Windows Phone 7: New, Useful and Very Likable

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Using the familiar Favorites metaphor, you can pin apps and cards to decks, as well as to the home screen. And yes, you can access the apps the old-fashioned way by going to an apps deck -- after all, not everything you do fits neatly into a category you want to monitor.

This approach is different -- and kudos to Microsoft for really thinking outside the box and bringing a different approach to the table. After years of hearing about "we listen to our customers and pay close attention to user experience," only to see Frankenstein monsters like Windows Mobile 6 and Windows Vista as a result, it's refreshing to witness the company stop putting lipstick on a pig that it pretends doesn't exist and actually do something new. It actually went outside the barnyard.

A Needed Break from the Past
It's significant that Windows Phone 7 is not compatible with even the new Windows Mobile 6.5's applications. Any Windows Mobile apps you developed or use will have to be at least retargeted, if not rewritten, notes Charlie Kindel, Microsoft's partner group program manager for the Windows Phone App Platform. (It depends on how they were written and how much the underlying logic is separate from the presentation layer.)

That's good news. The muddled legacy of Windows Mobile would have created a Jekyll-and-Hyde experience at best on Windows Phone 7, as your apps switched between "classic" and "modern" modes. Or backward compatibility with Windows Mobile would have perpetuated the Frankenstein graft of multiple creatures, making Windows Phone 7 just the latest muddle. Microsoft needed to start fresh, so kudos for doing so.

If you use Windows Mobile, Kindel says Microsoft will continue to support it for a few years at least. That'll be important if you're using Windows Mobile apps for specialty uses, such as pharmacy sales management, package delivery, photocopier servicing, and all the wonderfully niche areas for which phone-less Windows Mobile devices have been used for years. It's not clear whether these specialty applications need their own platform; they used to be a big deal on the early Windows Mobile, Palm OS, and Symbol Technologies platforms, but these have all largely faded away with companies continuing to use what they have pretty much as-is. Sort of like mainframes. (Scott Stanfield, CEO of mobile app development firm Vertigo, says his firm now gets very little requests to work on such old-guard apps.)

It may be that modern devices running iPhone OS, WebOS, or Android OS can do these jobs if the required apps are ported or redeveloped. What is clear is that Windows Phone 7 won't be the platform you're likely to use for such apps, for the simple reason that Microsoft has no current intention to allow nonphone devices -- and the devices these apps run on are decidedly not phones. (Take a look at what your UPS carrier or the guy checking inventory at your local Sears uses. There is no phone capability.) Kindel tells me that Microsoft will monitor what these specialty customers do, then decide whether it makes sense to advance Windows Mobile as a separate field force platform, extend the Windows Phone 7 platform to include nonphone devices, or just let this market go. The timeframe for this decision is probably a couple of years out, he notes. My bet is it'll be one of the latter two options.

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