Saturday, 25 June 2011

Windows Phone 7 Development and Windows Phone Device Manager #1

I haven't posted here for a while, partly because I've had a lot of work to do, and partly because I've been finding other places to post thoughts, especially the Windows Phone 7 forum (where I was recently paid the compliment of being level-headed).

There's a big divide in WP7 land between the ordinary user and the developer community - the latter can 'unlock' their 'phones and load unofficial applications, the former are, as with the iPhone, stuck with the Marketplace. There have at various stages been products (jailbreaks/hacks) available to unlock the 'phone without being an official developer, but at present, on a fully updated 'phone, none of these work; recently, Microsoft has made a statement of direction that they will soon be formally supporting such an 'unlock' product (although, obviously, not the applications that thereby land on the 'phone).

All of this is relevant because WP7 has a rather distinctive (read eccentric and in my view flawed) application model. As in Domino, data is encapsulated within the app - there is no shared storage. This is all nice and secure, and sits nicely in the overall locked down and layered WP7 architecture (and it would be pretty inconsistent of me to moan about an architecture that is locked down and layered, given that I have been championing just such an architecture since 1985). But, unlike in Domino, there is no consistent model for the storage of data inside the app; and, as a result, the application model leads to a lot of trouble.

Basically, every app does data management differently, including file/document management and syncing to the PC; the chaotic results of this cause great fury among the user community. Except in a very few cases where the app developer has thought it through properly, there is absolutely no backup facility at all for an app's individual configuration. Also, the invocation of one app's functionality from another is seriously limited: each app has no access to the data stored within the other - the sort of nonsense this causes is exemplified by the inability to attach more than one Office document to the same email (because attaching an Office document has to be done by running Share against the document, not by hitting a paperclip and selecting the document from a list).

Users like me miss the traditional Explorer type interface, because you can't manage related documents of different types in one place. (The lack of USB sync for anything except music and videos doesn't help either, although this could be cured by better design of individual apps.)

Anyway, various people have been suggesting that an unofficial app called Windows Phone Device Manager is capable of resolving a lot of this by providing an Explorer interface (and USB sync), and that when Microsoft officially supports 'unlocking' this will be a real way forward for the sort of users (especially small business users like me) who are affected by the current limitations.

I want to know how far this app goes in genuinely resolving users' day-to-day problems (it isn't going to resolve the concerns of those who genuinely think Microsoft have no right to lock down their 'phone operating system, but I am frankly more interested in helping people use the 'phone in everyday life).

I have Googled WPDM, and found various pages about private and public betas, and a Facebook page full of complaints from people wanting support and from people who hadn't twigged that an unlocked 'phone was required; but what I can't find anywhere is a proper review of WPDM in the context of day-to-day real life use of the 'phone.

So I'm going to do one.

The first step is to register as a developer (which I was seriously considering doing anyway). That will be the subject of my next post.

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