One of the many business-focused features missing from the first-generation Windows Phone 7 phones is the ability to "side load" beta and private applications.
A year ago, Microsoft officials said the company was still evaluating how and when to add the sideloading capability, something of interest to many enterprise customers, to its consumer-centric phones. I asked again at Mix '11 this week about this feature and was told Microsoft was working on a way to add "deep linking" to phones, so that private applications would be accessible to select groups of users with appropriate log-in credentials. But the Softies said they had no more specifics to share at this time.
Well, it looks like some specifics were shared, after all, during this week's Mix '11 conference. Mobility Digest (which I found via a link on the WMPowerUser.com site) picked up on one attendee's tweets during the conference about the coming private/beta marketplace functionality.
The private/beta capability will be rolled out as part of the "Mango" Windows Phone 7 release this fall. Private apps will have no time or download limit, but will not be searchable in the public Windows Phone 7 Marketplace. Beta apps will be limited to 100 users and will expire after 90 days. Windows Phone beta apps must be free, while the private apps may be free or paid.
App developers will be able to make beta versions of their Windows Phone apps available to WP users with this functionality. And businesses will be able to make custom applications available to their employees and/or partners only using the private marketplace.
In other Windows Phone news this week, Microsoft shared with Mix '11 attendees the specifications for a new Windows Phone chassis, as first noted by MobileTechWorld.com. (Microsoft originally outlined plans for three different chassis for WP7, and required OEMs to adhere to those chassis specs in their phone designs.) The new Windows Phone chassis supports new Qualcomm system-on-a-chip processors and makes optional gyroscope support.
Update (April 16): Silverlight/WPF blogger Walt Ritscher has a thoughtful post on his perceived shortcomings of Microsoft's future beta/private marketplace plans. Ritscher said Microsoft execs at Mix said there wouldn't be access control functionality provided as part of the private marketplace, limiting its potential appeal for enterprise users.
I re-asked Microsoft about the log-in credential information and received the following clarification from a company spokesperson:
"A log-in isn’t required for deep links, though the app developer does have control over who accesses their application.
"'Private' distribution allows developers to provide access to certified applications via hidden links with no limit on number of users or time. Credentials are not required to access hidden links, though as with all Windows Phone 7 applications, developers may require verification within their application to access content or functionality. "