MIX 10: Windows Phone 7 and Internet Explorer 9

IE9Preview The Mix 10 conference is taking place this week.  Mix is Microsoft’s developer conference and it is where Microsoft often reveals many of its significant platforms and technologies.  This year, Microsoft has given more details on the Windows Phone 7 Series mobile platform, it’s next gen development tools and a preview of Internet Explorer 9, it’s new browser. 

Windows Phone 7 Series

Windows Phone 7 is a ground up reboot of Microsoft’s mobile platform.  It is an amalgamation of Windows Embedded CE 6, Zune and parts of Windows Mobile.  Most of what people will perceive Phone 7 is the user interface.  Called Metro, the UI is the Zune interface with several tweaks.  Metro is also going to play a larger role in Microsoft software going forward.  Metro is nice blend of clean typography and simple, non-flashy graphics.  Well suited for mobile devices, it will be interesting to see how well it translates into PC software.  A few glimpses were shown and one can look to the current desktop Zune software for an indication of PC based Metro apps.  The Zune software, by the way, is going to be Microsoft’s version of iTunes.  Zune desktop will sync media, apps and other personal items to the Windows Phone 7 devices.

Microsoft revealed a few nuggets of info for Windows Phone 7 and, surprisingly, they are very iPhone like.  For example, the new 7 series will only do limited multitasking.  Yep, that’s right, multitasking takes a back seat just as it does on iPhone.  Funny, rumor is that iPhone 4.0 will introduce multitasking.  7 series will also be locked down in that you can only install apps via the 7 marketplace, which is available via Zune Marketplace.  There will also be no COPY and PASTE.  Taking a page from iPhone’s early history, 7 series will lack this very basic feature.  You know, it is not very important anyway. According to Apple, it was a useless feature-how many of you actually use it?  Poppycock!  It is a very useful feature-when one actually needs it.  I’m going to put on my Apple fanboy cap and say: that I rarely need it, I can’t remember the last time I needed it, I don’t know many people who actually WANT it.  There, did I cover it all?

Initial 7 series devices will feature 800×480 resolution, with later devices featuring half that resolution.There is a minimum spec all phones must meet and keyboards are optional.

Microsoft also announced the availability of development tools for 7 series.  They include Visual Studio 10 for 7 Series, XNA and Silverlight 4.0.  The toolset will be free.  XNA 4 is the game development platform and can be used for PC, XBOX and Phone 7 Series devices.  Sadly, Zune HD support has been removed.  Microsoft says, however, that the hardware Zune is not a dead product and is one that has ‘long legs.’  So, the implication is that a newer Zune HD device is on the way.  Rumor, and that is all it is at the moment, is that there will be a dedicated Phone 7 device, minus Phone, that will become the Zune HD 2.  Again, it smacks of Apple and the iPod Touch. 

Phone 7 looks pretty good, so far.  I don’t know that it is enough to make me switch from my Pre-which is coming into its own now, but Palm is on very shaky ground-but the UI does look very nice.  I love the UI on the Zune and this is the next step, so to speak.  I think they have a winner.

Internet Explorer 9

IE 9 is probably the most standards based browser that Microsoft has developed.  The preview release, available here, is a bare bones tech preview only.  It lacks polish and quite a few UI elements like scroll bars and an address bar.  The aim of the release, however, is to show off the new rendering engine.  The new engine takes on HTML 5 and SVG. GPU utilization makes rendering very fast and video playback (via HTML 5’s video capability) is smooth.  Adherence to standards is clearly a  priority and the new engine does much better on the over-hyped Acid 3 test.  Acid 3 is a battery of tests that, supposedly, show how well a browser honors the standards. The test, though, is neither real world nor is it even relevant since many of the things it tests are not ‘standard’ yet:  the HTML 5 spec has not been set in stone and is still being hammered out.  However, if you do pay attention to such things, IE 9’s score is 55 out of 100, up from the paltry 20/100 that IE 8 got and better than an earlier build of IE 9, which got a 38/100.  So, they are making progress.  Incidentally, the Palm Pre browser went from a 2 to something like 93/100 with just one release, so big gains are possible.

Internet Explorer 9 will enter a public beta sometime in the next two or three months and Microsoft says they will be updating the preview release often, so keep checking back.  Rough UI edges aside, the rendering engine looks very promising and, once Microsoft adds spit and polish to the application, IE will give Chrome, Firefox and Safari a run for their money (and cause the EU more angst, I am guessing.)

Oh, and one more thing:  Internet Explorer 9 will not, I repeat, NOT, run on Windows XP.  It’s about time Microsoft let that dead horse go. Good riddance!

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