest were Ballmer's comments on channel issues surrounding Great Plains, Navision and the rest of the Microsoft product line. Basically the problem is that Great Plains and Navision have a restrictive channel policy which only allows certified individuals and organisations to see their software, whereas Microsoft otherwise adopts a free-for-all approach.
The trouble is, the Navision and Great Plains approach is more conducive to enterprise software sales and let's not forget that this is the underlying, barely concealed raison d'etre underpinning Microsoft's CRM strategy. So does Microsoft leave Navision and Great Plains to their own devices or does it - Borg-like - decide to assimilate them into the wider Microsoft collective. If the latter, then how does it reconcile that with bundling the really low end MS CRM product with Office or other desktop application suites?
There's a lot of potential channel conflict bubbling under out there. Microsoft needs to do a lot of thinking and public pronouncements on this subject pretty quickly. Among the audience in London last week, there was a lot of confusion around with channel partners unclear about which direction the company would take. Add to that Ballmer's cheerful pronouncement that .Net would not be fully delivered for around 3 years and there's clearly potential for a lot of misunderstanding for a long time to come.