Microsoft's week involved the MIX 10 conference in Las Vegas and the detailing of its upcoming Windows Phone 7 Series smartphone platform for developers, along with an announced virtualization partnership with Citrix Systems. While Windows Phone 7 Series will lack backward compatibility with Windows Mobile, Microsoft feels the upcoming devices' application-development platform and consumer sheen will attract developers and consumers in equal measure. In addition to Microsoft's advances in those areas, the company also faces two patent-infringement lawsuits in the same East Texas court that gave it so much trouble in 2009.
Microsoft's week centered on the MIX 10 conference in Las Vegas and more revelations about the Windows Phone 7 Series, as Microsoft seeks to draw developers to the upcoming smartphone platform.
If nothing else, Windows Phone 7 Series represents a clean break from Microsoft's past in the smartphone arena, not only because of its all-new user interface-which focuses on aggregating Web content and mobile applications into subject-specific "hubs"-but because the platform will not be backwards-compatible with existing Windows Mobile applications.
Those hubs include "People," "Pictures," "Office," and "Games." In a bid to capture the consumer market, Windows Phone 7 Series has been given a slick sheen heavily reminiscent of the Zune HD, Microsoft's portable media player that has been praised for its design despite its poor market-share. Smartphones running the operating system are due for release at an unannounced point later in 2010.
In an interview with eWEEK March 15, one Microsoft executive attributed this lack of backward compatibility at least partially to an accelerated development timetable.
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"We do recognize that there are a lot of folks who have been writing apps for Windows Mobile for some time," said Larry Lieberman, senior product manager for Microsoft's Mobile Developer Experience. "But we recognize that the landscape has changed, and as we've been looking at stuff, we had to drastically change our game, and really the only way to do that was to look at what we were offering and what we could do to address this in a competitive accelerated manner."
Microsoft executives have detailed how Windows Phone 7 Series will leverage Silverlight and XNA to allow developers to build rich content and 3-D games; the development platform, Lieberman suggested, will also let third-party applications for Windows Mobile be rebuilt for the new platform in an accelerated manner.
Windows Phone 7 Series "was delivered in an incredibly accelerated timeframe," Lieberman said. "If we'd had more time and resources, we may have been able to do something in terms of backward compatibility."
Features accessible to developers also include a Microsoft Location Service, for acquiring location information via a single point of reference; Microsoft Notification Service, for pushing information to the device; hardware-accelerated video with digital rights management; and Internet Information Services Smooth Streaming for high-quality media viewing. In addition, tools available for developers for the new platform include Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone, Windows Phone 7 Series add-in for use with Visual Studio 2010 RC, XNA Game Studio 4.0, Windows Phone 7 Series Emulator for testing, and Expression Blend for Windows Phone Community Technology Preview.
In addition, Microsoft will release a Windows Phone Marketplace for third-party applications, which will include one-time credit card purchases, mobile operating billing and advertiser-funded applications.
In a sign that Microsoft is also preparing the marketing side of its Windows Phone 7 Series rollout, a minute-long advertisement found its way onto the Internet
that shows the device being used in daily life. With that sort of focus, the ad seems heavily reminiscent of some previous ad campaigns, particularly the "Laptop Hunter" series that Microsoft released in the ramp-up to the release of Windows 7.
But Windows Phone 7 Series will also lack some features upon its initial rollout that could potentially affect its uptake among consumers.
Specifically, the devices will lack the ability to cut, copy and paste text, a feature that another popular smartphone, the Apple iPhone, lacked upon its release.
"Windows Phone 7 Series will not initially offer copy and paste," a Microsoft spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK March 17. "Instead, we try to solve the most common uses for copy and paste cia a single-tap action."
Apparently, the devices will recognize when users want to copy-and-paste an address or phone number and offer a one-touch way to make that function happen. Microsoft insists that the workaround earned positive reviews in early testing, although the company has also left the door open to future updates or improvements.
Windows Phone 7 Series devices may also initially lack Adobe Flash support, although CEO Steve Ballmer previously suggested during a Feb. 15 press conference in Barcelona that "we have no objection" to Flash. Microsoft and Adobe are apparently working to integrate Flash Player 10.1 into Internet Explorer Mobile on the Windows Phone 7 Series, although neither company has offered a solid estimate as to when such work will be completed.
Microsoft has a less-fantastic week on the legal front. On March 16, an East Texas jury found that Microsoft had infringed on two patents held by a smaller IT company, VirnetX
, and ordered the software giant to pay a judgment of $105.7 million. A day later, VirnetX filed a second lawsuit, alleging that Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 also violated those two patents.
The patents in question are No. 6,502,135 B1, titled "Agile Network Protocol for Secure Communications with Assured System Availability," and No. 7,188,180 B2, "Method for Establishing Secure Communication Link Between Computers of Virtual private Network." VirnetX builds real-time communication links using secure domain names and technology that can be integrated into network infrastructure, operating systems and processor chips.
The case is VirnetX Inc. versus Microsoft Corp., 07cv80, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas (Tyler). Microsoft has faced legal troubles from that court, and specifically U.S. District Judge Leonard Davis, on other occasions; in August 2009, Davis ruled that Microsoft had violated an X M L-related patent held by small Toronto-based company i4i, a case that is still under review after months of complicated legal maneuvering.
Microsoft plans to appeal the VirnetX decision. "While we can't comment specifically about the new complaint because we have not been served, Microsoft respects intellectual property, and we believe our products do not infringe on the patents involved," Kevin Kutz, Microsoft's director of public affairs, wrote in a March 19 email to eWEEK. "Moreover, we believe those patents are invalid. We will challenge VirnetX's claims."
Even as it goes on the defensive in court, Microsoft is continuing to move aggressively into the fast-growing virtualization space. On March 18, Microsoft announced a partnership with Citrix Systems
to promote the two companies' end-to-end virtualization packages for business; in addition, the companies will offer VMware View customers the ability to trade in 500 licenses at no additional cost, an action that says much about the competitiveness of the market segment.
As of July 1, according to Microsoft's announcement, Windows Client Software Assurance clients will not need to be able to purchase separate licenses in order to access Windows in a virtual environment. On that same date, Software Assurance and Virtual Desktop Access license customers will be able to access virtualized Windows and Office applications through non-corporate network devices such as PCs. In addition, Windows XP Mode, a tool for operating proprietary applications that need Windows XP to run, will no longer require hardware virtualization technology; Citrix assets such as Citrix XenDesktop's HDX technology will also be applied to the capabilities of Microsoft RemoteFX platform.
"What we're bringing to the market together is this end-to-end experience with a simple and consistent interface for the end user," Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Management and Services Division, told eWEEK in a March 17 interview. "It's comprehensive, and it leverages what customers already have. If you take a look at the assets that our companies already have in virtualization, it's the most comprehensive group of assets on the market."
That Citrix partnership, along with the Windows Phone 7 Series news, gives a few hints of how Microsoft plans to proceed through 2010. In 2009, much of Microsoft's mind-share and energy was devoted to the release of Windows 7, widely seen as a make-or-break effort after the fiasco of Windows Vista; now that the operating system is in the wild, Microsoft is devoting its energy to initiatives in other flagging areas such as mobile. Judgment of its success in such areas, though, will likely not be seen until well into 2011, if not beyond.