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Microsoft eases Windows Phone 7 restrictions (a bit)

Ballmer to debut second update

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Microsoft will unveil a second update to Windows Phone 7 in February, cracking open the operating system in an effort to put it on par with rivals.

Company chief executive Steve Ballmer will detail the changes to Windows Phone 7 at the Mobile World Congress, Winrumors reports here.

Ballmer is keynoting at next year's Mobile World Congress - the event where he debuted Windows Phone 7 this year.

Winrumors reported:

Microsoft's second update will introduce enhanced developer controls for applications. Microsoft is expected to open up several new APIs that will allow for greater multi-tasking, in-app downloads and better customization for end users.

A first update is already planned in time for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, which will introduce copy-and-paste functionality.

Microsoft needs to modernize Windows Phone 7 if it's to capture ample market share against the iPhone and Android. Today, phone apps are prevented from multi-tasking and are not allowed to access the local database.

The reports of an update come as All About Microsoft blogger Mary-Jo Foley noted some people are telling her Microsoft will pull the plug on Windows Phone 7 if early sales are disappointing.

This would seem unlikely given the huge importance and prestige increasingly attached to the project. To kill one phone project may be regarded as misfortune, to lose two might look like carelessness in the eyes of investors, partners, and competitors itching to further pronounce the death of Microsoft. MJ reports that those working on Windows Phone 7 are signed up to a five-year contract.

The holiday shopping season will certainly be a critical litmus test for Windows Phone 7, and all eyes will be on Microsoft's results for the quarter, which will hopefully break out some of the sales data. Microsoft reports in January.

PC World notes here that Microsoft likes to hit us with numbers early on to prove a new products' success, and so far, it has been silent on Windows Phone 7 uptake. The favored metric is number of licenses sold or units shipped in units of millions here and here. Windows Phone 7 has only been available in the US since November 8, well below Microsoft's favorite benchmark time scale of 100 days or a year. So unless the doors are really being blown off, it's unrealistic to expect Microsoft will provide data so soon.

But Microsoft is not helping its own chances. Windows Phone 7 is only available on 12 handsets running on two carriers - AT&T and T-Mobile.

The company is also preventing partners the freedom to put Windows Phone 7 on tablets. The official strategy is Windows 7 on the tablet and Windows Phone 7 on phones. That's the opposite of what's happening at Apple on iOS and Google with Android. Apple has put the iPhone operating system on the iPad, while Android is on tablets from Dell, Samsung, and others.

At All Things D's D: Dive Into Mobile conference this week, Engadget's Joshua Topolsky told Microsoft's corporate vice president of Windows phone program management Joe Belifore that Windows 7 doesn't offer the sort of touch screen tools you get from iOS or Android. "You can't possibly be this blind," he said. "Is that really the strategy?"

Belifore slipped on the safety vest of non-committal corporate speak to reply: "The company will evaluate that going forward." ®

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