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Microsoft encourages partners to get SAASy

The software maker announces details of how partners can get paid by selling Microsoft's online services. The company insists there is still room for outside hosters, too, if they carve out a niche.

Microsoft is again trying to convince the partners that sell its software that they can make money in a world in which customers are getting their software as a service directly from Microsoft.

At its annual partner conference, which is taking place this week in Houston, Microsoft offered more details on the finances that buttress that claim. For example, partners that sign up customers for the new $15-per-month bundle of hosted SharePoint, Exchange and Office Communications Server can get a 12 percent referral fee. The partners can also get a 6-percent cut of renewal fees provided they continue to be associated with the customer and get positive evaluations.

"We expect that to be a competitive entrant," Microsoft partner program VP Allison Watson said in a telephone interview following Tuesday's keynote speech

There's also room for companies to make money hosting Microsoft's products, she said. The key, she said, is for companies that want to host the same products Microsoft does to make sure they are either tailoring their product to a specific market, combining it with other elements of their customer's workflow or offering additional uptime guarantees that aren't part of Microsoft's product. "Our partners are not offering just a vanilla service," Watson said.

As part of Tuesday's keynote, partners also got to see a series of demos of unreleased products, such as efforts in robotics, Microsoft's online telescope, and Silverlight running on Windows Mobile (though that is still a year a way from being on the market, Watson said.) The company also showed off something it dubs a "replaceable PC,"--basically a combination of SoftGrid application virtualization and other technologies used to allow businesses to replace a worker's computer with new hardware and have them up and running in a few minutes' time.

Microsoft has a few more announcements scheduled for Wednesday, including a program designed to help fill the talent gap by connecting partners with the students who take part in the company's annual Imagine Cup.

And, as it is doing in many of its units, Microsoft is creating a "labs" component to its partner program. The first effort there is a social networking tool that will allow partners to collaborate and share ideas with one another. Microsoft is also announcing a new version of its online tool that connects customers with all of the thousands of partner-created tools in a vast database.