File under: Awkward! At the CIO summit yesterday, Steve Ballmer got an uncomfortable question from the audience that, well, has been on a lot of people's minds:

"With platforms like the Google phone and iPhone coming out, it’s really tough to continue to stand behind Windows Mobile when our employees are bringing these consumer devices into our environments,” the questioner explained. “And in your presentation you put Windows Mobile right in the center there, but it was a phone that doesn’t work in America and an operating system that you haven’t released. I’m wondering what your commitment is to continuing to get newer versions of the operating system in our hands so that we don’t have to fight this battle on the ground.”

Ballmer's response was basically "we're getting to it" and he pointed out that, yes, Windows Mobile sold more units than the iPhone did last year.  As WinMo fans, it might have been nice to have Ballmer point out some of the platform's advantages over the iPhone -- but we have to grant that many of these advantages are more likely to appeal to the nerd / IT manager than they are to the consumer.  Setting cross-platform sniping aside, the most interesting part of Ballmer's response to us was this little nugget:

“We have a significant release coming this year,” he said. “Not the full release we wanted to have this year but we have a significant release coming this year with Windows Mobile 6.5"

Emphasis ours above -- apparently Microsoft "wanted" to have Windows Mobile 7 ready to rock this year.  It's not exactly a surprise, sure, but it's still nice to hear from the horse's mouth.  Ballmer says that they've put a team in place that will be able to "accelerate" development for Windows Mobile to deliver the "things people want on the highest-end phones."

Anybody out there in a WinMo shop, facing a user insurrection asking for competing platforms?

TechFlash via Digital Daily