Windows Phone developers forced to play the waiting game

Microsoft is serious about making a fresh start in mobile--last week, Windows Phone Application Platform & Developer Experience program manager Charlie Kindel confirmed existing Windows Mobile applications will not run on the forthcoming Windows Phone 7 operating system, news a fellow Microsoftie first let slip late last month. "Windows Phone 7 Series is different because we reset everything we were doing to focus on end user experience. This extends directly to the developer platform," Kindel writes on his Windows Phone Development blog. "To enable the fantastic user experiences you've seen in the Windows Phone 7 Series demos so far we've had to break from the past. To deliver what developers expect in the developer platform we've had to change how phone apps were written. One result of this is previous Windows mobile applications will not run on Windows Phone 7 Series."

Kindel promises that Microsoft and its partners plan to keep delivering and supporting new devices based on the current Windows Mobile 6.5, adding that expertise and familiarity with the software giant's tools are not squandered. "If you are a .NET developer today your skills and much of your code will move forward," Kindel states. "If you are a Silverlight or XNA developer today you're gonna be really happy. New developers to the platform will find a cohesive, well designed API set with super productive tools... Our mission is to help developers go after the next generation of mobile customers with an amazing set of tools and technologies. Developers will be able to bring new kinds of content to more screens and markets faster."

Remaking Microsoft's mobile identity is undoubtedly a positive and necessary move, and new distribution channels and accelerated paths to market are also welcome advances for the Windows Phone developer community. But for now, those developers are in limbo, waiting for the Windows Phone 7 SDK to drop and devices to ship while Windows Mobile 6.5 continues its inevitable slide into irrelevance. Developers are caught between Microsoft's future and its past, with few options for the present--beyond channeling their creativity into applications for rival mobile platforms, that is.

But while it would appear there is little incentive to create or improve consumer applications for Windows Mobile 6.5, enterprise software could pose a viable alternative. Microsoft's Mobile Platform Services Product Management senior director Todd Brix tells the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that WinMo 6.5 will be positioned as a more affordable workplace solution, with Windows 7 smartphones marketed as a hipper, more expensive consumer product. Time will tell just how long Microsoft will continue actively supporting Windows Mobile 6.5, but giving it a distinct, enterprise-centric raison d'être separate from Windows Phone 7 represents another positive step forward as the company continues to regain its balance. -Jason