Microsoft releases Windows Phone 7 to manufacturers

Hardware partners can now begin integrating the OS into phone products

Microsoft today announced that its new Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system has been released to hardware manufacturing partners.

Achieving RTM status means that Microsoft has completed its main software engineering tasks. Hardware partners will now begin integrating the new mobile operating system into phone products. Actual Windows Phone 7 mobile devices are expected to be delivered to customers "later this year," according to Terry Myerson, CVP for Microsoft's Windows Phone engineering team, in a blog post.

Myerson claimed that Windows Phone 7 is "the most thoroughly tested mobile platform Microsoft has ever released." The software has undergone 8.5 million hours of "fully automated test passes," he explained. It was tested by independent software vendors and early adopters, as well as Microsoft employees, who have been playing with Windows Phone 7 prototypes for about a month or more.

Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft's latest push into the consumer mobile OS space. The company's Windows Embedded OS dominates the mobile space for industrial devices and ruggedized mobile handsets, but Microsoft has tended to stumble in the mobile consumer market. For instance, in July the company killed off a consumer mobile offering called "Kin" that was loosely associated with Windows Phone 7. Kin was aimed at the teen and college-age consumer market. In May, Microsoft restructured its upper management in the Entertainment and Devices Division, which is responsible for consumer mobile strategy.

Hardware implementations of Microsoft's consumer mobile OS have lagged behind those of competitors. Apple's iOS and Google's Android free mobile OS already run in new mobile phone products. Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer admitted at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in July that "we missed a generation with Windows Mobile."

Later that month, Ballmer alluded to hardware partners "Samsung, HTC and LG" coming to market this fall, possibly referring to Windows Phone 7 hardware. In February, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft had announced a longer list of Windows Phone 7 hardware partners. Back then, Microsoft said that Dell, Garmin-Asus, Hewlett-Packard Co., Sony-Ericsson and Toshiba were also making Windows Phone 7 devices. Microsoft has not been so specific about its consumer mobile OS partners since that time.

It's thought that Windows Phone 7 might increase the cost of mobile phones by around $15 per device to pay for OS licensing costs. Once again, Microsoft will be faced with having to compete against a free Linux-based operating system, such as Google's Android. That's a battle it's won repeatedly in the PC market, but Google's stature in backing Android could change that dynamic.

One possible setback for Google is happening on the legal front. In July, Oracle sued Google for copyright infringement, claiming that Android violates Oracle's Java technology intellectual property rights it acquired with the purchase of Sun Microsystems. Microsoft has also indirectly attacked Android on the legal front. It hinted at legal troubles to come for hardware manufacturers using Android when it sued HTC over intellectually property allegedly used in HTC's mobile smartphones running Android.

Microsoft has also been unclear about the migration path from Windows Mobile OSes to Windows Phone 7. The issue has to do with how various hardware vendors have implemented Windows Mobile in earlier phone models. In some cases, an upgrade path from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone 7 isn't assured, Microsoft has indicated.

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