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New Windows Mobile software builds hint at Microsoft's direction

Though Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6.5 has only just been officially released, newer builds of the operating system are popping up in what are called cooked, modified or hacked ROMs for smartphones. Together, they're being unofficially dubbed version “6.5.1.” and seen as a preview of an early 2010 Windows Mobile update, and even a harbinger of Version 7, due later that year.

These builds, most of which are for HTC smartphones and often show up on the XDA Developers site, reveal a range of visual improvements, some subtle some more obvious. In general, developers and bloggers are saying the builds show Microsoft making significant advances.

It's “faster, sleeker, more touch-friendly and in my opinion, a much better upgrade than 6.5,” writes Microsoft blogger Long Zheng.

Microsoft has a lot riding on the new 6.5 release, working to keep the loyalty of developers and users lured by smartphones running rival software platforms, such as Android, iPhone, and Palm's webOS.

Among the changes in the newest Windows Mobile builds:

* More finger-friendly design decisions, such as larger checkboxes and radio buttons, and a more deft messaging application.

* Speed increases.

* Scrolling is more precise and smoother.

* Improved stability due to a batch of bug fixes.

* Relocating the “Start” and “Close” buttons from the top to the bottom of the touchscreen, and a new layout for the Start menu.

* Top row is now thinner, devoted to status icons; tapping it creates an expanding tray with larger icons for things such as system notifications and settings.

* The contacts app has been remade as a simpler-looking, more visual program, letting users add information more easily.

Zheng describes the UI controls as “remastered, finally replacing the Windows 3.1-like graphics with modernized anti-aliased equivalents.” Microsoft has replaced tabs with a “pivot” control at the top center of the screen, enabling users to flick and toggle easily between.

The changes won't “change your life,” says Phil Nickinson, posting at WMExperts.com. “But it'll make your experience with Windows Mobile 6.5 much more enjoyable as we all hold our breath for Windows Mobile 7.” Nickinson picked up his new AT&T Tilt 2 smartphone (from HTC), and within hours had replaced the stock ROM with a more recent one cooked up by NRGZ28, on the XDA Developers site.

Softpedia posted a summary of the various builds, and the changes they've introduced, along with a series of screen shots.

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