Windows Phone 7 at MIX 10: details, details, details

The new UI is neat, but Microsoft better get the rest of it right

Microsoft will dig into the details of Windows Phone 7 at the MIX10 conference, starting this Sunday in Las Vegas.

I'll be there for a couple of days, and if you're going let me know.

The MIX Windows Phone sessions will, one hopes, fill in a lot of the questions that Microsoft, stubbornly and needlessly in my view, left unanswered since the original unveiling of Windows Phone 7 last month.

People already have strong opinions on the radically re-designed UI. I like it: I think it brings an intuitive order to what is otherwise a mass of data that other mobile UIs force the user's brain to process needlessly.

The "consumerization" of the Windows Phone OS -- the improved hardware and software standard, sophisticated gaming capabilities and all they imply in terms of improved multimedia -- is another good move. I don't agree with critics who argue this shoves enterprise users and developers into second-class status.

Just the opposite in fact, as the growing adoption of the iPhone in the enterprise demonstrates: a mobile experience that flexibly and intuitively expresses user interests, passions, and needs is something users WANT.

If you're already a Microsoft developer familiar with .NET, Silverlight, or XNA Game STudio, then building applications for Windows Phone 7 seems likely to be straightforward. Which is great for existing developers.

But what about new developers? I'm not a developer myself, and I don't have first hand experience with the Microsoft environment. But I wonder if those Microsoft tools and technologies could seem like a big hurdle to overcome for a newcomer?

I'm still impressed by Palm's webOS in this regard: which lowers the bar for smartphone development. If you've been working with Javascript, HTML, and CSS you have the basic skills needed for creating native webOS applications.

On the other hand, the reliance on a proprietary set of tools hasn't stopped the stampede toward iPhone development.

Heading into MIX there's been the blogosphere sturm und drang over Microsoft's indication that existing Windows Mobile applications will not run on Windows Phone 7 devices. I'm still wondering if Microsoft might not allow older Windows Mobile programs to run in some kind of emulator mode on the new generation phones, as Palm does with older PalmOS applications on webOS handsets.

But even if Microsoft does not offer that option, I don't think this is going to be a major problem, even for enterprise users and software developers. Partly, because I think the new UI is such an improvement (not just for the Microsoft community but for smartphones in general), that ISVs (assuming they'll stick with Windows Phone) will rush to recode.

One area where Microsoft could really stand out, is in integrating Windows Phone devices with server- and Web-based services. The MIX agenda promises "new Web services."

Google Android has been advancing toward that, tying in closely with Google's growing inventory of online offerings; and Palm's webOS is able to create a single view of multiple phone- and web-based data sources or services.

Microsoft can leverage its music and gaming online resources, its own Bing search and related capabilities like Bing Maps, and Microsoft Live. But there's also the company's Azure cloud platform, not to mention corporate infrastructures such as Exchange Server, Sharepoint, Systems Center and others.

If you believe that the Web and only the Web is the future, then Microsoft's ability to span what it calls "three screens and the cloud" might seem a distraction or an irrelevancy. But it does at least promise the ability for mobile users, as both consumers and employees, to tie together their world which spans Windows desktops, various Windows servers, and the Web.

Are you going to at MIX? What do want to see or hear from Microsoft about all this?

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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