Microsoft offered an update for Windows Phone 7 this week, designed to pave the way for future updates throughout the rest of 2011.
In an ideal world, it would have gone smoothly. But within a day of the update pushing into the Windows Phone ecosystem, users took to online forums to complain the new software stalled or outright bricked their devices. Apparently, the issue affected a substantial number of Samsung smartphones running Windows Phone 7.
"We have identified a technical issue with the Windows Phone update process that impacts a small number of phones," a Microsoft spokesperson wrote in a Feb. 23 e-mail to eWEEK. "In response to this emerging issue, we have temporarily taken down the latest software update for Samsung phones in order to correct the issue."
Later that same day, Microsoft seemed to ratchet up its damage-control efforts, claiming in a corporate blog posting that only 10 percent of users' smartphones had experienced problems related to the update.
"Has the update process gone perfectly? No-but few large scale software updates ever do, and the engineering team here was prepared," Michael Stroh, a writer for Microsoft's Windows team, posted Feb. 23 on the Windows Phone Blog. "Of course, when it's your phone that's having a problem-or when you're the one waiting-it's still aggravating."
Stroh also claimed that, of the 10 percent affected negatively by the update, "nearly half failed for two basic reasons-a bad Internet connection or insufficient computer storage space."
Windows Phone Update requires space on a PC to create a backup image of the user's smartphone, in addition to actually downloading the update.
According to Microsoft, this first update was originally meant to be "a smaller infrastructure update that will help future updates," including one scheduled for the first two weeks of March that will add cut-and-paste and faster mobile-application loading. In the second half of 2011, Microsoft also plans to release updates that will add multitasking, Twitter integration with the platform's "People" Hub, and Office document sharing and storage via Windows Live Skydrive. Internet Explorer 9 will also be added to the platform at some point.
The update snafu erupted just as Sprint introduced its first-ever Windows Phone 7 smartphone, the HTC Arrive. The device includes a sliding QWERTY keyboard and tilt-up display, along with the inevitable handful of carrier-specific applications.
More importantly for Microsoft's aspirations in the smartphone space, though, the HTC Arrive is the first device to appear on a CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) carrier, as opposed to GSM-based ones such as AT&T and T-Mobile. Sprint plans on making the phone available March 20, for $199 with a two-year contract.
In theory, Windows Phone 7's spread to CDMA will open a new competitive front in Microsoft's surely protracted smartphone competition with Google Android, the Apple iPhone and other rivals. Verizon, also a CDMA carrier, will likely follow Sprint in introducing Windows Phone 7 devices.
As opposed to Google Android or the iPhone, whose user interfaces center on grid-like screens of individual apps, Windows Phone 7 consolidates Web content and applications into six subject-specific Hubs such as "People" and "Games." Microsoft hopes the uniqueness of that user interface, combined with a growing system of third-party applications, will allow it to reverse its declining share in the smartphone market. The company's recent agreement with Nokia, to port the software onto the latter's smartphones, could also help Windows Phone 7's spread to international markets.
In slightly less-eventful update news, Microsoft also made Windows 7 Service Pack 1 available via Windows Update and the Microsoft Download Center Feb. 22.
"For Windows 7, SP1 will help keep your PCs well supported by delivering ongoing updates, many of which have been made previously available through Windows Update," Microsoft spokesperson Brandon LeBlanc wrote in a Feb. 22 posting on The Windows Blog. "It does, however, include client-side support for RemoteFX and Dynamic Memory which are two new virtualization features enabled in Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1."
According to a Microsoft support site, Windows 7 SP1 also improves "reliability when connecting to HDMI audio devices, printing using the XPS Viewer, and restoring previous folders in Windows Explorer after restarting."
Meanwhile, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has agreed to publish Microsoft's submission for a new Web-privacy standard.
"Today, the W3C has accepted and published Microsoft's member submission for an Internet standard to help protect consumer privacy," Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president of Internet Explorer, wrote in a Feb. 24 posting on The Windows Internet Explorer Weblog. "Just as the community has worked together at the W3C on interoperable HTML5, we can now work together on an interoperable way...to help protect consumers' privacy."
The W3C proposal, he added, involves developing an industry standard for Websites to "(1) detect when consumers express their intent not to be tracked, and (2) help protect themselves from sites that do not respect that intent."
Microsoft has been pushing baked-in privacy features as part of its upcoming Internet Explorer 9, including a TPL (tracking protection list) which limits the amount of information that Websites can collect. That seems a response to Google's recently-released "Keep My Opt-Outs" extension, which blocks users from personalized online advertising and data tracking, and Mozilla's "Do Not Track" HTTP header in Firefox 4 beta.