Windows 8.1 to RTM in August and New Cloud Programs & Services 'Cloud OS Accelerate, Power BI'

Windows 8.1 RTM will be available for OEM partners in late August. Releases Power BI for Office 365. Expands Office and SharePoint Store to 22 new markets. New User Experience Design Competency.

WPC 2013, Microsoft said that the Windows 8.1 is RTMing on August 1. However, Microsoft would not start pushing it to users until later in the year.

Windows 8.1 will be "made available to OEMs" in late August, indicating that the OS will be finalised within the next six weeks or som confirmed Microsoft's Tami Reller, at the Worldwide Partner conference.

Reller stated manufacturers will be able to ship the first devices with Windows 8.1 on board in time for the holiday season.

The term RTM or Release To Manufacturing means just that -- the code is released to computer manufacturers to start testing and prepping their machines for the upgrade.

Also, Reller said that so far, Windows 8 has seen 60 billion hours of use since launch.

She also said that so far, there have been 20 million evaluations of Windows 8 in the enterprise market. And, that the new customer activations of Windows 8 have continued "at a consistent pace," added Reller.

In May, Microsoft announced that it had sold 100 million Windows 8 licenses since it launched in October 2012, which it said was on a par with sales of Windows 7 during the same time period.

Microsoft also launched User Experience Design Competency, a program which will "provide a way to train your designers and be recognized for your expertise in the Microsoft Design Language and App User Experience on Windows devices," describes Microsoft.

"It will ensure that all of our partners have access to the user experience and design foundation necessary to create innovative experiences that engage millions of users on the Windows platform."

Alo, there are now over 100,000 apps created for Windows 8's Modern user interface.

The User Experience Design Competency program will be handled through the Microsoft Partner Network but won't officially launch until January 2014.

Finally, Reller also announced a program called TouchWins, - a new commercial channel incentive for featured Windows devices. Through this program, "Microsoft will provide incentives to authorized distributor and reseller partners who sell Featured PCs and tablets with Windows 8 Pro and touch."

Partners will be able to find out more about this program here.

As of now, when using the SkyDrive Windows 8 app, users cann't change the default folder location for SkyDrive. But this annoying issue will soon become past, as Microsoft will preparing SkyDrive Windows 8 folder location change feature.

According to a couple of official Microsoft messages from its support forums:

"Moving the SkyDrive root folder to another location is not currently supported but it is something we'd like to add and think is important to have," a Microsoft representatives posted.

"For obvious reasons, we simply can't promise future features. They may be harder to implement that expected. Some EVEN HIGHER priority issue might arise and steal our developer time until the next release. We may all contract the flu and be out during the push to the final release. Or any other of a dozen reasons why we can't provide some particular feature that you are asking for. But believe me that we aware of the demand for the feature where you can set or change the location of the SkyDrive folder," reads another Microsoft message.

Microsoft is finally closing down MSN TV (formerly WebTV) on September 30.

The MSN TV page has a full FAQ on what the shutdown means to the remaining customers of the service. After September 30th, MSN TV subscribers can sign onto Outlook.com to get their email, contacts and any other information they have stored on their account.

Microsoft announced Office 365 "transition SKUs" which enable customers in different Office 365 customer tiers to more seamlessly upgrade to a different set of Office 365 offerings through the new "Office 365 Open Licensing" program.

In addition, Microsoft is now adding Office 365 ProPlus, Exchange Online, Enterprise, Government and academic and more Office 365 SKUs to the Open program, allowing partners to do the same with these SKUs.

"These new SKUs will complement the Office 365 Midsize Business offering that was launched in the Open program in March 2013 and provide increased flexibility and choice for both customers and partners in their move to the cloud," the company said.

"The Office 365 Add-ons are not short-term promotional offers, but rather ongoing purchase options for eligible EA (Enterprise Agreement volume-licensing) customers. Office 365 Add-on SKUs will be available for customers to transact beginning August 1, 2013. EA customers with CAL suites can purchase Office 365 Add-ons as Additional Products, at any time throughout their EA, with a variety of standalone and suite options available," explains a Microsoft spokesperson.

The July Product Rights Use list for volume licensees mentions new subscription licenses available for the Enterprise E3, E4, G3 and G4 plans which may include options for users to get Office 365 without licensing Office 365 Pro Plus.

Microsoft also revealed that customer are now buying preferences that highlight the importance of the role of partners in the overall industry cloud transition. "we have more than 150,000+ partners enrolled to sell Office 365 and other Microsoft cloud services. Since February when we announced GA of Office 365," the company said.

"With Office 365 now on a $1 billion annual revenue run rate and more than 250,000 customers using Windows Azure, with thousands more added every week, Microsoft partners are in a prime position to support this," the company stated.

  • "Sixty-three percent of customers expect to have a single cloud service provider to meet their needs
  • Sixty-seven percent expect to purchase a wide variety of cloud services from a single vendor
  • Seventy-four percent expect their cloud service provider to be able to move a cloud offering back on-premises if needed," reveals Microsoft-IDC study.

Also, new Cloud-based programs and services that are designed to help partners and customers embrace the challenges and opportunities associated with cloud computing and big data are announced.

"These new programs, and others you will hear about throughout the Worldwide Partner Conference, are designed to help our partners realize the opportunities in cloud computing - today," Micorosoft stated.

Cloud OS Accelerate, as part of this new program, Microsoft and key partners - Cisco, NetApp, Hitachi Data Systems, HP and Dell - will invest more than $100 million to help put thousands of new private and hybrid cloud solutions into the hands of customers.

And, the Windows Intune offer with effective Oct. 1, will help connect partners and customers with the latest in cloud connected management at a 30 percent discount.

Power BI for Office 365 - a new self-service business intelligence (BI) solution that combines the data analysis and visualization capabilities of Excel with the power of collaboration, scale and trusted cloud environment of Office 365.

Power BI for Office 365

While the Excel application in Office 365 already offers some business intelligence features such as Power View and Power Pivot, "Power BI" combines both of these features, along with Power Query (formerly called Data Explorer).

Power BI also features "Power Map," "which allows Excel users to view spreadsheet data in 3D maps. Microsoft previously launched a preview version of Power Maps under the name GeoFlow back in April."

In addition, Windows 8 and RT apps for Power BI, along with an app designed for Apple's iPad, will be avilable. Microsoft said, "Customers now have the ability to easily search, discover and access data inside and outside of their organization and, with just a few clicks, shape and transform that data. They can also analyze and create stunning interactive visualizations that uncover hidden insights to share and collaborate from virtually anywhere, on nearly any device."

A preview version of Power BI for Office 365 will be available sometime later this summer. Customers and partners can sign up here.

Power BI for Office 365 now includes:

  • "Power Query, enabling customers to easily search and access public data and their organization's data, all within Excel (formerly known as "Data Explorer").
  • Power Map, a 3D data visualization tool for mapping, exploring and interacting with geographic and temporal data (formerly known as product codename "Geoflow").
  • Power Pivot for creating and customizing flexible data models within Excel. Power View for creating interactive charts, graphs and other visual representations of data."

New Windows Azure Active Directory capabilities that will make it possible for ISVs, CSVs and other third parties to leverage Windows Azure's directory to enable a single sign-on (SSO) experience for their users, at no cost.

Customers can sign up here.

Premium offer for Windows Azure SQL Database, which delivers reserved capacity for more powerful and predictable performance. "This will allow partners to raise the bar on the types of services and products they can offer to customers," informs Microsoft.

A limited preview will be available in a few weeks, so sign up to get accesss when it's ready.

Also, starting today, you can use autoscale with Windows Azure Mobile Services Standard and Premium tiers, enabling you to automatically scale your mobile applications based on demand. "There is no additional cost for this feature while in Preview," microsoft said.

Microsoft announced an expansion of the Office and SharePoint Store to now include 22 new markets. Before today, the store was only limited to the US market. It added that apps made for the store can now be localized for French, German, Spanish and Japanese languages.

Microsoft also said today there are now "hundreds" of apps available for download in the Office and SharePoint Store "from well-known ISVs to individual developers and start-ups."

Some of those countries have multiple languages supported, hence the "22 markets" listed by Microsoft.

Also, two new TV ads for Office 365 debuted today show people, who we assume are Office 365 team members, describing what Office 365 would be if it were a car. As you might imagine, there are a ton of different answers that are given for a question that we have never considered before. Some think Office 365 is like a high end sports car like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, while others think it is a more practical car such as a Beetle or a Mini-van. One of the team members went out of the box, saying that if Office 365 were a car, it would be a plane. Ok.

The second video asks the question, "If Office 365 was a dessert, what would it be?" This topic seems to take the people in the video some time to wrap their mind around but eventually they answer the question with a few different responses. They include a cheesecake, a cupcake, an apple pie and a well done tiramisu.

Microsoft is making available new programs, offers, tools and partnerships to help encourage more users to abandon XP, Erwin visser, General Manager of Windows Commercial said.

In this end, HP announced a tightly integrated approach with Microsoft to help customers transition from Windows XP to a modern version of Windows. Additionally, HP and Microsoft will offer WPC attendees a special price for the ElitePad. Visit www.hp.com/goodbyeXP to learn more.

Also, Microsoft is extending its program called "Get to Modern," which is aimed primarily at small/mid-size business (SMB) users.

Visser notes, that Microsoft and its partners would need to migrate 586,000 PCs per day over the next 273 days in order to get rid of all PCs running XP. Microsoft's actual goal is to get the XP base below 10 percent of the total Windows installed base by that time, he said.

"There's an estimated $32 billion service opportunity for them in moving users off XP, given that companies are spending an average of $200 per PC to move off XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8," Visser told partners at WPC.

He noted that Microsoft will be spending $40 million in fiscal 2014 to continue its Windows Accelerate Program, which is its pre-sales program for moving more of its customers to a "modern environment." As part of Accelerate, Microsoft pays some of its reseller and integrator partners to create "proof of concept" Metro-Style apps to show customers what's possible if they move to Windows 8.

Visser said these kinds of users typically don't plan two to three years ahead for major migrations. As a result, many of these SMBs who still may be running Windows XP, will need partners to help them institute a quick-turnaround XP migration program.

Nokia's upcoming flagship device, codenamed "EOS", with a 41 megapixel PureView camera is due to be announced on July 11, during Nokia's "Zoom."

Joe Belfiore, cvp Windows Phone, has inadvertently confirmed that this device will be called the Nokia Lumia 1020 on his Flickr account, after photos have been discovered with the aforementioned device name in the EXIF data.

Update:Windows 8.1, that includes a broad range of new business enhancements in user experience, plus improvements in manageability, security, mobility and networking--is now available to partners to take advantage of these new features when building their own solutions to deliver greater value to their customers.

To encourage partners and customers to test Windows 8.1, Microsoft is offering Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview during select sessions at WPC, with bits available to download in coming weeks.

The partner opportunities around Windows 8 are many and varied:

  • "Tablet share is growing rapidly, especially for business users.
  • Newer device categories such as Ultrabooks and convertibles are emerging.
  • Windows XP ending support next April.
  • Mobile app development is a growing investment area for businesses."

Also, a new tv advertisement Windows 8 vs iPad TV aired is focused on the multitasking capabilities in Windows 8. "On Windows 8 tablet devices, users can work in two apps side-by-side. Microsoft demonstrates this comparison in terms of work: agents communicating about baseball player prospects to their offices. Interestingly, MLB.com digital head said this earlier this year: 'There's no other [mobile platform]. It's Apple and it's Android.'"