Windows Phone 7 launches three years late

Microsoft has finally launched its much anticipated mobile operating system, though you won't see it on the real world until December 2010.

Steve Ballmer previewed the new OS, which strongly resembles the interface of Microsoft's iPod underling the Zune media player, to a packed crowd at Barcelona's Mobile World Congress earlier today.

The fact that the biggest software company on the planet has taken three years to respond to Apple's domination of the app phone market is a little odd in our book, and even now Ballmer had no real world hardware with which to show off the new software.

What the launch did concentrate on, however, was a slick new design which was described at 'content over chrome' taking a swipe at Apple's predilection for making everything look shiny and faux 3D.

The new user interface is simple - some might even say blocky - with strong typography and slick animations controlled from a large touch-screen.

Microsoft has also repeated some of the iPhone's shortcomings with no multitasking - other than playing music in the background of some apps - and a noticeable absence of Flash at launch.

"Today, I'm proud to introduce Windows Phone 7 Series, the next generation of Windows Phones," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer intoned. "In a crowded market filled with phones that look the same and do the same things, I challenged the team to deliver a different kind of mobile experience. Windows Phone 7 Series marks a turning point toward phones that truly reflect the speed of people's lives and their need to connect to other people and all kinds of seamless experiences."

The interface is based on a set of tiles which update constantly depending on the content,. For example, any new photos added will show up as a live tile on the Home screen.

As you might expect, Microsoft's Bing search engine is heavily supported, as are Facebook and Windows Live.

XBox fans will also be cheered by the news that XBox Live accounts are supported by the new OS with avatars, achievements and game profiles updated automatically.

On the hardware front, chipmaker Qaulcomm has announced that it will be partnering with Microsoft to develop Windows Phone 7 Series hardware based on its Snapdragon chipsets.

Orange has also announced that it will be a key partner in the future of Windows Phone and says it will roll out a range of compatible handsets in the UK, France, Spain and Switzerland later in the year. Orange plans to combine its SIM and network authentication with Microsoft Windows Phone 7 Series to create a single customer ID, simplifying sign-in and eliminating the need to register for multiple accounts.

Other partners jumping on the Windows charabanc include mobile operators AT&T, Deutsche Telekom AG, SFR, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telstra, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone, and manufacturers Dell, Garmin-Asus, HTC, HP, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Toshiba.