Microsoft exec talks up Windows Phone 7

Consumer-friendly features don't indicate abandonment of enterprise, Chang says

LAS VEGAS -- Some users of Microsoft's Windows Phone Series 7 will face a major hurdle when the mobile OS appears in devices during the 2010 holiday season -- it isn't backwards compatible with Windows Mobile 6.5 and earlier versions.

Microsoft may not view the lack of compatibility as a hurdle because it is looking for the new software to take it in a drastically new direction. However, enterprise adopters of earlier Windows Mobile might see things differently.

To its credit, Microsoft will allay some enterprise fears with its promise to support Windows Mobile 6.5 for a long time. Michael Chang, the senior product manager on Windows Phone 7, yesterday reiterated earlier vows made by CEO Steve Ballmer and others to keep on supporting Windows Mobile 6.5.

"We will continue to support, ship and sell 6.5," Chang said in an interview at the CTIA Wireless conference. "Windows Phone 7 is a departure and a break at a code level. Doing so wasn't an easy decision. It's a tough decision to move away from a platform like Windows Mobile, but one we were willing to make."

Ballmer has said that Microsoft "screwed up" on Windows Mobile, and the company apparently hopes that the new Windows Phone 7 can help restore Microsoft's slipping share of the mobile operating systems market.

Asked whether Ballmer is pushing the Windows Phone 7 team to attain specific market share numbers, Chang said, "not publicly."

Jeff Bradley, senior vice president of devices at AT&T, said that his company is looking forward to having Windows Phone 7 devices use its network. Other major U.S. carriers have endorsed the Microsoft OS as well.

"Windows Mobile has become the enterprise standard OS for certain vertical segments," Bradley said in an interview. However, he added, "it has fallen back. But give Microsoft credit. They've taken 6.5 and made a break for something new. They've raised the bar substantially with Windows Phone 7."

Bradley noted that Micosoft's move to develop a Windows Phone 7 interface that's similar to its Zune digital media player likely won't be an allure to many users. "Zune has not been widely adopted," he noted.

Even so, Bradley said he expects that Windows Phone 7 will have a browser that is "very, very comparable to any smartphone on the market."

Chang said that while Microsoft expects to offer a rich multimedia experience on Windows Phone 7 devices, the OS initially won't include Adobe Flash player. "We won't support Flash at general availability, although we do have a very deep relationship with Adobe," he said.

Chang said that adding consumer friendly features like multimedia support and rich browsing to its mobile operating system doesn't mean that Microsoft will abandon its place as a supplier of enterprise handhelds, including some rugged ones.

"We think of this OS as an extension ... of our scope," Chang said. "I wouldn't say we are building a consumer phone at the expense of our heritage [of supporting] work productivity. We are taking that and adding to it features that include entertainment and a focus on a new experience. Windows Mobile was all about productivity, but we had relied on someone else to deliver a great experience. Not anymore."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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