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Microsoft aims to get partners Vista-ready

It adds two programs to support companies that make products that tie into its upcoming Windows Vista and Office 2007 updates.

As it prepares for the mainstream launch of new versions of Office and Windows, Microsoft wants to give its partners a little more punch.

Under one new program, Microsoft is paying for telephone calls to its customers to pitch its partners' products for Windows Vista, while another program is helping partners take their work overseas. Microsoft gave details of both efforts at a July conference for partners, but is announcing the programs publicly this week.

It's all part of the company's effort to make sure it gets plenty of bang for its buck when it releases the updates to its flagship products. Microsoft hasn't had a new version of Windows to tout for five years, having released Windows XP in October 2001.

Given the growth in PC sales since then, the upcoming launch represents an unprecedented opportunity for those who build products on top of Microsoft's software, said Allison Watson, vice president of Microsoft's partner group.

"They are betting their business on Vista because 250 million units are expected to ship on new PCs in the next 24 months," Watson said. "Never before has there been that kind of momentum on an operating system."

The company says there are already 300 software titles that are designed to work with the new Office and with Vista. Another 2,700 applications should be ready by the January launch of Windows Vista, while 4,000 more should come within 12 months, Watson said.

Office 2007 is

Watson didn't break out the amount of marketing dollars specifically going to partners for the launch of Office and Vista. She did say that Microsoft spends about $2 billion a year on its partners, including marketing dollars and the cost of its own employees that work in that area.

Microsoft gets the lion's share of both earnings and revenue from Windows and Office.

Separately, Microsoft on Tuesday announced a new set of services for businesses that use Windows. It is charging $10 a year, per computer, for its Desktop Optimization Pack. One piece, which helps companies spread out their applications across multiple computers and is dubbed "SoftGrid," will ship in January. The rest of the software, which includes tools for tracking PCs and other tools for spotting and fixing PC problems, will ship later, but in the first half of next year, Microsoft said.

The tools represent a combination of internal work, as well as products Microsoft got through its purchases of Softricity, Winternals and AssetMetrix. Microsoft bought AssetMetrix in April, Softricity in May, and