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?

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The company has thrown out the whole Windows metaphor -- the useless CPU-cycle-sucking graphics, the folders within folders within folders, yadda yadda -- and replaced it with a multitouch interface featuring a handful of colorful "live tiles." Beneath those buttons you'll find unified messaging that mashes together updates from social nets like Facebook and Windows Live (but not Twitter -- yet), some stripped-down Office apps, Outlook, Bing, an apps marketplace, pretty much the entire Zune experience, and even a little Xbox Live.

Mind you, I'm not in Barcelona. I've not had a chance to put my grubby little hands on any working prototypes, so I'm relying on Microsoft's video preview and my brethren in the blogosphere for the key details. Most of them seem pretty excited.

For example, the Windows 7 phone seems to have induced all manner of involuntary bodily functions in Gizmodo writer Matt Buchanan. Never in my 347 years of covering technology have I encountered a review -- really, a preview -- quite so giddy (note: all italics are his):

... it's the most groundbreaking phone since the iPhone. It's the phone Microsoft should've made three years ago. ... It changes everything. ... There's an incredible sense of joie de vivre that's just not in any other phone. It makes you wish that this was aesthetic direction all of Microsoft was going in. ... I'll admit, I very nearly needed to change my pants when I saw the Xbox tile on the phone for the first time ... it's actually good.

Dude: Get a room.

PC Mag's Sascha Segan -- who knows more about mobile phones than most sane humans should -- was a bit more circumspect, but still impressed.

I received a few minutes with a Windows Phone 7 Series prototype today, and the software looked beautiful but felt very, very early. Tiles responded sluggishly. When I scrolled down a contact list, it scrolled into a great black abyss that only filled with contacts after a few seconds.... On the other hand, if it actually performs properly, WP7 has the intangibles that Microsoft phones have lacked for years. It's fun to explore. The interface makes sense. It's easy to find the things you need. Nothing is buried. It uses the power of a mobile computer to put important information at the fore -- possibly even more immediately than the iPhone.

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