Update 11-Nov: For skeptics who still think carriers will try to sabotage the update process, see my follow-up post: Cutting through the FUD about Windows Phone updates.
One of the biggest criticisms of Windows Mobile and Android devices is that device manufacturers get control over who gets updated versions of the OS. That leads to awkward situations where someone pays big bucks (and signs a long-term contract) for a high-end device that can't compete with rivals only a few months later, because the device maker is dragging its feet on releasing the OS upgrade.
Although I've asked the question many times over the past year when I've met with individuals on the Windows Phone team, I've never had an official response. So I asked again, on the record, and got a definitive response: If Microsoft releases an update for your phone, you get it. Period.
I was inspired to ask the question by a reader in the Talkback section, bmgoodman, who put it bluntly and succinctly:
Can you point me to an official position by Microsoft as to who controls the OS updates? I ask because I don't trust AT&T to do it. In nearly 4 years AT&T never once pushed a firmware update to my Sony Ericsson phone, despite the fact that S.E. released several updates.
I don't think there's much upside for AT&T to upgrade. You already own the phone. They have your money. Most non-tech users won't know one version from another. There's only the downside that something might go wrong during the upgrade, and then it will cost AT&T time and money to fix it.
The other possibility is that even if Microsoft plans to push the upgrades (bypassing AT&T), will the hardware support it? Or will it happen that the current Focus can handle (for example) Windows Phone 7.0.6 and nothing newer?
The official response from Microsoft, on the record:
Microsoft will push Windows Phone 7 software updates to end users and all Windows Phone 7 devices will be eligible for updates.
No equivocation, no qualifiers. And because of Microsoft's strict control over the hardware standard we're unlikely to see oddball hardware configurations that don't qualify for OS upgrades.
Anything else you want me to find out? This "ask a question" stuff could catch on.