Though the promise of Windows Phone 7 was alluring, reality has come crashing down around those who have backed this initially innovative platform. And that reality includes carrier-partner oversight of the software updates that Microsoft wishes to deliver to customers. This week, the first minor Windows Phone update has been delayed yet again, leaving the platform's remaining fans wondering how Microsoft—no stranger to software updating—could so thoroughly bungle what should be a very simple process.
Ironically, this latest delay comes in the same week as two other events: Microsoft's regularly-scheduled release of software updates to PC and server users, and Apple's latest major update to iOS, its own smart phone platform. Both of these sets of updates are delivered to hundreds of millions of users. But unlike Windows Phone, with a paltry few million users, neither is causing any headaches.
Indeed, users of other platforms are routinely treated with updates that fix bugs and deliver new features. Since Windows Phone launched in October/November, Apple has—for example—shipped at least five software updates to iPhone users, adding major new features such as CDMA support, AirPlay media sharing, iTunes Home Sharing, improved performance, and a variety of bug fixes. This is impressive under any circumstances, but especially so when you consider how, at almost four years old, iOS is quite mature compared with Windows Phone. That is, the need for updates is so much less dramatic on the iPhone than on Windows Phone, which remains as buggy and incomplete as it was in October.
Microsoft, meanwhile, hasn't yet shipped a single update for Windows Phone. According to my sources, it did complete a single minor software update called No Donuts (or NoDo) in December 2010, but that release has been blocked by multiple (unnamed) carriers for unspecified reasons. Since then, Microsoft tried to jumpstart the process by releasing a "pre-update" that was aimed at fixing issues with Windows Phone's software-updating mechanism. This pre-update would have paved the way for the first real update, but it too had a problem—"bricking" or causing other installation issues with at least 10 percent of users, causing Microsoft to pull it for a week.
Again, this is a company that routinely services hundreds of millions of PCs and servers every month.
The most recent schedule had Microsoft delivering NoDo to customers on Monday, but that release, too, has been delayed, again for unspecified reasons. And the Windows Phone team, as always, has remained conspicuously silent about the issue. (At the time of this writing—and I specifically waited a day on this to give Microsoft time to respond officially—the most recent post on the official team blog, from last week, describes another inane episode of its official podcast.)
Fortunately, other parts of Microsoft are better at communication. Microsoft France revealed this week in a blog post that NoDo is now expected in the second half of March. And a Microsoft employee confirmed this timing in the software giant's support forums. According to Mary Jo Foley, the new target date for the NoDo release is now the week of March 21.
Microsoft, the silence is deafening. Your inability to deliver even a single minor update to your few customers is alarming. Early adopters—any who most ardently support this platform, really—deserve better.