Something is afoot at Microsoft.Something is going on deep within the bowels of what used to be one of the least consumer-sensitive technology companies in the world. Suddenly, it appears, they’ve realized that human beings are using their products. Humans without PhDs in computer science.

The Samsung Focus is one of the five handset models available for Windoes Phone 7 on launch

Windows Phone 7 is the great leap forward. This is an operating system that is not aspiring, at least ostensibly, to be the next iPhone or Android or Symbian or whatever else. And most of all, it doesn’t want to be anything remotely like the Windows mobile operating systems that came before it. This is new.

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For once I am buying what Microsoft is saying, this is indeed a fresh look at a mobile computing environment. Windows Phone 7 (WP7) is fun and friendly to use. Like Windows 7, this is an operating system that is more blessing than curse.

Oded Ran, head of consumer marketing for Windows Phone in the UK, told Lounge that this time round Microsoft had decided to focus on a few critical things. “First we wanted people to have a uniform experience when they picked up any Windows Phone 7 device in any store."

Microsoft has ensured that there aren’t any devices using WP7 that are underpowered or poorly configured. Among other things, devices must have a capacitive touch screen, a 1 Ghz processor, 256 MB RAM, GPS, accelerometer and an FM tuner.

For consumers this is a powerful insurance policy. The chance of buying a crappy device that doesn’t live up to WP7 potential is minimal.

Coming to the WP7 interface, Microsoft has clearly leveraged its position as the last invitee to the smartphone party. The interface, codenamed Metro, is both beautiful and functional.

What they’ve done is melded together the best of various other operating systems. So while there is the tiled interface on the home screen, somewhat reminiscent of the iPhone, the tiles aren’t lifeless icons. Many of them are “live tiles".

A tile for a weather app constantly updates temperature and weather information. You can even pull an individual from your address as a live tile to the home screen. And every time they update their Facebook status, the tile will also update.

Further inside, the interface goes from being a stark double column of tiles to beautiful two-dimensional landscapes of text and image. It is difficult to describe intuitively how this works in words. And that is not such a bad thing.The people behind WP7 have made some clever choices between intuitiveness and efficiency. So Metro takes time getting used to. But once you do, it seems entirely rational.

In most cases you just need to swipe sideways to scroll through the various “spokes". The animations are fluid, making the whole system feel somewhat organic and less… geeky.

In addition to a system-wide focus on ease of use, there are also various clever little touches. What if your camera is deep in your messenger bag pocket when your child says her first words (“quantitative easing!")?

The WP7 phone is designed to go from locked to camera mode by just pressing the camera button. Catch her in the act! Want to mute your phone ? Just hit the volume rocker and touch on the profile icon. Simple. Sensible.

The browser, inspite of being Internet Explorer, is not an excuse. It actually works and can open up to six tabs at one time.

WP7, however, is a first iteration and there are some issues pending resolution. Copy-paste, threading in the email app and multitasking are works in progress.

Microsoft has promised to solve them soon. And this time I get the feeling that they mean it.

Windows Phone 7 is not an also-ran platform. It is powerful, beautiful and usable. It is built with consumers, of all kinds, in mind—a worthy challenger to Apple and Android.

Game on.

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