Although Microsoft execs have attempted to assure business users that the coming Windows Phone 7 devices wouldn't be overly consumer-centric, more than a few enterprise customers already have written them off. But maybe Microsoft hasn't turned its back on mobile business customers after all.
When I was perusing the agenda for TechEd 2010, Microsoft's June conference for IT pros and developers, I found a bunch of sessions focused on Windows Phone 7 on the docket. And not just the same old gaming and Facebook-connect demos we've been seeing for the past couple of months.
Remember Microsoft officials admitted there would be no support for Windows Mobile 6.5 apps on Windows Phone 7 devices -- leading a number of company watchers and customers to question Microsoft's commitment to enterprise users who've developed custom mobile line-of-business apps? Well, according to the TechEd agenda, all hope might not be lost on that front. Microsoft has a "Porting Windows Mobile 6.5 code to Windows Phone 7" session planned. The synopsis:
"Come join us for this interactive session on code compatibility between previous Windows Phone applications and Windows Phone 7. Come talk to experienced application developers and hear what they have to say about code compatibility and share your own experiences with other attendees. Even though the programming paradigm for Windows Phone 7 differs from previous Windows Phone versions, managed applications are still written in C#. Taking a number of best practices into consideration, the majority of your existing code, with the exception of the User Interface, can run on Windows Phone 7."
I asked Microsoft officials whether this marked a reversal in the company's backward compatibility positioning and was sent the following statement:
"Windows Mobile 6.5 applications will not compile on Windows Phone 7 without modification. However, because of the use of C# as a base language for both development platforms, and the fact that Silverlight and XNA are built on top of the .NET platform, there are many scenarios where developers can reuse existing work. For example, with appropriate separation of logic and UI code in a line of business application, there are many cases where the business logic can be copied over and wired up to the Silverlight UI framework on Windows Phone 7. This session will help developers better understand how to port as much existing work from a Windows Mobile 6.5 application to a new Silverlight based Windows Phone 7 application."
Update: Microsoft tweaked the session description and the title of it after I contacted them for comment. The new session title is the more watered-down "Prepare for Windows Phone 7 Development! Coding practices you should start using now in Windows Mobile."
There's also a TechEd session entitled "Microsoft's Next Generation Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP)." MEAP "allows corporate IT departments to support multiple mobile applications on a single platform," the synopsis notes, and touts ways developers and users can "save money by steering away from point solutions" by moving to Microsoft's next-generation MEAP stack -- which "will support a broader range of mobile platforms and operating systems including Windows Phone 7."
Another TechEd session of interest to business users looking at Windows Phone 7 is focused on Office Mobile 2010 on Windows Phone 7 and how that forthcoming tweaked version of Microsoft's mobile version of Office can work with Exchange Server 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010. Another session highlights how Microsoft's Forefront Unified Access Gateway enterprise security product can be used to keep secure email and documents on Windows Phone 7 devices.
There are no sessions listed that discuss how/if Microsoft will allow enterprise users to get beta and/or custom business applications on their phones without going through the Microsoft Windows Phone Marketplace. (That was something a number of folks asked about at the Mix '10 conference earlier this year, with Microsoft officials saying "Stay tuned.") There also are no mentions in the agenda of any kind of remedies for Windows Phone 7's lack of true multitasking and cut-and-paste.
In spite of these omissions, the TechEd Windows Phone 7 sessions should offer business users a glimmer of hope. Maybe Microsoft hasn't completely forgotten about its core audience in attempting to catch Apple and the iPhone....
Update: In other Windows Phone 7 news, Microsoft released on April 29 a refresh of the Community Technology Preview of its Windows Phone Developer Tools.The update is intended to enable development using the final release of VS2010, but also includes a few new features, which are listed in a new post on the Windows Phone Developer blog. The first CTP of the phone tools didn't work at all with the final VS 2010.