Five Windows Mobile 7 questions and five speculative answers

I've decided to go back and re-examine not just the new Windows Mobile 7 claims, but also some older links for clues. Here are my most pressing questions regarding Windows Mobile 7 at this point -- and the way I'm leaning on these various issues.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Readers are sending me URLs for so many Windows Mobile 7 rumors that my head is reeling.  (Keep 'em coming!)

Microsoft isn't commenting, and many of the "usual" mobile analysts we bloggers/journalists would ask are under non-disclosure agreements because they attended an early Windows Mobile briefing at Microsoft headquarters last November... So the rest of us are left speculating and wondering and guessing...

I've decided to go back and re-examine not just the new claims, but also some older links for clues. Here's are my five most pressing questions regarding Windows Mobile 7 at this point -- and the way I'm leaning on these various issues (again, with no information from Microsoft). 1. What is the underlying core of Windows Mobile 7? Previous releases of Windows Mobile have built on top of Microsoft's embedded Windows CE operating system. I've seen rumors claiming Windows Mobile 7 won't be based on CE (it instead will be built on top of Silverlight and .Net, one claimed). I've also seen reports claiming it will be built on top of Windows CE 6.0 R3 -- the latest version of Windows Embedded Compact that was released to manufacturing in September 2009. (CE 6.0 R3 was codenamed "Cashmere.") If Windows Mobile 7 is based on Cashmere, that's significant and interesting because the Cashmere release includes support for IE7 and Silverlight, among other features.

While there has been talk that Microsoft is moving toward basing Windows and Windows Mobile on the same core operating system base, I'm guessing Windows Mobile 7 is still based on some version of CE, possibly CE 6.0 R3.

2. Are there two versions of Windows Mobile 7, a "business" version and a "consumer/entertainment" version? I have zero insider information about this, but I can't help but wonder whether the business and consumer "versions" are simply different sets of specs with which Windows Phone makers are being asked to comply. I ran a spec list for "Windows Mobile 7 Chassis 1" last year. At the time, I was told this was the set of specs for Pink phones. But maybe that list was one of two sets of chassis specs (either the business or consumer set)? Or maybe what the "two versions" rumor actually reflects is there will be more Windows Mobile 6.X phones coming from various vendors with all the usual vendor customization, and another set of Windows Mobile 7 phones which limit those customizations?

Because Microsoft keeps banging the convergence drum, claiming users don't want a business phone and a consumer phone, but instead a single phone that can be used for both kinds of tasks, I'm thinking there is only one Windows Mobile 7 but at least two sets of chassis specs.

3. Will Windows Mobile 7 be backward-compatible with Windows Mobile 6.x? Will many folks, other than those with custom Windows Mobile apps and developers who took a chance and backed the Windows Mobile 6.x platform, really care? More on that in my earlier post on Microsoft's compatibility conundrum today.

4. Is there a "Zune phone," after all -- in spite of repeated Microsoft claims to the contrary? I'm betting no on this one. Microsoft officials did split the Zune team up a year ago, sending the hardware side of the Zune unit to Windows Mobile and the software side to the IPTV/MediaRoom side of the house. The Zune HD was said by some to be a showcase of some of the user-interface, video marketplace, music subscription/playback and other elements which would show up, at some point, on Windows Phones. Zune music and video are probably among the premium mobile services that the Danger/Pink team has been developing. But does that mean Windows Mobile 7 phones + Zune services = Zune phones? Not exactly.

5. So what the heck is Pink? I've been wavering as to whether Microsoft is going to deliver a Pink phone. The reason for my uncertainty? First I heard Pink was just a set of premium mobile services. Then I heard from my sources that Pink was the services plus a Microsoft-branded phone. Then Microsoft officials began to criticize Google for competing with its partners by releasing a Google phone. Did that mean Microsoft had decided to kill the phone component of Pink? I thought so... but then Pink phone rumors resurfaced, the latest of which are claiming Pink phones could debut this calendar quarter.

I'm starting to think Pink phones may be nothing more than Windows Mobile 6.x-based phones built by a Microsoft partner (or two) to spec. They may be the first Windows Phones to offer the Pink premium mobile services. But otherwise, it's looking more and more like they won't end up carrying a Microsoft logo.

What other Windows Mobile 7 questions -- beyond the obvious pricing, timing and availability ones -- are you most interested in having answered?

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