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Microsoft fights back in OS war

Microsoft took the wraps off Windows Phone 7 Series, the long-awaited, new version of its mobile operating system for smartphones, which the company hopes will reinvigorate support for the OS among handset vendors, mobile operators and developers.

The software giant used a press conference to push the platform’s consumer credentials, showcasing its social-networking and content capabilities, while downplaying its role as a productivity tool, in an effort to better compete against rivals such as Apple and the Google-backed Android platform.

The first phones running Windows Phone 7 Series will be on the market for Christmas 2010 with a lot of expectation riding on their performance. Microsoft has faced rising competition in the OS market from rivals – particularly Android – which has increasing support from leading handset vendors such as HTC, LG and Motorola as well as mobile operators. During 2009 Microsoft saw a slide in its share of the mobile OS market.

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, acknowledged the need for change with the latest version of the OS: “No question we had to step back… to recast our strategy and design approach.”

Microsoft wants to see a greater consistency in how the OS is implemented by handset manufacturers to compete more effectively against rivals. It wants more consistency in areas such as hardware specifications and the user interface (UI). Yet Microsoft is trying to woo back manufacturers who want to innovate with handset UIs themselves, creating a dilemma.

Microsoft has commitments from the following manufacturers to use Windows Phone 7: Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson, HTC, HP, Dell, Toshiba and Garmin Asus.  In addition, the company has signed up the following mobile operators: AT&T, Orange, T-Mobile, Telefonica, Sprint Nextel, Vodafone, SFR, Verizon Wireless, Telstra and Telecom Italia. Microsoft said it will work particularly closely with AT&T and Orange.