Microsoft challenges competition with new phones, Windows 8 preview

In the second day of its Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft reveals new “Mango” handsets from Samsung and others. And new details about Windows 8 could raise excitement about Microsoft’s presence in the tablet market.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer holds a Windows Phone 7 as he gives a speech in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s keynote address, which kicked off the company’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) Monday, included a little bit of bad news and a whole lot of good news.

The bad news was that Windows Phone 7 handsets haven’t been selling very well. As we’ve noted before in this blog, WP7 only commands about 1 percent of newly activated mobile devices, trailing behind Apple’s iOS at 17 percent and Google’s Android at 27 percent.

The good news, however, is that several sleek, new devices are on the way running Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango,” the latest version of the mobile OS set to be released in mid-October. Microsoft gave a sneak peek of those devices this Tuesday.

Most of the blogosphere buzz centered around a thin new handset from Samsung that Microsoft Corporate VP Steve Guggenheimer says he is “particularly excited” about. The device looks an awful lot like Samsung’s Galaxy S II, an Android model sporting a Super AMOLED display and an 8-megapixel camera, which is expected to be released in the US this summer.

Microsoft also revealed the first Windows phones from manufacturers Acer, Toshiba, and ZTE. They didn’t give any specifications or release dates for these new devices, but it’s nice to know that Windows Phone 7 will be supported by a wide range of hardware manufacturers.

The WPC news so far hasn’t only revolved around smart phones, though. Microsoft CFO Tami Reller also talked about Windows 7 and what we should expect from its successor, which technically doesn't have a name but we'll call Windows 8. Reller noted that Windows 7 has sold 400 million licenses worldwide in the year – that’s three times the rate of Windows XP over the same timeframe. (XP fans beware: Reller also announced that customers have 1,000 days, or a little less than three years, until Microsoft drops support for the decade-old XP.)

Attendees were treated a few more details concerning Windows 8, which was officially unveiled on June 1st. Reller reiterated, as we’ve heard before, that the OS is designed to work with both touch tablets and keyboard and mouse. But Reller also confirmed that Windows 8 would have “the same [system] requirements or lower” than Windows 7, meaning customers don’t need to worry about their hardware being left in the dust. This should also help Windows 8 to successfully scale onto tablet and mobile devices, which tend to be less powerful than their desktop and notebook counterparts.

What are your thoughts on the conference so far? Do you like the direction Microsoft’s mobile and desktop software is headed? Let us know in the comments.

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