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Windows Phone 7 Prototypes Roll Out

Asus, LG, and Samsung ship devices to developers as Microsoft gears up for make-or-break launch later this year.

Several hardware makers on Monday released prototypes of smartphones based on Windows Phone 7, a new operating system on which Microsoft is betting its future in the increasingly important mobile device market.

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Asus, LG, and Samsung are now shipping their versions of Windows Phone 7 smartphones to software developers to allow the latter group to start building applications for the devices.

Microsoft plans to launch an Apple-style app store for Windows Phone 7, and it's crucial that a rich selection of software is available for the platform at launch if Microsoft and its partners are to keep up with the latest offerings from Apple and Google.

Microsoft has said Windows Phone 7 devices should be available to consumers in time for the 2010 holiday season.

On Sunday, a company official revealed in a blog post that Windows Phone 7 has been undergoing extensive testing by Microsoft's own employees. Terry Myerson, VP for Windows Phone Engineering, said more than 1,000 Microsoft workers have been using Windows Phone 7 devices "as their only phone" for the past several months. "We've been testing usability, battery life, network connectivity, and many other metrics for a long time," wrote Meyerson.

Microsoft earlier this month made beta versions of Windows Phone 7 development tools available to application writers. Most of the tools are versions of standard Microsoft developer tools that have been modified for mobile environments.

The tools include Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone, a Windows Phone 7 add-in for use with Visual Studio 2010, XNA Game Studio 4.0, Windows Phone 7 Series Emulator for application testing, and Expression Blend for Windows Phone.

By extending Windows PC development tools to Windows Phone 7, Microsoft is hoping to maintain a consistent environment for developers across all of its products. But unlike the familiar Windows desktop interface, Windows Phone 7 features a start screen that rejects static icons in favor of real-time feeds from the Internet's most popular social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, as well as other applications. It also offers always-on access to e-mail, Xbox games, Bing search, and other tools.

Microsoft's KIN line of phones had a number of similar features, but sales were so dismal the company pulled them from the market last month. Still, CEO Steve Ballmer said he hasn't given up on the mobile space.

Along with slate PCs, phones are "a terribly important area for us," said Ballmer, who spoke last week at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C. "It's certainly an area where, how do I say it, we feel all of the energy and vigor and push that we have ever felt to innovate, to drive hard, to compete," Ballmer said.

Microsoft badly trails rivals Apple, RIM, and Nokia-Symbian in the mobile platform market, a fact that has lead many pundits to declare 2010 a make-or-break year for the company in the mobile space.

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