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Microsoft preps UK Surface Pro 'pilot', tiptoes around Win 8 OEM rivals

It's only a test, mind, other devices 'equally as good' - will hit Blighty by Sept

Microsoft is still minding its Ps and Qs with OEMs competitors pals as it prepares to run a pilot for Surface Pro distribution in the UK.

As revealed by us last week, Microsoft is talking to five resellers in Blighty - Insight, Kelway, Misco, SCC and Computacenter - about taking the slab to business customers. It also planning to work with distributors Tech Data and Ingram Micro.

Janet Gibbons, director of partner strategy and programmes at Microsoft UK, said Redmond plans to run the pilot locally at some point before the end of September, but denied it starts next month as sources told us.

"It is a pilot, the reason we are calling it a pilot is that we want to make sure we get this right," she said. "There is a lot to do between now and then."

As we've already pointed out, business customers demand a greater level of support than consumers and Microsoft needs to get its act together in this respect.

Gibbons said it is laying the foundations for "support, returns, warranty and credit".

"We have a few partners that we can work really closely with, make sure we've got the right model, the size of demand of the market and scale out on that basis. That is how we are approaching it," she said.

The timeline for the wider technology channel to get hold of Surface will "depend on demand", she added, indicating that Microsoft's build partner Pegatron has been asked to produce the devices conservatively.

Other resellers are keen to get hold of Surface Pro, citing demand from customers, and widening availability will be key to adoption rates, said Jeremy Davies, CEO at Context.

"Unless they include the big boys, it's sunk. Plus they need to be targeting the SMB via good reseller programmes," he said.

Midlands-based reseller-cum-integrator SCC said it was optimistic about future growth prospects for tablets aimed at professionals.

Andrew Wright, vendor alliances director at the firm, told us it will be "working closely with Microsoft" to make sure support services are in place that the "corporate ICT market demands".

Ever since Microsoft announced plans for the Surface RT and Pro at last year's Worldwide Partner Conference it has been treading on eggshells around OEM partner competitors.

Gibbons said Microsoft had morphed into a "device seller" in its own right but said "we want to be respectful of the OEMs and all the devices they are bringing to market which are equally great".

Stuart Fenton, EMEA president at Insight, told us that a tablet aimed at B2B customers was "another leap in evolution" from Microsoft to a "device and services company".

"Microsoft appear to be approaching this leap carefully having switched direction from the retail-only channel [with Surface RT and Pro] - it is important to get this shift in tactic executed well," he told us.

Both the Surface RT and Pro have been slashed in price to $99 and $399 respectively for the 16,000 attendees of Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston this week and for those at the Build developer shindig recently.

Gibbons reckoned there were two-and-a-half-hour queues of partners waiting to get their hands on one - they are allowed one of each version - and insisted there were enough to go round. ®

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