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Microsoft Readies Two Windows Phone Systems?

Microsoft is still keeping the industry guessing as to what it will actually show and promise at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain next month.

In the interim, however, Taiwan-based news site, DigiTimes, claims its sources at several of Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) mobile hardware partners have provided it with inside information.

The site said in an article Friday that the software giant will not only announce a September ship date to OEMs for Windows Phone 7, but will also debut an intermediate version, called Windows Phone 6.6, at the show. (Last summer, Microsoft quietly renamed the various versions of Windows Mobile, or WM, to Windows Phone, or WP.)

"Based on the roadmap, WM7 will be available to Microsoft's handheld hardware partners in September 2010, allowing them to roll-out WM7-based devices in the fourth quarter 2010 or early first-quarter 2011," according to the report.

Microsoft is widely expected to announce and show WP7 at the MWC event, which is being held February 15 through 18. A company executive in the U.K. said in December that WP7 devices would be available in time for 2010 holiday sales.

At the Consumer Electronics Show 2010 in Las Vegas earlier this month, Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment & Devices Division, told financial analysts that the company plans to show WP7 at MWC.

Stories regarding WP6.6, however, just began making the rounds in the past few days.

Microsoft still declines to discuss anything to do with WP6.6 and will say nothing further regarding WP7.

A few juicy nuggets

That hasn't kept Microsoft's Asian OEM partners from leaking a few juicy nuggets.

"WM7 will come with an improved interface to deliver a better browsing and multimedia experience, and support Zune, Xbox Live and Silverlight," Friday's DigiTimes report said.

Among Microsoft's purported partners on WP7 phones are Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, Toshiba, HTC (High Tech Computer), Asustek Computer, and Acer, according to DigiTimes. Earlier reports pegged LG and HTC as two of the OEMs that are likely to announce WP7 handsets at MWC.

There have also been reports from DigiTimesyah that WP7 devices won't ship until next year. However, on Friday the site clarified those rumors somewhat, saying that localized Asian phones will not be ready before 2011, but that phones localized for English and several European languages will arrive earlier.

That still doesn't explain why Microsoft would launch WP6.6 when its replacement is not so patiently waiting in the wings.

"If they're going to release 6.6, it means that they understand finally they need to have more frequent point updates," Philippe Winthrop, director of Strategy Analytics' global wireless practice, told InternetNews.com.

"That shows that the system is alive and kicking, and the glass half-full perspective is that they're not letting it get stale," he added.

Whatever Microsoft does, the near future is crucial, said another analyst.

"They've lost a lot of OEMs," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told InternetNews.com.

"They need 'Seven' in order to hold onto these guys, so if they miss, it will be catastrophic," Enderle added.

Microsoft declined to comment.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.