Free Microsoft Windows Phone 7 developer tools released

Developers can now create software for upcoming Microsoft phones, but delivery method is still unknown

Microsoft Monday announced at its MIX 10 conference the immediate release of free versions of its core development tools, all designed to get developers off to a fast start building applications for Windows Phone 7 smartphones.  

Developers can download to a Windows PC Microsoft's Visual Studio 2010, Silverlight 4 multimedia toolkit, and the just-announced beta release of Expression Blend 4, a GUI-oriented design and code-generating toolkit. All come with an emulator running the full Windows Phone 7 operating system, so developers don't have to wait for the first hardware devices, which could appear in October.

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Developers with existing experience with Microsoft's PC tools can at once be productive in shifting applications to the phone or building new ones, including games with the new XNA Game Studio 4. Microsoft executives recited the mantra that developers can build an application once and then run it, with some minor adjustments for resolution and other features.

But many questions were left unanswered during an opening session at the event, including how Microsoft will structure its online Windows Phone marketplace, where developers can publish and sell their applications. Also unclear is exactly how developers can integrate their applications with WP7 hubs, which are visual locations on the user interface where like content is grouped, such as photos or music, and common tasks and features are enabled.

Such integration is possible, demonstrated by a number of new third-party applications demonstrated on stage.

One is Associated Press Mobile, a news reader for the AP Web site. The demonstration showed the application behaving like any other WP7 program. It shows top news stories, associated with photos, with options to share and comment. A "breaking news" popup at the bottom of the screen indicated the notifications capability of the redesigned operating system: depending on the application, users can configure a range of notifications, which are sent whether the phone is on or not.

Microsoft officials stressed the role Silverlight 4 will play on WP7 devices. Working with a group of handset makers, Microsoft created a hardware specification for WP7 phones. That includes the graphics horsepower, which Silverlight exploits, to create smooth, fluid UI features, without any compromise.

"This is full Silverlight," said Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president, Microsoft's developer division. "It's the same code, the same tools, and the same programming model on the phone."

Coupled with Bing Maps, Silverlight can be used to embed interactive maps associated with a link in a tweet, for example: the interactive map pops up, you can pan, zoom and see where your contacts are nearby, and even get directions to them, as demonstrated onstage by Seesmic, an application for managing Twitter accounts and streams. Seesmic had been available only for Android and BlackBerry phones but has now been ported to Windows Phone 7.

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