Microsoft has hinted that all UK VARs might eventually get a piece of the Surface action as opinion on how the vendor is handling the channel rollout is divided.
Since the first Surface launch last year, Microsoft has been tight-lipped on its distribution plans, but this week at its Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Houston it announced that a limited number of resellers across 29 countries including the UK would be able to sell it by the end of September as part of a pilot scheme.
The vendor said it was working through which – and how many – disties and VARs would get to sell it in the UK, but concerns have been raised at the conference that the move will discredit those unable to sell the sought-after device.
So far at WPC, it has sold 16,000 of the tablets as part of its heavily discounted promotional scheme – which equates to one per partner attendee.
Richard Gibbons, software manager at reseller Bechtle, said the move to launch a pilot is a step in the right direction but could hurt those that are not chosen.
"I cannot see how limiting the number of resellers will benefit customers or Microsoft really, but it will, however, negatively affect the partners not on the pilot," he said.
"We – and countless other partners I'm sure – have a number of customers waiting for the Surface Pro and now they will go and buy them from a competitor. It's not a cheap product so the order sizes have the potential to be significant.
"Not only is it the fact partners will lose that business, there is the potential that it may have a negative impact on the customer perception of the non-pilot partners. It strikes me as an odd decision from Microsoft, to say the least."
Chris Dunning, director of reseller Tech Quarters, agreed that it is unfair that only a few will get to sell it, but said he understands why the software giant is doing it.
"They are doing it right, they have to control it so they don't trip over themselves. It's a brave new world...they need to be careful and take their time," he said.
But Dunning added that if a customer wanted tablet devices, he would not be prepared to wait to sell them Surfaces and would go with a rival offering.
Slow and steady
Jason Graefe, the vendor's senior director of Surface commercial channel partnerships, insisted in a Surface breakout session that its pilot scheme was just phase one of the move to the channel.
"A year ago, we brought [the Surface to the retail] market in a controlled and measured way by design," he said. "It was available through the Microsoft stores and we then expanded into other retailers but it was very limited. We are taking the same approach, we have to understand what it takes to get into the market and drive more Surface sales across commercial.
"We are starting small, this is the strategy we have chosen to take. We have to learn and see what it takes to drive sales across a broad base, especially in commercial.
"But I must emphasise that this is phase one. It is our first step into this and we must be very clear about that. We are going to get into the commercial channel...and move as rapidly as the business allows us, but also the demand from the market. We're going to learn."
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