Windows Phone 7: Has Microsoft got its groove back?

Microsoft just unveiled a new phone OS that by all reports is wicked cool. 'Microsoft' and 'cool' in the same sentence?

They're baaaack. Just when you thought the dragon had been mortally wounded and sloughed off to its cave to die, it comes back spitting fire and disturbing the neighbors.

At this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft introduced a new mobile operating system that appears to be nothing like any OS it's ever invented, borrowed, or imitated. It might even be -- dare I say it -- innovative.

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While you're busying cleaning up the coffee you just spit out, let's take a quick look back at recent history.

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There was a point in the '90s where Microsoft seemed grimly determined to make everything in the world run on Windows -- your phone, your TV set, the lights in your house, your toaster.  That might still be its ultimate goal. But the introduction of truly innovative interfaces like the iPhone OS, Android, and Palm's WebOS (combined with dramatic price cuts in touchscreens and computing horsepower) have given us alternatives to Windows' maddeningly hierarchical menu structure that make a lot more sense for any device that isn't a work PC.

Nobody wants to click five times and say OK twice just to turn the lights on and off. Nobody ever did. But until these new phone OSes came along, it looked like Microsoft could just muscle its way into all these markets, in the same way it muscled out anyone who tried to compete in the IBM PC arena.

With Windows Phone 7, however, it seems Microsoft finally has some skin in the non-PC game. And yes, the name truly sucks. It screams "boring and predictable" in the way only a Microsoft product can. But apparently that's the single thing about it that's Microsoft-like.

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