Windows Phone 7, i4i Case, Android App Occupied Microsoft Week

Microsoft's week involved Windows Phone 7 released to manufacturing, a revival of its long-running legal case with i4i and the release of a Bing app for Google Android.

Microsoft released Windows Phone 7 to manufacturing on Sept. 1. After months of updates and rumors, this is the milestone that anticipates that most final of final steps: actual product release. Now Microsoft's OEMs will integrate the software platform into their devices, which will reportedly debut in the October-November timeframe.

"Windows Phone 7 is the most thoroughly tested mobile platform Microsoft has ever released," Terry Myerson, corporate vice president of Windows Phone Engineering, wrote in a Sept. 1 posting on The Windows Blog. "We had nearly 10,000 devices running automated tests daily, over a half million hours of active self-hosting use, over three and a half million hours of stress test passes, and eight and a half million hours of fully automated test passes."

More than 1,000 Microsoft employees have tested the smartphone operating system, which consolidates Web content and applications into subject-specific "Hubs." Microsoft hopes that the platform will allow it to regain traction in the mobile space, where it has been steadily losing ground to aggressive competitors such as the Apple iPhone and Google Android.

Deutsche Bank analyst Jonathan Goldberg estimated in late August that the early marketing push for Windows Phone 7 will cost the company roughly $400 million. "This is make-or-break for them," he told the blog TechCrunch Aug. 26. "They don't have to take share from Android or Apple, so long as they can attract enough consumers switching from feature phones."

Goldberg also suggested that HTC, Samsung and LG Electronics remained the primary Windows Phone 7 handset manufacturers. In an ironic side-note, despite its plan to ram head-on into both Apple and Google, Microsoft is also making sure its software finds its way onto competing platforms: on Aug. 30, the company launched its new Bing for Mobile Android app via the Verizon Android Marketplace.

Microsoft's competitive posturing, of course, extends far beyond mobile. On Aug. 31, as virtualization rival VMware prepared to launch its VMworld conference in San Francisco, the scamps in Redmond published a full-page ad in USA Today designed to give potential VMware customers pause.

"VMware is asking many of you to sign three-year license agreements for your virtualization projects," reads the ad, ostensibly authored by Brad Anderson, vice president of Microsoft's Management and Security Division. "Signing up for a three-year virtualization commitment may lock you into a vendor that cannot provide you with the breadth of technology, flexibility or scale that you'll need to build a complete cloud computing environment."

Microsoft's position on VMware isn't a new one; during July's Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C., COO Kevin Turner described how the company would aggressively pursue VMware's key corporate clients:

"In the next six months VMware, the majority of their enterprise license agreements will expire and require a renewal, because when those were formed three years ago we didn't really have a good competitive solution, but what a partner opportunity we can go after right now in the next six months."

Microsoft executives have claimed their company holds 30 percent of the virtualization market.

The company holds more of the desktop market, obviously, an advantage it seemingly wants to help retain with this week's re-introduction of the Windows 7 Family Pack. That offer, which includes three upgrade licenses of Windows 7 Home Premium for $149.99, was originally discontinued in December 2009 after supposedly "selling out."

That led to a burst of public irritation on the part of many potential purchasers, who were seemingly stuck with buying three copies of Windows 7 Home Premium for $357. Nonetheless, the Family Pack and other discounts likely helped contribute to Microsoft's 175 million Windows 7 licenses sold since the operating system's October 2009 release.

Perhaps wary of a soft economy, though, Microsoft reinstated the deal. The company has also been trying to goad business adoption of Windows 7 through deals such as the Windows 7 Enterprise Trial program.

Even as Microsoft brought Family Pack back from the dead, the company confronted a revived legal issue it doubtlessly hopes will disappear sooner rather than later.

Microsoft appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in its long-running intellectual-property battle against Canadian technology firm i4i, which owns a patent for custom XML formatting in a word-processing program. Microsoft Word 2003 and 2007, i4i's attorneys have asserted in court battle after court battle, violated this patent (which was broken down by eWEEK here).

"We continue to be confident that i4i will prevail," Loudon Owen, chairman of i4i, wrote in an Aug. 27 statement to Reuters.

In April, a federal appeals court rejected Microsoft's request for a multiple-judge review of the lawsuit, which resulted in a nearly $300 million judgment. That followed a December ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals, upholding the original August 2009 verdict by the U.S. District Court in Eastern Texas. Throughout the various legal twists-and-turns, Microsoft has fought against judge injunctions to remove the offending copies of Word 2003 and 2007 from store shelves.

"With respect to Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007, we have been preparing for this possibility since the District Court issued its injunction in August 2009 and have put the wheels in motion to remove this little-used feature from these products," Microsoft spokesperson Kevin Kutz wrote in a Dec. 22, 2009 statement. "Therefore, we expect to have copies of Microsoft Word 2007 and Office 2007, with this feature removed, available for U.S. sale and distribution."

The 12.9 patch, made available on Microsoft's OEM Partner center Website, removed custom XML elements from documents with those file types. But the courtroom fracas refused to die, especially after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office confirmed the validity of i4i's patent in May.

"This is a very material step in our litigation against Microsoft," Owen wrote after that validation. "Put simply: i4i's patent is clearly and unequivocally valid. Even though Microsoft attacked i4i's patent claims with its full arsenal, the Patent Office agreed with i4i and confirmed the validity of [U.S. Patent 5,787,499]."

The release of Office 2010 may hasten the inevitable mothballing of Office 2003 and 2007, which in turn would reduce the chance of any future legal action related to those versions, but the i4i case nonetheless promises to occupy Microsoft's legal attentions for some time to come.