The updated Windows Mobile, expected to be highlighted at the Microsoft Mobile & Embedded Conference next month, features a more Vista-like interface, seamless integration of Direct Push e-mail, and tight integration with Office 2007 and Exchange 2007.
Microsoft plans to release Crossbow to device manufacturers in the fourth quarter. Devices based on Crossbow are expected to begin shipping in the first half of 2007.
Many of the platform's advanced features will require Office 2007 and Exchange 2007. For example, tight integration with Office Communicator 2007 and Exchange 2007 will enable Windows Mobile devices to offer new instant-messaging support and more elegant push e-mail, according to partners.
"Simply put, it's a push e-mail OS for mobile devices that integrates with all the new features, like Communicator for Office 2007 and Exchange 12," said one partner, who requested anonymity.
More important, Crossbow brings improved stability vs. its predecessor, Windows Mobile 5.0. After that release came out, Microsoft released an extension called Messaging and Security Feature Pack that provided BlackBerry-like direct push e-mail technology, but it lacked a refined user interface and seamless integration with Microsoft software, partners said.
"Crossbow is much more stable than the previous [Windows Mobile] version," said another partner and beta tester, who asked not to be named. "It's about stability -- no problems in the first 10 minutes or the first 10 days."
Beta testers of Crossbow-based devices said the maturity and stability of the platform and its development model and integration with the next-generation fleet of Microsoft software will drive high growth through 2007.
"With Crossbow, the level of its integration with the Microsoft 2007 stack will open up enormous opportunities for ISVs to create custom mobile-messaging solutions," said Tom Richer, global Microsoft practice lead at Binary Tree, a Microsoft Gold partner and messaging migration solution provider.
Crossbow also offers a powerful application development model and enables compatibility between Windows Forms 2.0 and the .Net Framework 3.0, also called WinFX, being deployed across Microsoft's next-gen Windows platform, according to partners familiar with the Crossbow beta.
Although most of the enhancements are under the hood, Microsoft made big improvements to the Windows Mobile user interface and usability of e-mail and calendaring. For instance, the calendar will show conflicts for meeting requests coming in from Exchange, said one beta tester.
Crossbow's integration of more elegant push e-mail implementation, as well as an enhanced e-mail interface and fonts, will make it more appealing to major Windows Mobile device manufacturers, such as Motorola and Palm, partners said.
Windows Mobile devices are slated to ship shortly after the Vista desktop OS hits the market. The new Vista Mobile Device Center and synchronization manager is designed to make it easier for the new Windows desktop to exchange data with the mobile platform.
Partners said they expect Crossbow to shake up the mobile OS market and give Research In Motion's BlackBerry software a tough competitor.
"The one complaint I had about the Messaging and Security Feature Pack [for Windows Mobile 5.0] is that while it does everything that the BlackBerry does, the downside is the interface. The fonts and mail come across, in my opinion, as not ready. And it needs to be refreshed," said another partner. "The next release of the OS, Crossbow, has some substantial improvements to reading and manipulating e-mail."