Why Windows Mobile Needs To Break With Its LegacyWhy Windows Mobile Needs To Break With Its Legacy
Microsoft needs to bite the bullet and make a giant leap of faith if it wants Windows Mobile to remain a relevant platform. The best way for it to do so is to give up on what's been holding it back for years -- its dedicated support to legacy apps and ways of computing. Windows Mobile needs a complete redesign from the ground up and start anew.
February 9, 2010
Microsoft needs to bite the bullet and make a giant leap of faith if it wants Windows Mobile to remain a relevant platform. The best way for it to do so is to give up on what's been holding it back for years -- its dedicated support to legacy apps and ways of computing. Windows Mobile needs a complete redesign from the ground up and start anew.According to scattered reports around the Internet, Microsoft may or may not be making a big announcement at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week. Those reports mainly make mention of Windows Mobile 7, the fabled Zune Phone and Project Pink. If Microsoft is to announce anything, I am pulling for a wholly new mobile operating system. But if Microsoft isn't willing to make some serious changes to WinMo, it may as well pack up and go home.
Microsoft's biggest asset is also its biggest weakness. Despite the evolution of mobile platforms over the last few years, it has remained committed to supporting its enterprise customers and their legacy applications. While enterprise support is surely a vital aspect of Windows Mobile, that commitment has chained Microsoft with limitations. At least some portions of Windows Mobile's base code has been around since the WinCE and PocketPC 2002 days. That's some ancient code. Mobile computing has had two major paradigm shifts since then: Mobile broadband and finger-touch based graphical user interfaces. Windows Mobile has struggled to keep up with the second paradigm shift, despite Microsoft's best efforts. Windows Mobile 6.5, released in October 2009, didn't quite make it. Windows Mobile 6.5.3 is a more fully realized version of WinMo 6.5, but still doesn't go far enough to break with its legacy past. And it isn't even available yet. The competition hasn't made it easy. Love it or hate it, you can't deny that Apple changed the course of mobile history with iPhone OS. Every single manufacturer has rushed to bring iPhone clones to market. Some have done a better job than others. Google's Android OS is perhaps the best alternative, though it is far from perfect. Palm scrapped its legacy Palm OS and attempted a re-birth with webOS. The jury is still out on its success. Apple itself is likely to introduce an updated version of iPhone OS later this year. iPhone OS, Android and webOS all make heavy use of mobile broadband and finger-based user interfaces. While its true that you can mostly get away without using a stylus with WinMo 6.5, the ancient OS rears its head once you dive deeper into the controls of the operating system. Many of these control and system screens haven't changed since PocketPC 2002. The whole architecture of Windows Mobile needs to be chucked out the window (pun intended). Microsoft can't do this without killing off its support for legacy systems. Sure, that's going to tick people off. It's going to make businesses customers angry, and some might even give up on Windows Mobile. It's also going to annoy developers and might cause a developer rebellion. That's fine. Let them go. Microsoft stands to gain new customers and new (possibly fresher thinking?) developers if it can get the user interface, functionality, and support systems (i.e., SDKs and APIs) of the next version of Windows Mobile right. I am confident that -- if executed correctly -- Microsoft can transition its Windows Mobile platform from a has-been to a must-have. It has all the pieces nearly in place: good relationships with network operators; good relationships with hardware manufacturers (ok, maybe not counting Motorola right now); the Windows Mobile Marketplace; and its cloud-based MyPhone service. All it has to do is tie everything together with a mobile platform that people actually like to use. Can it? Will it? Microsoft has scheduled a press conference for Monday, February 15 at 3PM Central European Time. Hopefully those of you in the U.S. will awaken to find some really exciting news.
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