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Network World - Microsoft announced a broader release of the latest build of its Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system, and it's getting good reviews from developers. The company also says it started shipping thousands of prototype handsets to software developers around the world.
The new release is what Microsoft calls a "technical preview," meaning it's stable enough for use by a larger developer community and reviewers. The developing OS needs to achieve "release candidate" status before being released to manufacturing, possibly in late summer or early fall. The first production smartphones with the new OS are expected to be unveiled in October. Microsoft, through a spokeswoman, declined to be more specific about the next WP7 milestones.
About 1,000 Microsoft employees have been using earlier Windows Phone 7 builds, and early prototype handsets, as their main mobile phone for several months, according to a Microsoft blog post by Terry Myerson, corporate vice president, Windows Phone Engineering, at Microsoft. The company has been putting the OS through continuous tests on over 10,000 mobile devices in the company's test labs, Myerson writes.
The goal of the technical preview is to make the OS available "for the hands-on everyday use of a broad set of consumers around the world," and to factor their assessment and feedback into the final development push before the production release.
Thousands of prototype phones from WP7 hardware partners Asus, LG and Samsung are being distributed to selected developers. Just recently, Microsoft unveiled the beta release of the Windows Phone developers tools.
Reviews of the latest OS version on the prototype hardware are generally positive.
The radically redesigned touch user interface, dubbed Metro by Microsoft, seems to winning a growing number of fans.
"We were extremely surprised and impressed by the software's touch responsiveness and speed," writes Engadget's Joshua Topolsky.
"In fact, this is probably the most accurate and nuanced touch response this side of iOS4. It's kind of stunning how much work Microsoft has done on the user experience since we first saw this interface -- everything now comes off as a tight, cohesive whole. It really put one of our major fears about Windows Phone 7 to rest.”
The stability and maturity of the software is also taking some reviewers by surprise.
"[A]fter using it as my primary device for five days I have yet to see ANY lockups, freezes, or resets on the Samsung device I am testing out," says Matthew Miller, at ZDNet.com. "Actually, I am blown away by how stable this version of the software is because I have seen more issues with shipping devices running the iOS, Google Android OS, etc. than I have with this version of the software."
[ZDNet has an online gallery of about 80 images of the technical preview OS version, the Metro UI and the Samsung prototype phone.]
One of the key things Microsoft has emphasized in WP7 is what it calls "integrated experiences" -- the phone's capabilities, features and applications blend together to accomplish a task or series of tasks, rather than requiring the user to use a series of individual discrete applications.