Got a Windows Mobile phone? There's no Windows 7 Phone Series upgrade for you

Could someone please give back Steve Ballmer's brain? He really needs it. The Web is buzzing about a Microsoft executive telling APC Magazine that existing Windows Mobile handsets will not be eligible for Windows Phone 7 Series upgrades. Is Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, out of his fraking mind for letting this happen? Oh, right, someone took away his brain. Please return it.

What's all the fuss about? Firstly, the no-upgrade policy gives every possible Windows Mobile buyer every reason not to purchase. Secondly, the hottest WinMo phone, the HTC HD2, is suddenly a Windows Phone 7 Series brick. According to Natasha Kwan, Microsoft's Asia-Pacific region Mobile Communications Business GM, the HD2 "doesn't qualify because it doesn't have the three buttons." The smartphone has too much of a good thing--five buttons.

OK, sometimes Microsoft executives shoot off at the mouth, so I contacted the company's PR firm for clarification. I got one of those twisty statements that could mean one thing when it probably means another: "For Windows Phone 7 Series we are enforcing a strict set of hardware requirements to ensure a consistently great experience for end-users and developers. While we cannot confirm that WM6.X phones that satisfy those requirements will be upgradeable, every Windows Phone 7 Series device will be upgradeable with improvements and features we deliver with subsequent Windows Phone 7 Series releases."

That's doggy talk for "no Windows Mobile 6.x handset will qualify for Windows Phone 7 Series upgrades, but we don't dare say so." The unstated strict hardware requirement: That Windows Phone logo button. With the HD2, I'd wager the problem isn't so much too many buttons but not enough of the right kind. Because by all other measures -- processor, screen size and kind and graphics capability, among others -- the HTC HD2 should otherwise be able to run Windows Phone 7 Series.

For frak's sake, Microsoft, why don't you make your own phone? If the hardware requirements are going to be so strict for an operating system manufacturers must pay for -- rather than get, say, Google Android for free -- Microsoft should just make its own phone. Dissing HD2 owners is simply unthinkable. It's the hot Windows Mobile phone -- the only one really. Please, thief, return Steve Ballmer's brain because, as the Ramones sang it: "My brain is hanging upside down."

Unlucky T-Mobile USA is ready to launch the HD2. How's that for the mother of lousy timing? The company's offices are in Bellevue, Wash., or about 10 miles drive up the 405 to 1 Microsoft Way in Redmond. T-Mobile should dispatch employees to assist in the search for Steve Ballmer's brain.

Microsoft's position -- or lack of it -- about Windows Mobile handset upgrades is brain boggling times three. Nilay Patel writes at Engadget:

Making matters even less clear, we asked Microsoft's Director of Consumer Experiences Aaron Woodman about the HD2 directly on The Engadget Show, and he politely declined to tell us about the device's upgradability, and said that WP7's final required specs would be revealed at MIX '10. We'll be honest: we're taking all this confusion to mean that Microsoft hasn't quite figured out how to say the HD2 is at a dead end just before it launches on T-Mobile US.

Yeah, Microsoft sure loves its hardware partners. You can ask any of the MP3 player manufacturers that supported PlaysForSure six years ago. Microsoft was all huggy, kissy before dumping them all for Zune. Microsoft's branded music player ended any Microsoft blabber talk about device "choice." Surely, there's a Microsoft phone somewhere in the future. Why drag out hardware partners' misery?

Unless -- gasp -- they learned something from Microsoft's past behavior. Microsoft's wishy washy statements about WinMo handsets' future fate might just be enough for many partners to cool their Windows Phone 7 Series jets and look elsewhere -- like Android. That's a path still leading to a Microsoft branded phone, assuming few manufacturers really step up to license the new OS.

There really isn't any confusion here, by the way. Microsoft is keeping Windows Mobile alive for a reason. Company execs can't exactly look existing hardware partners or customers in the face and say, "There's no Windows 7 Phone Series upgrade for you," if there's no Windows Mobile alternative. By continuing the operating system as Windows Phone Classic, Microsoft has placed a back door for quick escape: Windows Phone Classic is the upgrade path for Windows Mobile.

I tease about Steve Ballmer losing his brain because I like the guy. No offense is intended. I stand by my late-January post defending Ballmer. That said, starting over with a new mobile operating system was smart. Good job, Microsoft. But potentially killing sales of existing Windows Mobile handsets is simply stupid. Potentially alienating existing hardware partners and customers is stupider still.

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