A Leap of Faith

A Leap of Faith

What Microsoft fans can hold onto, however, is Windows 7 - the operating system which undid the evils of Vista and launched a truly worthy successor to the venerable Windows XP. If Microsoft was able to turn around that mess perhaps it can turn around its Windows mobile products too?

The problem is the comparison doesn't work because Microsoft largely has the desktop market to itself. Mac OS X machines remain too expensive for the masses and Linux remains fragmented and has yet to shake the association of being too complicated. Smartphones are radically different. iOS, Android, MeeGo, BlackBerry OS and webOS all have traction.

Making Windows Phone 7 a commercial success will be the biggest challenge Microsoft has ever faced.

I hope it does. Aside from the 'competition is good' mantra, Windows Phone 7 has a lot going for it: the 'Live Tiles' interface looks promising, the slick media player comes straight from the Zune HD, Microsoft Office integration is a nice differentiator and - done right - Xbox Live support could make it a viable gaming platform. On top of this Microsoft is enforcing strict hardware guidelines for manufacturers which should ensure a more consistent experience, though the high bar (1GHz CPU, WVGA display, 8GB minimum native storage) will price handsets out of the mainstream.

Developers like Skype seem loathe to make apps for yet another platform too and with the best will in the world Windows Marketplace will never, ever catch up with Android Marketplace or the App Store. How installing numerous apps will work with the Live Tiles UI remains murky as well. Then there are questions about the upgrade strategy: will Windows Phone 8 come free? Are there going to be Windows Phone 7 Service Packs? We should know by now.

Ultimately users will have to take a leap of faith in buying a Windows Phone 7 handset. They will also need to be prepared to give up core functionality they're used to in the hope 'sticking with it' will pay off long term. With a late Q3/early Q4 release date still not nailed down and a large scale launch unlikely before 2011 I can't see many going down that route, but make no mistake: if Windows Phone 7 does fail it won't be because of the operating system. It will be because Microsoft's indecision, complacency and tardiness in the mobile sector never gave it a chance.

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