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Windows Phone 7 Stumbles Forward

Microsoft got the loot years ago. By establishing Windows as the dominant operating system for both consumers and the enterprise, Redmond effectively locked the vast majority of users into its technology and has never really let go.

That hasn't been the case for mobile technology, obviously. Microsoft's mobile platform might have the word "Windows" in it, but that label doesn't carry much weight when it's floating around in somebody's pocket as opposed to running a PC or server.

This week, Microsoft said that Windows Phone 7, its fairly desperate attempt to achieve relevance in the mobile market, has reached technical preview stage. That means that developers and reviewers are receiving prototypes of devices running the operating system. Thus far, reviews have been mixed. Some have been more positive than others, and most have acknowledged that Microsoft is, at least, trying to start afresh in the mobile-OS game.

Not everybody is on board with that view, though. We don't often link to InfoWorld here, but we couldn't help but notice that a reviewer there ripped into Windows Phone 7 like a cheetah tearing open the guts of a gazelle.

Still, InfoWorld is a bit of an outlier in this case. Most experts seem to think that Windows Phone 7 is OK, maybe not half bad. And that's the problem. Pretty much every observer outside of Redmond says that Microsoft is still behind Google and Apple in terms of mobile functionality. Plus, Microsoft is now in the relatively unfamiliar position of having to play as an underdog in a hypercompetitive market.

Thus far, nobody has indicated that Windows Phone 7 is anything close to the type of revolutionary, eye-grabbing, can't-resist monster that Microsoft needs it to be if the company is going to go for mobile gold. The new platform is...alright, nothing more. And that likely won't be enough to pull Microsoft very far up the mobile standings.

Windows 7 might not be a disaster, but it is an example of the type of company Microsoft really is. It's an enterprise-focused company that struggles mightily with consumer innovation. It's entering a market that moves at hyper speed with an OS that's already behind everybody else's. And it's mostly incapable of using pure technology to seriously penetrate markets it doesn't already dominate. Microsoft is a PC company in a smart-phone world, metaphorically speaking. For now, that's OK -- especially for partners. (After all, IBM still sells mainframes.)

But if Microsoft wants to be a mobile player, it's going to have to figure out how to be a few things it has never been outside of its core product areas -- innovative, cool and ahead of the competition. Windows Phone 7, while an improvement over Windows Mobile, isn't the first step in that journey. It's more like speeding up a treadmill than actually moving forward.

What's your take on the future of Microsoft's mobile business? What good reason can you think of for buying a Windows Phone 7 phone? Send your thoughts to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on July 21, 2010


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