Microsoft Tips Its Hand On Windows Mobile 7

In a presentation shown to partners recently, and discovered by the blog Microsoft Kitchen, a new product called Office Mobile 2010 is described as a "mobile companion" for Excel, Word, Powerpoint, OneNote and Sharepoint. Microsoft notes that Office Mobile 2010 will run on Windows Mobile 7 and also indicates that Windows Mobile 7 will be released to manufacturing in Spring 2010.

This lines up with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's prediction in March of this year that Microsoft would ship Windows Mobile 7 sometime in 2010. Around the same time, Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha let slip that Windows Mobile 7 would arrive next year and said his company would renew its focus on Windows Mobile at that time.

Microsoft released Windows Mobile 6.5 to manufacturing in May, but the first devices didn't arrive until last week. Windows Mobile 6.5 features touch-screen user interface and navigation improvements, but Microsoft has cast it as a stopgap release along the way to Windows Mobile 7, which the software giant says will enable it to compete more effectively with incumbent smartphone heavyweights.

Meanwhile, some Microsoft partners have been unimpressed with Windows Mobile 6.5 and are hoping Microsoft can deliver on its promises with its successor. "Let's face it, Windows Mobile 6.5 is like putting a spoiler on the back of a Buick," said one partner, who requested anonymity. "I think everyone is trying to hold their breath for Windows Mobile 7."

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Unless Microsoft finds some way to speed up the time between RTM and devices hitting store shelves, Windows Mobile 7 devices won't arrive until mid-2010 at the very earliest. And that could cause Microsoft to fall further behind in the smartphone market, while also adding to the industry scrutiny of Windows Mobile 7 once it does arrive.

In some ways, the situation is similar to the one Microsoft now faces with Windows 7. Given the disaster of Vista, Microsoft had to come through with a solid follow-up with Windows 7, and by most accounts it has done that. Scott Stanfield, CEO of Vertigo Software, a Richmond, Calif.-based software development firm, expects the same pattern to hold true with Windows Mobile 7. "I'm hoping that Windows Mobile 7 is just as well received as Windows 7 has been," he said.

Other partners who've been frustrated by Microsoft's inability to keep pace in the mobile space are more guarded in their optimism. "Microsoft has to make a dramatic comeback if they're going to come back in the mobile game," said one partner, who asked not be named. "We used to get a steady stream of Windows Mobile business, but now it's no longer part of our plans," the source said.