Can Windows Phone 7 save Microsoft's mobile bacon?

Microsoft is turning up the volume on its upcoming phone, Windows Phone 7

Windows Phone 7 is inching closer to market. Microsoft has sent the operating system for its brand of mobile phones to the labs of carriers for testing, as well as to developers of applications for the phones, which are expected to reach the market in time for holiday shoppers.

According to one report, the so-called "technical preview" version of WinPho 7 is pretty much what Microsoft promised earlier this year at the Mobile World Conference in January and its own MIX Conference in March.

(See Related: Windows Phone 7: An In-depth Look at the Features and Interface )

After its attempt to create a unified experience for its mobile users, a la Apple, with its own hardware ended in disaster, Microsoft has decided with this version of its mobile operating system to achieve that goal by getting tough with hardware and software makers, making them conform to a basic set of standards for the new WinPho ecosystem. Applications, for example, must be sold through the Microsoft Marketplace, just as iPhone apps are sold only through the iTunes store.

There are hardware requirements, too. Phones must have a minimum of 256MB of RAM, 4GB of flash memory storage, WiFi (b/g) support, capacitive touchscreens and GPS, accelerometer, compass, proximity and light sensors. All the phones will have the same buttons in the same places, including a Bing button for encouraging anyone buying the phone to use Microsoft's search engine to find things.

In attempting to emulate Apple and Research in Motion by encapsulating its new ecosystem in a silo, Microsoft apparently hopes to emulate the success of those other vendors in the mobile market. That could be shortsighted. Some analysts believe the reason phones based on Google's Android operating system have surpassed the iPhone is because that ecosystem is open. They argue that semi-closed systems like Apple's will have to open up to stay competitive. If that's the case, the WinPho paradigm may be a step behind the market before it's even out the door.

In addition, no matter how spiffy Windows Phone 7 mobiles turn out to be, Microsoft has some serious challenges facing it in this market. First, it has to overcome its reputation as a bumbler, based on past failures and poorly performing products. Second, it's facing two very formidable market leaders who know how (at least until the latest antenna fiasco with the iPhone 4) to get things right the first time. Microsoft has a reputation of requiring numerous iterations of a product before getting it right. And third, there's an 800-pound gorilla named Hewlett-Packard in the wings that, with its newly acquired Palm platform, could be a wild card in divvying up market share.

Tags Handheldsconsumer electronicsMicrosoftwindows phone 7PhonesWindowssoftwareoperating systemsWindows Phone 7 SeriesApple

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John P. Mello Jr.

PC World (US online)

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