The week before this year's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), I wrote a commentary, "Microsoft, What's Going On? IT Pros and Partners Want to Know," in which I voiced various product-related questions for the software giant. Now that the show is over, let's see which questions Microsoft actually answered via various announcements and disclosures at the show.

Surprisingly, it was almost all of them.

Q: Will businesses be able to get access to Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 electronically before the October 22, 2009 launch date?
A: Yes. Software Assurance (SA) customers will get access to these products on September 1, 2009.

Q: What about MSDN and TechNet customers?
A: Microsoft says that MSDN and TechNet customers will be able to download Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 "a couple of weeks" after it announces Release to Manufacturing (RTM). My sources tell me to expect that RTM announcement this Friday.

Q: A lot of questions remain about Windows 7 pricing, availability, and various other upgrade issues. What's up?
A: Frustrated by Microsoft's lack of clarity on this important point, I wrote a scathing post on the SuperSite for Windows  SuperSite Blog last week in which I blasted the company for this communications snafu and for blaming bloggers about spreading RTM rumors. I've heard from various representatives of the company, privately, about this post and have been promised that they will be more forthcoming in the near future. Stay tuned.

Q: What's up with Office Web Applications?
A: Last October, Microsoft promised that it would deliver a beta version of Office Web Applications by the end of 2008. That still hasn't happened. But Microsoft tells me that it will have a limited-release Technical Preview of Office Web Applications available in August and will deliver a beta version this fall. The final release will ship alongside Office 2010 by mid-2010.

Q: Is it time to give up on Windows Mobile?
A: Looking at three days of WPC keynote addresses, Microsoft mentioned Windows Mobile only infrequently. In the Day One keynote, Windows Mobile was only passingly referenced by Microsoft, and then only in the context of Office 2010. Ditto for Day Two. Finally, on Day Three, Todd Brix appeared on stage and talked up Windows Mobile, the upcoming Windows Marketplace for Mobile release, and its plans to make Windows Mobile "more accessible for consumers." "A typical user of the Windows phone coming this fall \[will\] see a wide variety of consumer applications, as well as business," Brix said.

Q: Does it make sense to merge the desktop Windows and Windows Mobile codebases (as Apple essentially does with Mac OS X and the iPhone)?
A: Microsoft never mentioned Windows Mobile 7 or any possible plans to merge the desktop Windows and Windows Mobile code bases.

Q: What about Windows Azure pricing and licensing?
A: Microsoft will offer Azure services in three different ways, including a consumption (pay-as-you-go) model, a subscription model for resellers, and volume licensing to enterprises. The so-called consumption model appears to be priced comparably with the current leader in this market, Amazon.com, which offers a variety of online services, including hosted Windows and Linux services.

Microsoft will charge 12 cents per hour for computer infrastructure services, 15 cents per gigabyte for storage, and 10 cents per 10,000 storage transactions. Users of Microsoft's cloud-based database, SQL Azure, will incur monthly charges of $9.99 for the Web Edition, which supports up to 1GB databases, and $99.99 for the Business Edition, which allows up to 10GB databases. The web developer-oriented .NET Services will cost 15 cents per 100,000 message operations. Additional bandwidth charges apply across the three services as well: 10 cents per gigabyte for incoming data and 15 cents per gigabyte for outgoing data.

Q: When will the initial "shipping" version of Azure hit, really?
A: November 2009.

Q: What's the Azure Service Level Agreement (SLA) going to look like?
A: Three nines. (99.9 percent uptime is guaranteed.)

Q: When should customers choose hosted applications and services over self-hosting? And how does Azure fit into the overall Windows Server strategy going forward?
A: These are tough questions to answer right now and of course the answers will change as the market evolves. Microsoft is positioning Windows Azure (and Microsoft Online Services) as a solution for businesses that don’t want to host complicated-but-necessary technology on site.

Q: With Microsoft having to expand ever sideways to find new revenue models, how will this affect its relationships with the partners that used to rely on these revenue models for themselves?
A: Microsoft noted that the opportunities for partners have changed a lot over the years: 15 years ago, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said, the number-one partner opportunity on the Windows desktop was adding a TCP/IP stack. But even though Microsoft has simply added that and other one-time partner-based functionality to Windows, the opportunities for partners have only grown over time.

Microsoft announced the formation of the new Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), which replaces the old Microsoft Partner Program. Semantics aside, the MPN is really about addressing the changing roles Microsoft and its partners will undertake in this shifting climate.

MPN offers four levels of membership: Community, Subscription, Competency, and Advanced Competency. (Previously, the partner program offered three: the familiar Gold Certified, Certified, and Registered.) The Competency level is getting a huge bump in the number of certifications it offers, from 17 to 30, a reflection of the way the market has expanded.

Related Reading: