As expected at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft’s Steve Balmer took the stage and announced Microsoft newest mobile OS – Microsoft Windows Phone 7 Series. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to be in Barcelona to see it in person, but I lived it vicariously through my Google Reader (If you are interested in the details of the event, here is the link to Engadget’s live blog of it). Microsoft has also released a great promotional video that I have embedded here. Well worth watching if you have the time.

Fortunately for Microsoft, the event created a plenty of buzz amongst the mobile press, most of it positive. I must have sifted through at least 30 articles summarizing and providing opinions on Microsoft’s strategy. Microsoft has been bleeding for so long in the mobile space, I am sure the folks from Redmond were relieved to finally get some positive press.

As a follow-up to my preview of the Microsoft event from this past Friday, here are my impressions of Microsoft’s new mobile OS, along with a few unanswered questions.

-A clean break from the past. I was thoroughly impressed that Microsoft went a totally different direction with WP7. Too many times companies are encumbered by legacy and are afraid to walk away. I give Microsoft serious props for wiping the slate clean. They knew they had to do something big, and they delivered.
Built off the Zune HD interface. I am not afraid to admit that I am a proud Zune HD owner. The interface is very well designed. I am glad that Microsoft is going to build off that interface, as opposed to introducing a totally new UI. Sure, there are some elements of the WP7 UI that are new, but the look and feel are very similar.
-Xbox integration. Mobile devices are rapidly becoming gaming platforms. Integrating WP7 with the Xbox franchise was an absolute requirement for success, and Microsoft is going to do it. More than enterprises, Xbox gamers will be lining up for WP7 if the Xbox integration is done properly.
-Integration with the Zune. As I recommended, Microsoft is integrating device content with the existing Zune software and marketplace. Another great move that will help existing Microsoft users adopt the device.
-Influencing the hardware design. While they are not planning to manufacture their own device, making hardware recommendations is a smart move. The last thing you want to do is have a well designed crippled by poor hardware. Sure, it might make for homogeneous hardware, but OS and UI usability are going to be key for the first generation devices. The hardware OEMs are good, they’ll figure out ways to differentiate the hardware.

-Availability for holiday season 2010. I had to do a double-take when I read this at first. It took me a few minutes to realize that it means the first hardware is 8-9 months away. 9 months is the equivalent of 9 years in mobile time. Given how fast things are changing, I may not even remember what WP7 is by then. Microsoft has got to do something to speed up the availability of the hardware.
-Browser based off of Internet Explorer. IE for mobile is a non-starter. Microsoft needs to re-evaluate their decision on the browser and build a mobile browser from the ground up that will incorporate support for the latest web standards – HTML5 and  CSS3. Anything less, and the browsing experience will be pathetic. If Microsoft needs help, they should consider acquiring the Skyfire, Opera Mini, or Bolt Browser technology.

-What will the OS cost? Microsoft didn’t mention licensing terms or costs to OEMs for the OS, but I hope it’s free. Otherwise, I suspect that it will live a short life.
-What will the Xbox integration look like? Will Microsoft encourage developers to create WP7 versions of the Xbox titles, will there be interaction between the mobile and console games, will WP7 games be independent of the console? There are way too many ideas and permutations to cover, but the integration to the Xbox will be a huge factor in the success of WP7.
-Will WP7 multi-task? The answers were not clear. It looks like there will be some level of multi-tasking, but it is not clear how much freedom will be given to third party apps. Given the feedback that the iPhone has received over lack of multi-tasking, Microsoft needs to closely evaluate the WP7 multi-tasking strategy.
-How tightly will WP7 integrate with Windows 7 desktop? In addition to linking with the Zune platform, Microsoft should be building in support for synchronization and tight integration to Windows 7 desktop. Windows 7 has been a success thus far, Microsoft needs to embrace the success and run with it, not decouple WP7 and Windows 7 desktop.

I am impressed with Microsoft’s announcement. Microsoft did what it had to do to give themselves a chance to regain a foothold in the mobile environment. A strong foundation has been laid, now it is up to Microsoft to execute. Personally, I’d like to see Microsoft succeed, but their recent track record with regards to execution does not make me confident. A slight slip in the release date, or a botched integration with the Xbox could doom WP7. The margin for error is slight, as Apple, Android, BlackBerry and Nokia are all ahead in the mobile game and will continue to advance, with or without Microsoft’s presence in the market.

By the way, if you didn’t get to see the news coming out of Barcelona and would like to read some of the press articles, here is a list of articles that are worth reading: