Windows Phone 8 won't be available on anything out today, but that's okay, right?

Microsoft revealed its plans for the next generation of Windows Phone on Wednesday, which includes broadening hardware support, revising the user interface, and adding a couple of new features that bring Windows Phone up to speed with the Android platform.

Unfortunately, though, no current Windows Phone devices will receive an upgrade to the new operating system. Instead, they will receive the graphical overhaul of the new Start screen in a sub-update called "Windows Phone 7.8."

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore said:

"Some of you have been wondering, 'Will we also get Windows Phone 8 as an update?' The answer, unfortunately, is no. Windows Phone 8 is a generation shift in technology, which means that it will not run on existing hardware. BUT we care deeply about our existing customers and want to keep their phones fresh, so we’re providing the new Start screen in this new update."

Some in the media have already called it "fragmentation," and some have made cracks that the "smartphone beta test" is still going on, referring to Nokia's Lumia advertising campaign.

This clear line in the sand between generations should already be familiar to anyone who has followed Microsoft's transition from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone. Two years ago, when Windows Phone 7 debuted no Windows Mobile 6.5 devices were eligible for upgrade, effectively halting any incentive for consumers to purchase a Windows Mobile device when the next version was just around the corner.

But that was a different affair. Windows Mobile was an operating system that spanned more than just phones, and that is why the "Windows Phone" brand was created three years ago. When Microsoft changed its phones from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone, it was truly a shift in focus.

Windows Mobile 6.5 never went away, and still lives on today as Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5, an operating system for rugged terminals, handheld computers, and traditional tablet computers. Just yesterday, in fact, Juniper Systems announced its Mesa Rugged Notepad (pictured above) was upgrading to Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5.

It is unclear at this point whether the generational shift Belfiore mentioned today is about the next-gen hardware in Windows Phone 8 (multi-core processors, NFC chips, different screen resolutions), or if it's about the convergence of Windows Phone with Windows which will effect developers when the next SDK is released later this Summer.

Windows Phone 8 will have native C and C++ support, and support for gaming middleware like the Havok Vision Engine, Autodesk Scaleform, Audiokinetic Wwise, and Firelight FMOD, and also native DirectX-based game development. The Windows Phone 8 SDK, and the new Visual Studio 11-based development tools will unlock all of these capabilities.

Furthermore, Belfiore said the Windows Phone team is working to create a program for "registered enthusiasts," that will give them early access to the Windows Phone 8 update prior to broad availability, irrespective of carrier obligations. We reached out to Microsoft to find out more about this program, because we are as curious about that as you are, but company reps couldn't divulge anything further today.

We'll be on the lookout...

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