There's been a fair amount of chatter surrounding Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 7, but thus far the software developer has been reluctant to reveal much in the way of details. On Friday, Microsoft's partner group manager for Windows Mobile, Charlie Kindel, announced via blog entry that developers of current or hypothetical future Windows Mobile apps will need to plan to transition to either Silverlight or XNA. Silverlight is Microsoft's Flash competitor (whether or not it actually competes is open to debate); XNA is a standardized set of game authorship tools meant to streamline the programming process and increase developer efficiency.
Microsoft doesn't want anyone thinking that it plans to abandon Windows Mobile 6 users, however. "To be clear, we will continue to work with our partners to deliver new devices based on Windows Mobile 6.5," Kindel wrote. "[We] will support those products for many years to come, so it’s not as though one line ends as soon as the other begins."
If developers are a tad dubious of such statements, Microsoft has only itself to blame. While Microsoft's history of software support is quite good, some of the company's mobile assurances haven't exactly panned out. Back before it launched the Zune, Microsoft sunk a huge amount of time and money into persuading various device/cell phone manufacturers to adopt Microsoft's own brand of Windows Media-based DRM (and thereby earn a "Plays For Sure" logo".
Windows Phone 7 isn't just a better product; it makes children happy. You want to make children happy, don't you?
Plays For Sure never took off with consumers but MS gathered a fair number of partners right up to the day when it announced that the original Zune would
use DRM—but not PfS. This effectively broke compatibility between PfS devices and Zunes and the standard was folded into the "Certified For Windows Vista" program shortly thereafter. The Windows Mobile 6.5 Marketplace isn't large and it can't be generating much revenue—and that means MS won't keep it alive one jot longer than it might have to in order to satisfy contractual obligations with handset manufacturers.
Microsoft remains mum on whether or not any Windows Mobile 6/6.5 handsets on the market will be able to upgrade to Windows 7. Our guess is that most phones won't be eligible for an upgrade. To be fair, this isn't just up to Microsoft—carriers and cell phone manufacturers would both have to sign on to any upgrade plan. This is less about evil, greedy, corporations and more about the work required to re-validate old hardware on a new operating system and ensure that it ran as well or better as Windows Mobile 6/6.5. We could all be happily surprised come the end of the year but we'd recommend against buying any cell phone now thinking that you'll automatically be able to upgrade it later.