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Microsoft's New Buddy Program

Software developers who've had a hard time navigating Microsoft's bureaucracy can now sign up to get a personal ally inside the company--maybe even Bill Gates himself.

At a conference in Toronto this week, Microsoft will introduce a "buddy program" for independent software vendors that can match them up with a Microsoft employee who'll take their calls, answer E-mail, and generally help them wend their way through the Redmond system. It's one of several initiatives Microsoft plans to unveil this week that aim to strengthen relationships with its thousands of industry partners. "It's really a way to put a face on the programs we offer," general manager Mark Young says.

CEO Steve Ballmer wants to make listening to partners business as usual. Photo by Chris Kleponis/Zuma Press

Ballmer wants to make listening to partners "business as usual."

To entice its employees to participate in the program, Microsoft is handing out bobble-head dolls of senior VP Eric Rudder, the executive in charge of the company's developer tools and Windows server products, to the first 500 staffers who sign up. "We need to make it business as usual to listen to the voices of customers and partners," CEO Steve Ballmer wrote last week in an E-mail to employees on the company's strategy.

Microsoft has always catered to ISVs and other types of software companies, and they, in turn, need access to its technical know-how. But the job has gotten harder as the company edges into more markets. Business-intelligence, enterprise-resource-planning, supply-chain-management, and application-life-cycle-management software are just some of the areas where Microsoft's own growth plans potentially conflict with those of its partners. Oracle, for example, points to Microsoft's ambitions in the ERP market in defending its attempt to take over PeopleSoft Inc.

At its annual Worldwide Partners Conference, Microsoft plans to roll out programs aimed at setting aside some of those differences and helping companies that sell products based on Windows, even as Microsoft helps itself. For ISVs, that includes targeted content on Microsoft's Developer Network Web site, hundreds of new events, and monthly Webcasts. New service and support options will be available to its full range of partners.

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