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Microsoft launches new developer support program

The improved support and assistance is intended to keep partners in the software giant's fold.

Microsoft is launching new initiatives intended to make the Windows operating system a more attractive target for software developers.

The company on Sunday launched a new support program and detailed a number of ways it is trying to better connect with the thousands of software makers who develop products that complement Microsoft's offerings. Microsoft made the announcement at a worldwide partner conference taking place in Toronto this week.

Partners, such as independent software vendors, or ISVs, and systems integrators, are a major part of Microsoft's business, but the relationship can be a tricky one to manage.

By offering better support and assistance, the company hopes to keep partners in the Microsoft fold. IBM has boosted its investment in partner programs, centered on its WebSphere software. And Linux and other open-source software are increasingly seen as alternatives to Windows and Office.

At the center of Microsoft's efforts is a new partner-support program that offers everything from telephone-based assistance to online resources and consulting services. The services are priced according to the level of assistance offered. Microsoft didn't announce exact pricing for the support program.

Microsoft also launched an "Adopt an ISV" program, in which Microsoft employees are paired with software makers to offer assistance and guidance on how to work with the software giant. Already 800 Microsoft workers, including some senior executives, have signed up to be a buddy.

"It's a nice way to just put a face to Microsoft when a lot of ISVs may just be overwhelmed," said Mark Young, general manager for ISVs in the company's Developer & Platform Evangelism group.

Microsoft is also changing the way it handles developers that want to sell their software bundled with Microsoft products. The company previously had two programs to handle this: One, known as the royalty program, saw ISVs getting software through Microsoft; the other, known as the product integration program, allowed software makers to buy software through a third-party distributor and then resell Microsoft products as part of their own software.

The company is expanding the number of products that can be part of the program to include most server and desktop programs, with Office and Windows as notable exceptions. Also, under the old direct program, ISVs needed to pledge $50,000 in business to Microsoft, but that threshold has been reduced to $10,000 over two years. However, under the revamped program, desktop software will be licensed for use only in conjunction with the ISV's software. In other words, someone who buys a product that comes bundled with, say, Microsoft Access will be able to use it only in conjunction with the ISV's application and not for general use.

"We certainly feel by lowering the commitment we should be able to double the number of ISVs in the program," Young said.

The software giant will also start allowing ISVs to gain access to the error reports received by Microsoft that are related to ISVs' programs. The company has been gradually expanding the number of people who have access to the information Microsoft gets when a program crashes, reports generated via a tool known as Watson.

The company is also announcing a specialized version of its MSDN developer site for ISVs, as well as an expanded tour of road shows and quarterly online classes to keep in closer touch.