Microsoft Surface in the Channel Just Rumors

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Microsoft is starting to sell its Surface tablets in bulk to business through a direct sales model, similar to its consumer strategy. Rumors persist that the Windows tablet will be released to the B2B channel in July, but there’s little supporting evidence.

It’s beginning to look less and less like Microsoft Corp.’s Surface tablet is simply a prod to get its OEM partners to develop better tablets and computing products, as the sales model is being expanded to bulk sales to business.

However, solution providers shouldn’t expect Surface to appear on their line cards anytime soon.

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Despite rumors that Microsoft will release Surface to its general B2B channel network at the annual Worldwide Partner Conference, being held in Houston this July, there’s precious little evidence that Microsoft has any such plans.

Last month, Microsoft started offering Surface to businesses in bulk purchases through a direct sales model similar to its consumer go-to-market strategy. According to ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, the bulk sales site gives businesses the opportunity to place large orders for Surface RT and Pro, as well as common accessories, such as the Type Cover and stylus. However, Foley reports that Microsoft is not offering businesses any incentives or discounts for bulk purchases.

Foley, like Channelnomics, received the same stock response from Microsoft on its plans for introducing Surface to the channel. Usually, Microsoft simply says it has nothing to share on the topic. But, in Foley’s most recent report, Microsoft said it remains committed to the channel and will share news on Surface as it becomes available.

Such comments are what are fueling rumors that Microsoft plans to introduce Surface to the channel at WPC. It makes sense, as WPC is where the Microsoft faithful often get their first looks at new products, services and strategies.

As last year’s partner confab, Microsoft talked up Surface as an integral part of the Windows 8 launch and its strategy for capturing mobile market share from Apple and Google. However, Surface was conspicuously absent from the exhibit all displays and any of the breakout sessions. The only place partners could see Surface was during main stage keynote addresses.

Channelnomics has checked with strategic Microsoft resellers and distributors. Several solution providers have said that inquiries about Surface availability for resale have been rebuffed by field and headquarter executives. Some partners even say that sympathetic Microsoft managers are advocating for Surface to be released to the channel, but they too have been pushed back in internal conversations. Distributors tell Channelnomics that they’ve tried talking with Microsoft about logistical support for bringing Surface to the channel, but Microsoft has been largely disinterested.

Microsoft will eventually bring Surface to the channel, if for nothing else than to expand coverage to the total addressable market. It’s hard to say how well Surface is selling through Microsoft’s Web site and small retail network. Analyst estimate Microsoft has sold 900,000 Surface RT and 400,000 Surface Pro. While these are respectable sales figures, analyst estimates that Microsoft produced 3 million Surface units, and the total sales pale in comparison to the 23 million Apple iPad units sold over the holidays.

Even if Surface is released to the channel in July, it’s hard to say whether the channel will be interested. Some solution providers have said Microsoft is proving to them that the channel is less important and they’re gravitating toward alternative brands.

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