Microsoft's week offered still more Windows 8 reveals and a spike of good news for Windows Phone.
First, the company announced that its Windows Phone "Mango" update, which offers some 500 tweaks and added features, is a mere week or two away from release.
"For months, we and dozens of our partner companies have been laying the groundwork for the Windows Phone 7.5 update-and making solid progress." Eric Hautala, Microsoft's general manager of customer experience engineering, wrote in a Sept. 21 posting on the Windows Phone Blog. "As a result, we now expect to start rolling it out in the next week or two."
There's also been some positive news for Windows Phone on the analyst front: A new report from research firm NPD Group's Connected Intelligence Service suggests that some 44 percent of smartphone owners are considering the purchase of a Windows Phone 7 device.
That being said, the NPD service also suggested that Microsoft is facing significant issues in the brand-awareness department, with some 45 percent of consumers "still not aware of Windows Phone 7." Consumers cited a lack of awareness about Windows Phone, or OS ecosystem lock-in, as prime reasons for not planning to purchase a device running the platform.
Other research firms, such as comScore, have estimated Microsoft's smartphone market share as gradually declining over the past few months. "We haven't sold quite as many probably as I would have hoped we would have sold in the first year," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently told the audience during the company's Financial Analyst Meeting.
Meanwhile, Microsoft offered a new detail about the upcoming Windows 8: Apparently, the Windows teams are hard at work revamping the boot experience.
"With continued innovation in the hardware ecosystem, the biggest shift in firmware in 30 years, and software changes leading to boot times of ~7 seconds on machines with solid-state drives (SSDs), we decided it was time to bring the PC boot user experience into the 21st century," Billie Sue Chafins, a program manager on the Windows team, wrote in a Sept. 20 posting on the "Building Windows 8" blog.
The coming prevalence of Windows 8 on tablets, she added, meant that "we need to deliver a boot experience that is designed for touch, but works just as well for mouse and keyboard." It also meant making the setup process accessible via a virtual keyboard.
For those power users running a dual-boot scenario, the Windows team has designed a touch-friendly interface for selecting which operating system to boot and which to use as a default OS. They can also select from options such as changing the timer, and trouble-shoot if need be.
Windows 8, which is reportedly due sometime in 2012, offers two user environments: the desktop mode, instantly familiar to anyone who's used Windows, alongside a tablet-ready interface featuring colorful tiles that link to applications. At least in the early developer preview, transition between the two environments is quick and seamless. Windows 8 will run on traditional PCs and tablets, and support both x86 and ARM architecture.
Microsoft executives claim the operating system will offer a "no compromises" ability to provide both a lightweight mobility experience and the sort of features desired by power users.
Windows 8 on tablets will give Microsoft an inroad to challenging Apple's iPad in that space. However, a new analyst report from Gartner is reserving judgment on whether Microsoft can carve off sizable market-share in that area over the next few years.
"The current buzz around Windows 8 driven by the demonstrations seen at [September's] BUILD conference might be short-lived if Microsoft's push to use the new OS across devices comes at a compromise in usability," suggested the firm's Sept. 22 note. "Moreover, the late arrival might limit its appeal, especially to consumers, as Apple and Android will be more entrenched by then."
In non-Windows 8-related news, Microsoft also announced this week a licensing agreement with Casio Computer over the latter's use of Linux in certain devices. Under the terms, Casio will pay Microsoft undisclosed fees.
According to Microsoft, the two companies have a long-term relationship, and Casio uses Microsoft software in products such as industrial handheld terminals. "We're pleased to reach an agreement and to see continued recognition of the value of our patent portfolio, particularly as it relates to operating systems," Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of Microsoft's Intellectual Property Group, wrote in a Sept. 20 statement.
Microsoft has been on a licensing-agreement streak of late, although much of that seems a competitive strategy meant to blunt-or at least profit from-the rise in devices using Google Android as an operating system.