Will 2011 Be The Year Windows Phone 7 Booms?

In a slide shown at Microsoft's Remix conference in Paris earlier this week, Microsoft cites IDC's forecast that 30 million Windows Phone 7 devices will be sold by the end of 2011, with 1.6 million of those ending up in the hands of customers in France.

It's a lofty prediction for an operating system that's not due to arrive on devices until later this year, and it gets even loftier when one considers that Apple has sold around 50 million iPhones in the three years since its launch.

Microsoft, naturally, will be quick to note it's not the one making this prediction. The company has previously cited eye-popping IDC figures for both Windows Vista and Windows 7. Just saying.

In this case, IDC's rationale is that the mobile market is still very young and smartphone penetration is still relatively low. IDC predicts that smartphones will account for 40 percent of the mobile market by the end of 2011, compared to 14 percent now.

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If Microsoft's mobile situation could be likened to a song, Tom Petty's "Free Fallin" would be the hands-down choice. According to Gartner's Q1 figures, Windows Mobile devices accounted for 6.8 percent of worldwide smartphone sales, compared to 10.2 percent at this time last year.

Not only is Windows Phone 7 several months away, Microsoft just said bye-bye to Robbie Bach, president of the Entertainment and Devices division and the executive who introduced both Windows Phone 7 and Kin. Bach won't be replaced, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will now have more direct control over Microsoft's mobile business.

However, Ballmer once said the iPhone had "no chance" of getting significant market share, so it's tough to say that greater involvement on his part is going to help Microsoft right the ship.

These days, pretty much the only impact Microsoft has on the mobile market comes from its legal department. Microsoft believes that Android violates its patents in a number of areas, including the user interface and the underlying OS, and in April the software giant got HTC to enter a patent cross-licensing agreement.

Earlier this week, Ballmer suggested that Microsoft will benefit from the market momentum Android has been gaining in recent months.

"There's nothing free about Android … as we certainly have asserted in a number of cases, there's an intellectual property royalty due on that," Ballmer said in interview with Fortune.