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Microsoft Gives Sneak Peek Of Windows Phone 7

Internet Explorer 9 optimization, true application multitasking readied for second half
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the floor here in Barcelona today with a flurry of announcements, most related to Windows Phone 7.

Beginning in March, Microsoft will issue an incremental update to the Windows Phone 7 operating system, boosting its performance and adding cut-and-paste functionality and CDMA compatibility, Ballmer said. Verizon and Sprint will follow, sometime in the first half, with CDMA-based Windows Phone 7 devices, he said.

In the second half, Microsoft will release a second, more significant update to the OS. It will include fast switching of third-party applications and a significant upgrade to Internet Explorer 9, optimized for hardware acceleration on Windows Phone. "We will bring multitasking to Windows Phone this year," Ballmer said. And in the second half, "we'll be able to give people the full Internet on their phone ... [the Internet] will be a first-class citizen on the phone."

Ballmer rolled out Joe Belfiore, a corporate VP, to show a demo of IE9 on a Windows Phone 7 device running side by side Safari on an iPhone. Obviously, IE9 with hardware acceleration made for a much more impressive performance. However, as is typical at live Microsoft demos I've attended over the years, several system failures occurred with the not-yet-ready-for-primetime code.

Among Microsoft's other announcements at Mobile World Congress: It will integrate Twitter into the "people hub" area of Windows Phone in the second half of this year, as well as doc storing and sharing through Windows Live SkyDrive. Ah, I almost forgot: Microsoft is adding to the phone support for its Xbox Kinect hands-free motion controller.

In what looked like a gratuitous afterthought, Ballmer invited former Microsoft exec and current Nokia CEO Stephen Elop to the stage. Elop repeated many of the comments he made at the Nokia event last night, trying to clarify why Nokia is partnering with Microsoft and its Windows Phone rather than Google and Android.

Elop referred to Nokia's ability to create a "three horse race" against Apple and Google but did not, in Microsoft's presence, repeat his comment that Microsoft will be paying Nokia billions of dollars over time as part of the deal. A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment on that point.

For InformationWeek, TechWeb, and the new BYTE.com, I'm Gina Smith.