So at the World Mobile Congress just concluded Microsoft unveiled a new operating system for mobile phones.
Well , colour me surprised. They've actually done a good job and created something that doesn't suck. A number of smart moves. It remains to be seen if it is too little too late but it certainly came as a shock to me.
I was expecting a rehash of the tired old Windows OS jigged to support touch. Something like the lame tablets Ballmer showed us at CES. Lipstick on a pig.
Instead they have done some good things.
The first good thing is to make some hard decisions about supporting a quite specific hardware platform. To run the operating system MS are specifying even certain performance specifications as well as screen type, size and number of buttons. This is going to annoy the heck out of handset manufacturers but make it much easier for application developers - one place where Apple has had a big win over Google's fragmented Android platform.
The second good thing is that the interface is taken from an almost blank slate. It looks and plays a little like the Zune interface but only a little. There are some really nice things going on there. I think it has too much eye candy and not enough real information density for the small form factor but there is promise.
Of course there are some things I think are mistakes (the FM radio and overspecifying the camera as a minimum 5 megapixels, for example) and it remains to be seen what else plays out between now and anyone actually shipping a handset but this might actually provide some decent competition to the iPhone. If it does I await the reply from Apple with bated breathe, the competition will only do us all some good.
The one thing that gives me pause is the hope that somebody in Microsoft will realise the game changer that the iPad represents and realise shifting this OS up to a tablet is so much smarter than any of the dreck efforts at putting a touch interface on a desktop operating system that Steve Ballmer thinks will compete with it if his CES performance is anything to go by. I don't hold out too much hope. Microsoft has always seemed to wedded to the past and it's desktop OS.