Windows Mobile: Don't write it off yet

Windows Mobile has been around for a long time. It started life in 1996 as Windows CE (which some say stood for Consumer Electronics and Microsoft insisted was an acronym for nothing) with the first clamshell device coming from Casio, called the Cassiopeia. Over time, it's evolved into a stable platform, with both enterprise and consumer appeal and devices from multiple vendors available for carriers around the world. Despite selling 20 million devices last year, there's still a lot of negative buzz about the platform. Bloggers, analysts and journalists have all called the platform's future into question (while still calling for a mythical Microsoft-created phone) and continue to raise the question of platform viability. I think the latest version of Windows Mobile, 6.5 addresses many of those issues along with strong support from OEMs who are still committed to the platform and will help drive business adoption further over the next 18 months.

Let's be clear, while Windows Mobile's UI is not as flashy or fluid as that of the iPhone, it certainly stacks up well against offerings from other vendors. This latest set of UI enhancements, along with hardware innovation from licensees HTC, Sony Ericsson and LG have also helped put a little more polish and chrome on the UI as well.

Just take a look at the HTC Touch Pro 2 if you want to see how far Windows Mobile has come these days. It's not perfect but the key is that the core of the product works rather well and for synchronization with Exchange, there's simply no better solution (or more cost effective solution, as pointed out in TCO study after TCO study). But Windows Mobile is more than just the Enterprise. Here are my top five reasons why we're going to see Microsoft stay in the Windows Mobile game for some time to come.

1. Choice. Microsoft's partners offer Windows Mobile devices (or Windows Phones as they're now called) in in a variety of form factors. OEMs offer everything from touchscreen to full QWERTY keyboard as well as a range of devices in between. When it comes to mobile devices, one size does not fit all. In addition, Windows Phones are available from a range of carriers extending consumer choice even further.

2. Microsoft offers the best integration to Exchange via ActiveSync for sync of contacts, calendars and email. While other platforms have licensed the Exchange/ActiveSync protocol, no one else offers the degree of integration and management that Windows Mobile offers.

3. While email support is critical, it's what's in the email, often in the guise of attachments, that's where the real information lies. Windows Mobile's native support for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note make it seamless to not only read the information but edit as needed as well.

4. Steve Ballmer is well noted for his mantra of developers, developers, developers. With Windows Marketplace for Mobile, which is a core part of 6.5 , Microsoft is emulating Apple with an integrated shopping experience that allows users to quickly find and purchase the latest application they're looking for. While Microsoft does not have Apple's 50,000 plus strong applications catalog, there have been more than 20,000 third party applications developed for Windows Mobile that extend the functionality of the platform. Moreover, the platform is completely open so developers need not use the store to deliver their applications if they choose not to.

5. Windows phones are among the few platforms that offer the ability to live in the intersection between business and personal spaces. The core software offers both business integration as well as entertainment and social features to seamlessly move between family and friends to co-workers and colleagues.

Today, it's not just the IT department handing devices out to users. It's people making the choice of platform and device to be used with both business and personal information and scenarios. Despite the negative hype, make no mistake, Windows Mobile should be still be on any mobile device purchase shortlist.