Secret squirrel conversations are taking place between Microsoft and five B2B resellers over flogging Surface Pro to corporate customers, The Channel can reveal.
Up to now Microsoft has sold Surface Pro only via its webshop direct and through a few select UK retailers including PC World and John Lewis.
The device launched in the US in February but volumes hardly had rivals reaching for the revolver; IDC estimated that 900,000 Surface RT and Pro devices shipped worldwide in Q1, giving it a 1.8 per cent market share.
The move cannot be positioned as a U-turn because Redmond has remained tightlipped on the subject of inclusion for the biz channel when promoting Surface Pro, a point of frustration for many partners.
People close to the talks say that Microsoft realises it needs to widen distribution, as it did with Surface RT, and that Redmond negotiators are at the negotiating table with Misco, Insight, Computacenter, SCC and Kelway.
US directors are leading the conversations as Microsoft has yet to recruit a local UK Surface leader or team. One insider told us that the colossus of Redmond is "on the verge" of a deal with Blighty's fantastic five.
It is also understood that Microsoft is seeking the support of a channel partner specifically to go after the education space.
A start date has yet to be confirmed, say our chatty friends, but the go button is likely to be pressed over the summer as Microsoft ushers in Surface 2.
The Pro is seen as a PC replacement given the price and specs, and its target market is the tech buyers at small, medium and large enterprises that the channel deals with.
Still the device may be no easy sell, say channel sources: Surface still lacks some applications in the app store, and comes with a relatively hefty pricetag given the current climate.
Maintaining restrictions on the UK distribution of the Pro will annoy other suppliers outside of the five, said Andy Trish, owner at NCI Technologies (which holds a Microsoft Gold competency certification in OEM, licensing and mid-market business).
"This will alienate the rest of their partners more than they already have," he said.
Microsoft distributors have still not been told if they will be included in the supply chain for Pro, but it seems likely the five resellers will buy direct from Microsoft.
"I am a Microsoft distributor and I want to sell as much of the portfolio as I can," said one.
Neither is it clear whether Microsoft will continue to sell the device via its webshop in the UK.
Sources wondered about Microsoft support for Pro via channel partners, as it does not have a UK network of engineers or a spare parts operation.
The device is being given to developers at Build 2013, while Surface RT prices have been slashed until the end of August - which has the whiff of a stock clearance about it.
Embracing the channel is the "right move" said Canalys senior analyst Tim Coulling, and gives the device "the best opportunity to succeed".
Microsoft refused to comment.
Microsoft has confirmed it has appointed three disties (Tech Data, SYNNEX and Ingram Micro) in the US to sell Surface products to ten "device-authorised commercial resellers' including Insight, SHI International, CDW and CompuCom.
"During the next few months, Microsoft will work to authorise commercial distributors and resellers in more countries," the firm stated.
In addition, Microsoft has pushed out an ISV programme, AppsForSurface that provides funding for biz-specific applications. ®