WASHINGTON, D.C.-Microsoft is releasing its Windows Phone Developer Tools Beta, as Day Three of the company's Worldwide Partner Conference begins here.
The tools are available from this site.
"The term 'beta' is understood to mean that things are close to finished," Brandon Watson, Microsoft's director of developer experience for Windows Phone 7, wrote in a July 12 posting on The Windows Phone Developer Blog. "It's time to get serious about building the actual apps and games for Windows Phone 7 that consumers will be looking for starting this holiday season."
Unlike the Apple iPhone or devices running Google Android, Windows Phone 7 does not follow the "pages of individual apps" model of user interface; instead, it aggregates Web content and applications into a set of subject-specific "Hubs," such as games. Coinciding with the blog posting, the July 13 keynotes at the WPC began focusing extensively on Windows Phone 7, which Microsoft views as a total reset of its smartphone franchise.
"The phone is going through a massive inflection point," Andy Lees, senior vice president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, told the audience gathered in the Verizon Center here, where the conference's keynotes are held. "There's immense competition but in many respects, things are just beginning."
Explaining the rationale behind Windows Phone 7's interface, Lees said: "The problem is that smartphones are just app launchers; they're a grid of icons. We figured there's got to be a better way than going app by app by app, so two years ago we fundamentally reset our strategy."
That strategy, he added, centers on three tenets: smart design, integrated experiences-i.e., the "Hubs"-and optimized ecosystem. While explaining the last one, Lees seemed to take a backhand swipe at Google Android, which runs on an increasing number of devices.
"One of the problems the phones are going through right now is fragmentation," Lees said. "For developers and ISVs, it makes it very difficult. We're making sure our software is fully optimized" to run with manufacturers' phone hardware, which itself is being limited by Microsoft to a streamlined three-button form factor.
The nearly weeklong WPC is a chance for Microsoft to promote the benefits of the company's partner network, and offer those partners a wide variety of events such as hands-on labs. It also leverages the event's spotlight to roll out a number of new products; this year's notables include the Windows Azure Platform Appliance, a service that brings Windows Azure's cloud-development capabilities into a company's data center. Also announced: the Windows 7 SP1 beta and Windows Intune public beta 2.
During his July 12 keynote address, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggested that Microsoft's strategy now centers on the cloud.
"We've been shouting about 'O Cloud' at the WPC now for about four years," Ballmer told the audience. "There's no question that Microsoft has chosen to embrace that path together with all of you, and there's no question that there's more to do."
Microsoft's work with its own cloud-based applications, apparently, has confirmed its strategy as a provider of cloud services for the enterprise.
"We have learned a lot through running Windows Live, Hotmail, Bing," Ballmer said. "These are some of the highest volume services run on the Internet today. When you run a highly scaled, highly dynamic service, you need a whole new approach to running a data center."
The sheer scale of the transactions and deployment, he added, required that Microsoft redesign its IT infrastructure: "We're bringing that back in a form where our partners and enterprise customers can have the same enterprise structure to have your cloud and enterprise applications."
Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server & Tools Business, suggested during his own keynote that Microsoft's cloud strategy, through platforms such as Windows Azure, is to provide "IT as a service"-offering a competitive differentiator to the likes of Salesforce.com, which offers software as a service, or Amazon.com, which offers infrastructure as a service through the cloud.
Part of the company's job at the WPC is to convince its partners that the strategy is a sound one-and that it can succeed in areas such as smartphones.