Nokia Aftermath, Windows Phone 7 Updates Filled Microsoft Week

Windows Phone 7 update news from Mobile World Congress, and continuing news from the partnership deal with Nokia, helped fill Microsoft's week.

Microsoft and Nokia dealt with the reverberations from their newly announced partnership this week.

Whatever the ultimate success of the deal, which will see Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 software ported onto Nokia devices, Microsoft did earn one early benefit from the rumors heading up to the Feb. 11 announcement: According to new data from analytics firm Flurry, more developers began developing for Windows Phone 7.

"This week, with the early speculation and subsequent announcement that Nokia and Microsoft would be partners, Flurry measured a 66 percent increase in Windows Phone 7 starts over last week," Peter Farago, Flurry's vice president of marketing, wrote in a Feb. 11 posting on his company's blog.

An accompanying graph suggested that, not only had Windows Phone 7 application starts jumped significantly, but also the growth curve bore marked similarities to the early growth of Google Android.

"When Flurry launched its support for Android in October 2008, there was doubt in the industry around the viability of Android as a development platform," Farago added. "Back then, the sentiment was that Android would capture market share as a mobile operating platform, but not necessarily as an application-development platform or an ecosystem where developers could thrive."

Of course, Android subsequently enjoyed robust expansion. Microsoft is doubtlessly hoping for a similar trend with Windows Phone 7, although signs of early progress remain unclear. Although Microsoft recently confirmed that manufacturers have sold more than 2 million Windows Phone 7 units to retailers, there's a lack of official data suggesting how many of those devices found their way into consumers' hands.

Whatever the sell-through rate, the Nokia deal will likely help Windows Phone 7 expand into those international markets where Nokia, despite its eroding market share, maintains a robust presence. The effect in the United States may be more negligible, considering Nokia's placement (according to recent data from research firm comScore) as dead last among top mobile OEMs.

For Microsoft, the Nokia agreement will mean an expanded pool of developers using its tools, which include Visual Studio 2010, Expression 4, Silverlight and XNA framework. Nokia will apparently continue to support Qt, the development framework behind Symbian, but some developers are questioning the length of the company's commitment in light of the Microsoft agreement. Certainly a portion of those developers are angry, at least based on the comments left on Nokia-related Websites.

At this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer reiterated that Windows Phone 7 would receive its first software update in early March, tweaking applications and adding a copy-and-paste feature. Andy Lees, president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, later clarified in a Feb. 14 posting on the Windows Phone blog that the update timeframe is "the first two weeks of March."

Microsoft also used the higher-profile platform of Mobile World Congress to announce further Windows Phone 7 updates for the second half of 2011, including multitasking, Twitter integration with the platform's "People" Hub, and Office document sharing and storage via Windows Live Skydrive. Microsoft will also add an Internet Explorer 9 Web browser to the platform.

Even as it works out the details behind the Nokia partnership-actual Nokia-produced devices running Windows Phone 7 will probably not appear until 2012-Microsoft also worked to ramp up other franchise products. On Feb. 16, the company claimed that its Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate hit 2 million downloads roughly a week after its debut.

Microsoft insists that Internet Explorer 9 boasts advancements in standards compatibility and user experience, having incorporated insights from beta testers to gradually upgrade its abilities. The Release Candidate supports geolocation, WebM video (with the installation of a V8 code on Windows) and playback of H.264-encoded video using the HTML5 video tag. According to the SunSpider benchmark, Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate is 35 percent faster than Internet Explorer 9 Beta.

On the enterprise side of things, Microsoft also released an on-premises and partner-hosted version of its Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. Meant to complement the on-demand, cloud-based version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, the on-premises version is clearly meant for those businesses that have not made the decision to leap into the cloud with both proverbial feet.

For months, Microsoft has touted how its CRM offerings can be leveraged in context of other company software such as Office, something it would like potential customers to see as an advantage over Oracle's integrated hardware-and-software stack or's emphasis on Facebook-style social networking.

Microsoft's battles with those rivals will likely continue for some time to come-as will its fight, with or without Nokia's help, in the smartphone space.