Let's take a look at each area, one by one.
1. Cloud: Office 365 is turning the corner with channel partners. There's less talk about controversy, and more talk about opportunity. Synergies between Office 365 and Windows Azure also continue to grow. Just ask 365 Command, an Office 365 management tool for MSPs and VARs. The neat twist: It's hosted in the Windows Azure cloud. Also, an Office 365 for business refresh is coming Feb. 27. The Office 365 Open program, which allows partners to manage end-customer billing and pricing, should roll out worldwide before WPC13.
2. Mobile: Microsoft Surface Pro tablets running Windows 8 arrive on February 9. So far there's no formal channel partner program for the tablets. But as vertical market Windows 8 applications arrive in health care, insurance, finance and more, it's a safe bet Microsoft will push the tablets through partners.
Bloggers and mainstream media widely criticized Surface RT, an initial ARM-based release that can't run Microsoft Office and other Windows applications. But The New York Times review praised Surface Pro, which means Microsoft may actually be getting back into the mobile game. Plus, it could create pull for Windows Phone 8 smartphones.
Oh, and let's not forget: Plenty of PC makers will continue to promote mobile Windows 8 innovations, despite the competitive friction with Surface Pro.
3. Big Data: Take SQL Server 2012, then toss in Hadoop for Windows Azure. This could be a really compelling market for Microsoft's ISVs. But how many VARs and MSPs will get in on the action? The VAR Guy suspects the answer is fewer than 10 percent. Big Data, SQL Server and Hadoop are very specialized opportunities.
4. Social: Funny, Oracle spent most of OracleWorld 2012 talking about social. Likewise for Salesforce.com at its 2012 conference. But Microsoft does have a unique play in this market. Microsoft acquired Yammer, an enterprise social platform, last year for $1.2 billion. Watch for integrations and synergies with Lync and Exchange Server to materialize quickly.
Bonus Item: Roskill will celebrate 20 years at Microsoft this June 2013. He's been at the company since before Windows NT launched. Before Windows 95. Sure, The VAR Guy has occasionally questioned Microsoft's partner strategy. But Roskill has navigated some challenging industry transitions. Cloud, mobile, big data and social are just the latest on the list.