Macworld Thought: Microsoft's hands are tied, update-wise

Covering Macworld yesterday the only big iPhone news was a minor feature update - we still get to look down upon its lack of 3G and the fact that it's handcuffed to AT&T like a cliché sitcom episode where the two adversaries become best friends forever after 23 minutes (plus commercials) of being chained together.

Ahem. There is one new iPhone feature that we need to tell Microsoft about, but fixing the same problem on Windows Mobile turns out to be a very thorny issue. Read on for much more on this after the break!

Envy the Jiggly

We still have to envy that iPhone browser and now there's one more thing to envy - iPhone users can easily re-arrange their home screen. Yes, on WM Pro devices, adding, deleting, and re-arranging the Today screen is a relatively simple affair. On WM Standard devices, it's a freaking nightmare trying to customize the Today screen. On both - not only is it darn near impossible to re-arrange the Programs folder, in many cases that Programs folder is cluttered with carrier-sponsored “crap-apps” as well. Let's not discuss that items in WM Pro's Start Menu don't appear under Programs, because it's just too painful.

The bright light at the end of this customization tunnel is that Microsoft may finally be learning that they can control the user experience themselves a bit more - and thus let us control it at well. Someday that time may come, but that day is going to be a long way off.

Whither Windows Update

Here's the essential problem. Because AT&T has managed to cow AT&T so effectively, they have kept AT&T off their home screen. More to the point, they can seemingly push out updates with little-to-no interference from AT&T, testing-wise. This may not be the case at all -- AT&T may just fast-track iPhone updates -- but I think it is. Compare the relative ease with which Apple can develop and distribute an update with the situation with Windows Mobile.

On nearly every Windows Mobile device that has needed or deserved a serious update of some kind, there seems to be a delay. There are a few counter-examples, but they are few. Compare that to the situation with updates to Windows Mobile 6, or even AKU updates and critical bugfixes. Microsoft has to develop the update, the manufacturer has to try it out on their device, the carrier has to have their say, it all has to get tested and run up and down that three link chain a few times, and then the update gets out to the user -- who so rarely applies these major patches that he or she is usually unaware of the patch, afraid to apply the patch, confused about how to do it, and so on. And all that assumes we're talking about a single device here, for updates meant for all WM devices you need to iterate all of the above across the hundreds of different WM devices out there.


Now, Microsoft has included a Windows Mobile Update app in Windows Mobile 6, but it's unlikely (bordering on impossible) that we'll ever see that little bugger offer us any new updates. There are just too many hoops that updates have to jump through.

3rd Party Apps to the Rescue

In the meantime, however, we the users can fix this situation -- with 3rd party apps that extend and improve upon the Windows Mobile interface. On Windows Mobile Pro we're all still very fond of SPB Mobile Shell (especially for the new user). On WM Standard.. well, I'm still looking for my favorite solution and haven't found it yet. I would love to hear suggestions for non-touchscreen devices.

So while the fact that Microsoft knows they need to offer simple features like rearranging icons is the light at the end of the tunnel, that tunnel seems very long right now. Yet, while stuck in the dark tunnel of WM's user interface, you can use a 3rd party app to light your way. Nice, eh?

WC Staff