Windows Phone 7

At the 2010 Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona, Microsoft announced its newest operating system (OS): Windows Phone 7. The new OS should be available in its first handsets just in time for holiday shopping later this year, and Microsoft promises it won’t wait until the last moment to release it, instead giving customers plenty of time for advance orders.

Windows Phone 7 is the latest development in the Windows Mobile operating systems that Microsoft has created for phones. Current versions rely on Windows CE 5, but this new OS instead relies on the kernel for Windows CE 6, making it comparable to Zune HD. Windows Phone 7 is a significant departure from previous operating systems, both visually and structurally. The user interface has been changed dramatically, and the new phones will rely much more on touch-screen input. The new OS carries very strict hardware requirements for partnering devices. It also fully integrates social networking features and extensive components for Zune and Xbox. Those who have followed Microsoft’s developments in this area in the past won’t be surprised to learn that Windows Phone 7 plans to use Outlook and Office support, much like its predecessors. Also, Microsoft is refraining from creating its own devices, instead counting on third-party vendors to create the physical devices.

To be successful, Windows Phone 7 requires that Microsoft establish solid partnerships with third-party software developers, as well as hardware manufacturers, service carriers, and the end users. To compete with the iPhone and Android, Windows Phone 7 will need to offer a wide range of applications that meet users’ needs. However, what Microsoft has done is so impressive that we anticipate developers will leap at the chance to develop applications for this new platform. Microsoft has taken a decided turn away from how Windows Mobile worked in the past, and it’s time to reap the rewards of this risk.

Microsoft plans to deliver Windows Phone updates directly to the end users via (1) Microsoft Update (as is currently done for desktop users) and (2) Windows Phone Update (found on the phone for minor updates, and in Zune PC software for more significant updates requiring a USB connection). If and when these updates need to be installed, users will receive notification instructing them to connect their phones to a personal computer.

All applications developed for Windows Phone 7 will need to use .NET, XNA, and Silverlight, and Expression Blend and Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2010 are expected to be the favored development tools for this platform. The fact that Windows Phone 7 will use .NET, XNA, and Silverlight is significant. For those who don’t know, XNA underlies the Zune HD 2- and 3-dimensional gaming, and Silverlight is Microsoft’s alternative to Flash.

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