With the delivery of early Windows Phone 7 devices to third-party developers this week, Microsoft also began the official beta test of development tools to let them build apps for the company's upcoming smartphone system.
Developers have been awaiting final versions of programming tools for Windows Phone 7 since Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer introduced its new mobile system at the Global World Conference in Barcelona, Spain in February.
The commercial rollout of mobile devices built on Windows Phone 7 is scheduled for this fall, in time for the holiday sales season. Microsoft premiered early preview versions of development tools for Windows Phone 7 in March at the company's MIX10 Web developers and designers conference in Las Vegas.
The company began distributing preview Windows Phone 7 units Wednesday at its annual Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), and plans to ship out more beginning Monday, officials said.
Now, it's time to deliver developer tools with which to program them -- prosaically named the Windows Phone 7 Developer Tools.
"This beta release represents the near final version of the tools for building applications and games for Windows Phone 7," Microsoft spokesperson Brandon Watson said in a post on the Windows Phone blog Monday.
Although Microsoft has repeatedly said that part of Windows Phone 7's charter is to meet the needs of business users and to bridge the gap between personal and enterprise use, the initial pitch from Watson's blog post appears to be towards developers of games and consumer applications. Having a base of consumer apps and games for Microsoft's smartphone offering is considered key if Windows Phone 7 is to grab buyers' attention when it debuts in time for the holidays.
However, longer term, company executives have said that they expect that the crossover between what mobile devices users carry with them for personal use and what they use to do their jobs to be significant. Part of the pitch for developers, then, is that many of the skills required to write consumer apps also transfer over to creating enterprise applications.
It's no surprise, then, that the tools support programming using Microsoft's XNA game developer language as well as .NET tools such as Visual Studio.
Among the capabilities provided by the Windows Phone 7 Developer Tools is a version of Microsoft's Expression Blend 4 Web design package that's been integrated into the tools. Additionally, the tools include a developer registration utility for unlocking a Windows Phone 7 device for development purposes, and an XAP (Silverlight) file deployment utility for deploying XAP files to unlocked phones.
One of the most important tools in the beta is a set of revised application programming interfaces (API) that provide support for the Windows Phone 7 feature set now contained in a single DLL file.
Microsoft is also making online training courses on how to program the Windows Phone 7 available beginning next Tuesday, and is setting up test labs in major cities to help developers become proficient in writing apps for the phones, Watson's blog post said.
The beta of the development tools for Windows Phone 7 is available for download here. Developers who want to register for the free four-session course can do so here.
Tags: Microsoft, Windows Phone 7, mobile, developer tools