The long-awaited update to Windows Phone 7 appears to be close to a prime time rollout.
The upgrade won't have many of the fancy features of the latest version of Microsoft's mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8, but it offers a revamped user interface that give it the cosmetics of the new mobile OS.
When Microsoft announced Windows Phone 8, the company also said it would provide an upgrade for the early adopters who supported WP8's predecessor. That was necessary because WP8 makes a clean break from WP7.
"Windows Phone 8 is a generation shift in technology, which means that it will not run on existing hardware," Joe Belfiore, manager of the Windows Phone program, said in a company blog. "But we care deeply about our existing customers and want to keep their phones fresh, so were providing the new Start screen in this new update."
That sop to WP7 users is no small favor for them, according to Windows IT writer Paul Thurrott. "I can tell you after almost a month of using WP8 handsets that this one feature really is most of the new WP8 experience," he says in his Supersite for Windows blog. "It will be a huge benefit to existing users."
Since WP8 phones began hitting the market, Microsoft has been quiet about its promise to legacy users, but that's changed in recent weeks. For example, it was reported in the Chinese press last week that Microsoft's Greater China vice president predicted Windows Phone 7.8 would be launched in China "in the coming weeks." While that time frame may be fudgey, it at least shows that the upgrade is still on Redmond's radar.
Meanwhile, a Chinese video has appeared on the Internet showing the WP7 upgrade in action on a Nokia Lumia 510 phone. The video doesn't show anything very startling. The active tiling feature familiar to WP8 users is showcased, as well as the Bing wallpaper lock screen.
Earlier in November, upcoming features for WP7.8 were revealed on the Facebook page of a Microsoft employee in Italy, who predicts the update will support the company's music and Xbox offerings.
While much of the news of WP7.8 appears to be coming from overseas where, apparently, lips are looser than they are stateside, it's hard to imagine Microsoft pushing the update to users outside the United States before it does so domestically. That means "the coming weeks" may be sooner, rather than latermaybe even before the end of the year as Microsoft had previously promised.