We heard some good numbers and partner program announcements come out of day one in Houston at the Microsoft World Partner Conference.

Monday saw the keynote speech, where Microsoft set out its news and announcements to the 15,000 partners in the audience. Jon Roskill, in charge of all partner relations, kicked off events with the annual parade of award winners (complete with Olympic style flag procession). Then Steve Ballmer came out and hit the crowd with lots of facts and figures.

The Numbers

Whilst he was not at his hyped-up, sweat-drenched, manic best, Steve was clearly happy to be reporting some pretty impressive numbers. The Microsoft Partner Network now stands at over 750,000 companies worldwide, and 90% of Microsoft’s revenue can be assigned in some form to this partner network. In all partner business was up 6.5% this fiscal year, standing at a mammoth US$ 650 billion.

Steve also announced that Office365 is Microsoft’s biggest selling product of all time. Partners tend to hear this statement a lot. In recent years Lync and SharePoint have both been tagged in similar ways, but it seems Office 365 is the current stellar seller.

Partners and Products

There where a number of interesting partner program related announcements during the keynote. Tami Reller, Vice President and now in charge of Windows, announced there would be a new partner competency from January 2014 -- “User Experience.” This is designed to address what Microsoft sees as the importance of great design, UI and UX in all of its latest products and platform experiences. Tami also discussed the expansion of the Open Office 365 program. Jon Roskill confirmed the details, stating that the program would now include the E1, E3, Pro Plus, Government and Academic plans of Office 365. This basically gives Microsoft partners more control over how they sell Office 365 to customers.

Also announced was the TouchWins program which is an incentive scheme for partners to sell Windows 8 touch enabled devices. This dovetailed nicely with Jon Roskill’s news that the Surface OEM program (allowing partners to sell Surface devices into enterprises and OEM clients) will soon be expanded to 28 countries.

There wasn't a huge amount of new product news but Windows 8.1, which was referred to by all presenters as the continuation of a "journey" (and the addition of the "Start" button got an "Apple" style whoop from the crowd), was formally announced for release to OEM manufacturers at the end of August.

One special mention though must go to the new PowerBI feature being rolled out to Office 365 later this year. The demo was amazing, showing an animated timeline view of popular music artists through the years. Hopefully Microsoft will put the demo online (or check it out in the keynote video). The tool lets you play and interact with big data sources (your own, and publicly available sources) in a really nice way, using the expanded BI feature set of Excel. Find out more on the official Microsoft PowerBI blog post here.