Can Windows Phone 7 multitask (and other Microsoft mobile questions and answers)

Can Windows Phone 7 devices mutlitask? Will all Windows Phone 7 apps have to be downloaded through the new Windows Phone Marketplace? Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about Microsoft's next-gen platform from the Mix 10 conference.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

It's been a day full of Windows Phone 7 content here at the Microsoft Mix 10 conference. I've gone to a couple of sessions, a press conference and a one-on-one meeting with Charlie Kindel, who's spearheading the Windows Phone 7 development charge.

Here are five new things I learned about the platform via these various channels. All of these are questions I keep hearing from potential developers and customers trying to decipher Microsoft's evolving mobile story.

Q: Can Windows Phone 7 devices multitask?

A: Kindel said Microsoft's own "experiences" which are part of the Windows Phone 7 will allow for multitasking (i.e., music playing in the background while you're doing e-mail). But third party applications won't have the same multitasking capabilities, Kindel said.Developers will be able to use things like notifications to create the illusion that applications are always live. In addition, the Live tiles that are part of the new UI will be constantly updated in real time (also through notifications). Over time, as things like battery life, network utilization and application predictability improve for the Windows Phone platform, Microsoft will make more multitasking support available for all applications, Kindel said.

Q: Is the new Windows Phone Marketplace the only way that users will be able to download/purchase Windows Phone 7 applications?

A: The short answer is yes. Applications and content must be purchased through the marketplace, as Microsoft is attempting to streamline the distribution mechanism for mobile content, officials said. However, some developers and enterprises are looking for other distribution mechanisms for enterprise content and internal betas. Microsoft "will more to say about this later this spring," said Todd Brix, Senior Director for Mobile Platform Services Product Management. Q: What development languages are supported on Windows Phone 7?

A: Right now, the only development language supported is C#. Developers are also interested in Visual Basic, C++ and other .Net apps, Kindel acknowledged, and Microsoft may add support for these over time. But Microsoft's development strategy for its new mobile platform is if you're doing XAML programming, use Silverlight. If you're doing an interactive or 3D game, go with XNA. The version of Silverlight supported is a superset of Silverlight 3 (not Silverlight 4, which is going to be released to the Web in final form in April.) The Community Technology Previews of the tools for the Windows Phone 7 platform are available as of March 15 for download.

Q: What about enterprise developers/customers? Is Windows Phone 7 for them?

A: Kindel admitted Microsoft's target for the first generation of Windows Phone 7 devices is consumers more than business users. "We don't expect enterprises to go out there and buy these (Windows Phone 7 devices) en masse for their employees," he said. Microsoft's target is the consumer who wants to do a limited amount of enterprise tasks (pretty much exclusively through the Office hub). Microsoft has no plans to offer any kind of migration tools for enterprise developers to help them move existing Windows Mobile apps to the new platform. Q: How is the Dorado (Zune PC software) going to change to accommodate Windows Phone 7 devices?

A: Dorado becomes the "only software you'll need" to sync your phone, Kindel said. Dorado will replace ActiveSync and will be the conduit for all audio/video content on your phone. Kindel wouldn't talk about whether Dorado also will be the way Microsof will push "over the air" updates of the Windows Phone operating system to users' devices. (He said Microsoft will share more on that later this year.)

Microsoft won't talk about when the final versions of its Windows Phone 7 development tools or the Windows Phone OS 7.0 will hit. (I asked and got the pat "in time for the phones to ship by holiday 2010" answer). Officials also gave a cryptic and non-commital "we'll talk more in the coming months about our music model payment plan" answer when asked about the future of the ZunePass subscription plan.

What other Windows Phone 7 questions do you have? I can try to get more answers at the Mix 10 show this week....

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