Why Windows Mobile 6.5 Matters

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Mobile service providers have begun to offer devices built on the new Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system. Despite some negative early reviews, the operating system has some impressive features and significantly enhances the operating system in comparison to its predecessor.

I am not saying that Windows Mobile 6.5 is the best mobile operating system available, or suggesting that anyone abandon their iPhone or BlackBerry in favor of the latest Microsoft mobile platform, but articles like the one by my PC World peer Daniel Ionescu don't match the reality of what the operating system delivers.

Granted, Windows Mobile has not been a paragon of mobile operating system success or one of Microsoft's finer achievements. Steve Ballmer himself has publicly expressed disappointment in delays with developing Windows Mobile 7 and brought in new leadership to put the mobile operating system back on the right track.

It is no secret that Windows Mobile 6.5 is an interim step on the path to Windows 7 which is expected sometime in the first half of 2010. However, suggestions that Windows Mobile 6.5 is purely cosmetic, or just an incremental update from Windows Mobile 6.1 aren't entirely accurate either.

Windows Mobile 6.5 provides a number of improvements and innovative features that set it apart from Windows Mobile 6.1. The honeycomb layout of icons on the touch display makes it easier to select applications. The new lock screen enables users to interact with basic device functionality without having to unlock the phone. The free My Phone service provides a means for users to securely backup data by syncing it to the Web. And Windows Mobile 6.5 introduces integration with the Windows Marketplace for Mobile and the ability to shop for apps a' la the Apple iPhone app store.

In his criticism of Windows Mobile 6.5, Ionescu quoted another of my PC World peers, Ginny Mies, from her review of the WinMo 6.5-based HTC Pure. The quote is critical of the Windows Media Player in Windows Mobile 6.5. However, the quote is given out of context and downplays the fact that Mies, who tested the handset extensively in the PC World Test Center before writing her review, was impressed overall with the device and with Windows Mobile 6.5.

Mies summed up her review of the HTC Pure by stating "While the updates in Windows Mobile 6.5 may seem incremental on paper, the upgrade in usability from version 6.1 is a big deal. Sure, it isn't perfect, but I think Microsoft is on the right track."

Microsoft may not have done itself any favors with reviewers, either. Devices that Microsoft shipped to reviewers for stand-alone evaluation of Windows Mobile 6.5 were non-functioning and only allowed reviewers to work with some of the OS features. It's unclear whether all of the reviewers who panned the OS had access to a fully functioning phone such as the HTC Pure, or if they merely played with a loaner handset that had no service.

Based on initial media reaction like Ionescu's article, Windows Mobile 6.5 could shape up to be the Windows Vista of Microsoft's mobile platform. It is a solid operating system with innovative features, but may fall victim to negative publicity and ultimately may go down in history as the dud Microsoft released before Windows Mobile 7 emerged to save the day.

HTC has always been one of the best things going for the Windows Mobile operating system. Whatever the Windows Mobile operating system may lack is often more than compensated for by the hardware and software designs that HTC builds around it. The HTC Pure is no exception. It is no iPhone, but then nothing is...except the iPhone.

Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.

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