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Windows Phone 7 Moves Closer To Release

Developer tools hit beta as Microsoft execs say company's new smartphone will ship by 2010 holiday season at latest.

Shipments of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft's newest smartphone, will begin around the 2010 holiday season, a company official indicated Monday.

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"It's time to get serious about building the actual apps and games for Windows Phone 7 that consumers will be looking for starting this holiday season," said Brandon Watson, Microsoft director for Windows Phone 7, in a blog post.

To prepare for the launch, Microsoft this week made beta versions of Windows Phone 7 development tools available to application writers. "The term 'Beta' is understood to mean that things are close to being finished. Well, that's what we mean anyway," said Watson.

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.

Once developers create apps for Windows Phone 7, they can market them on an app store Microsoft is building. Windows Phone Marketplace will support credit card transactions, advertiser funded apps, and billing by mobile operators, according to Microsoft.

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 Monday 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 like 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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