Microsoft news this week centered on its coming Windows Phone update code-named "Mango."
The company hopes that Mango's 500 new tweaks will help Windows Phone more firmly establish itself in a highly competitive smartphone market. In addition to a redesigned Xbox Live Hub, some of the more visible Mango features include home-screen tiles capable of displaying up-to-the-minute information, the ability to consolidate friends and colleagues into groups, and visual voice mail.
Mango reached its release-to-manufacturing milestone July 26. "Earlier this morning, the Windows Phone development team officially signed off on the release to manufacturing (RTM) build of -Mango'-the latest version of the Windows Phone operating system," Microsoft executive Terry Myerson wrote in a posting on The Windows Blog. "Here on the Windows Phone team, we now turn to preparing for the update process."
He didn't offer a definitive release date for Mango, although other Microsoft executives have cited a fall timeframe. Previous Windows Phone updates encountered delays and complaints of stalled or "bricked" devices, forcing Microsoft into damage-control mode-an experience the company almost certainly doesn't want to repeat.
Microsoft has been reluctant to share any hard sales data related to Windows Phone. During a July 11 keynote speech at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference, CEO Steve Ballmer described the platform's market share as "very small," but insisted that other metrics (such as consumer satisfaction) bode well for Windows Phone overall.
"Nine out of 10 people who bought Windows Phone would absolutely recommend it to a friend," he said, reiterating a talking point voiced by many a Microsoft executive over the past few months. "People in the phone business seem to believe in us."
Meanwhile, new data from Nielsen suggests that Microsoft occupied some 9 percent of the U.S. smartphone market in June. That total included the company's Windows Mobile platform, which is being discontinued in favor of Windows Phone 7. It trailed Google Android with 39 percent, Apple's iPhone with 28 percent, and Research In Motion's BlackBerry franchise with 20 percent, but managed to surpass Hewlett-Packard's WebOS (with 2 percent) and Nokia's Symbian OS (also with 2 percent).
Studies from other research firms have also suggested Microsoft holds a single-digit share of the U.S. smartphone market. Research firm comScore, for instance, placed Microsoft at 5.8 percent by the end of May, trailing Android at 38.1 percent, Apple at 26.6 percent and RIM at 24.7 percent.
Samsung, HTC, LG Electronics and Nokia have all committed to building new Windows Phone devices preloaded with Mango, while Acer and ZTE have reportedly agreed to produce Windows Phone units for release in the coming months.
This week, Microsoft also issued the newest Windows Phone SDK 7.1 "Beta 2 Refresh" via the Mango Connect Website. It includes a screenshot capability built into the emulator, and locked-down application platform APIs. It also corresponds with Build 7712, which, oddly enough, is not the release-to-manufacturing build issued July 26.
"For the folks wondering why we're not providing the -RTM' version, there are two reasons," Cliff Simpkins, a product manager for Windows Phone 7, wrote in a July 27 posting on The Windows Phone Developer Blog. First, "the phone OS and the tools are two equal parts of the developer toolkit that correspond to one another." Second, "this OS is close enough to RTM that, as a developer, it's more than capable to see you through the upcoming [Release Candidate] drop of the tools and app submission."
Those Release Candidate tools, which developers can use to finalize their Mango-optimized applications for Microsoft's App Hub storefront, will reportedly drop in late August.
In non-Windows Phone-related news, Microsoft and SUSE (an independent business unit of The Attachmate Group) announced a four-year extension of the interoperability agreement set almost five years ago between Redmond and Novell. Under the terms of that agreement, Microsoft will invest some $100 million in new SUSE Linux Enterprise certificates for customers who receive Linux support from SUSE.
The original agreement helped bridge the inevitable gap between proprietary and open-source software. Attachmate previously acquired Novell, including its SUSE holdings. The joint collaboration between Microsoft and SUSE has served some 725 customers worldwide, including financial-services and manufacturing companies.
This week, Microsoft also launched yet another broadside against Google, with a parodic "Gmail Man" video that quickly went viral among the tech community. The two companies battle in areas ranging from search engines to smartphones.