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Microsoft 'gets serious' with Windows Phone 7 tools

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Microsoft has released final beta tools for building Windows Phone 7 applications and said it's time to get serious ahead of this October's launch.

The company has said the phone's APIs are now close to completion.

Among the changes, Microsoft's Expression Blend has been integrated with the tools - Blend is Microsoft's application design and sketch flow suite that works with Visual Studio and Silverlight. Applications for Windows Phone 7 will be built for Silverlight and XNA using Visual Studio.

Other changes include consolidated name spaces with controls for panorama and pivot planned in the next few weeks. The beta tools come four months after the Community Technology Preview (CTP).

Microsoft said in a blog here: "It's time to get serious about building the actual apps and games for Windows Phone 7 that consumers will be looking for starting this holiday season."

In line with that sentiment, Microsoft plans to make a limited set of Windows Phone 7 handsets available for testing through a set of labs in major cities. Microsoft will also start online training for developers interested in building software for Windows Phone 7.

The tools came as senior vice president of mobile Andy Lees demonstrated Windows Phone 7 to partners at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner conference in Washington DC. Lees stressed partners would not have to negotiate hardware form factors as Microsoft will control the number of designs with phones coming from HTC, Samsung and Dell.

Lees indicated while Microsoft has lost mobile market share in the last two years the future is still Microsoft's. In the last two years Apple's iPhone's carved out a solid quarter of the US smart-phone market with Android now the fastest growing mobile.

Microsoft's own smart-phone efforts took a punch to the gut with the scrapping of its hyped social-networking phone KIN after just two months.

According to Lee's it's what happens from now on, not what's gone, that will define the future. "What happens over the next five years will define the industry of the next 10," Lees said.

In one concession to Microsoft's fumbled past, Lees said: "We’re back and we’re back with something very different and very innovative."

Lees discussed features Microsoft believes will woo consumers and business users. Having pushed the idea of Windows Mobile as a business person's phone for years to take out RIM, Microsoft's new mantra is "we're all consumers first" as it tries to address the iPhone's cross over from consumer device into work-place phone.

Among the features will be hubs that group different activities and interests. There will be hubs for contacts, people, music and Office. Lees and co also pushed online services and Bing search.

Windows Phone 7 will feature a companion site called Windows Phone 7 Live that will provide online storage for photos, calendar, contacts and be able to exchange Office OneNote files. User will get 25Gb of storage via Microsoft's SkyDrive service.

Also, planned is a Find My Phone service, which Microsoft said would let people find and manage a missing phone with map, ring, lock and erase capabilities from your PC.

Windows Phone 7 will support five languages at launch - English, French, Italian, German and Spanish - with the Windows Phone Marketplace available 17 countries at launch. ®

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