Ballmer Gives Peek At Microsoft Mobile Roadmap

On Thursday, Microsoft unveiled a new embedded operating system called Windows Embedded Handheld that it plans to launch within the next six months. This is a new product based on Windows Mobile 6.5 and it will be targeted specifically at the enterprise handheld device market, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a video posted to Microsoft's Website .

In the second half of 2011, Microsoft will release an updated version of Windows Embedded Handheld based on Windows Embedded Compact 7, Ballmer said in the video.

Microsoft is also working to give enterprises a clear path for migrating their line of business applications to its new application platform, which is based on Silverlight, XNA and Visual Studio 2010. In so doing, enterprises will gain the advantages of improved management and security, Ballmer said.

Ballmer's comments were timed to coincide with Motorola's launch Thursday of its ES400 ruggedized handheld device, which is based on Windows Mobile 6.5.3 and will be available later this year through Sprint. The ES400 is a 3G device that combines enterprise handheld functions like barcode scanning with conventional smartphone features, and comes with a 3-inch screen and a 3.2 megapixel camera.

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As a longtime Motorola partner, Microsoft is well aware of the key role mobility is playing in the enterprise these days, Ballmer said in the video.

"Microsoft and Motorola have long recognized mobility as a critical feature technology that we must deliver to businesses, since it gives people access to the right information at the right time, regardless of location," Ballmer said.

But when it comes to regular smartphones, Microsoft and Motorola haven't had such a smooth ride of late. Motorola last year grew tired of waiting for Microsoft to release Windows Phone 7 and shifted its focus to Android, which was seen as a major blow to Microsoft's foundering Windows Mobile business and helped underscore the seriousness of its problems.

Microsoft hit the reset button in February and unveiled Windows Phone 7, which departs completely from Windows Mobile by using Silverlight as the basis for application development. One thing Microsoft says it learned from Windows Mobile's struggles is that people want a single device for work and for play, and Windows Phone 7 is designed to unite these functions.

Microsoft says Windows Phone 7 devices will start to arrive at some ill-defined point "later this year," but in the meantime Android continues to gather impressive momentum, and Apple keeps churning out ever-more impressive iPhones. And then there's the Blackberry, which continues to keep its own traditional customer base happy.

Microsoft will take any chance it can get to talk about its role in bringing devices like Motorola's ES400 to market, but Windows Phone 7 is probably its last chance to show that it's still capable of playing a relevant role in the smartphone business.