Dev Hacks Emulator to Pick WinPho7’s Brain

Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 Series emulator has been cracked.

Microsoft unveiled a locked-down WinPho7 emulator at MIX10 recently.

Microsoft unveiled a locked-down WinPho7 emulator at MIX10 recently.

Windows Mobile Developer Dan Ardelean, who works out of Italy, announced Friday that he had hacked into the emulator, which allows users to run the WinPho7 platform on a full-sized computer.

Microsoft had unveiled the emulator and other products, including Internet Explorer 9, this week at MIX10, Redmond’s conference for Web designers and developers.

Ardelean has taken down the link to his exploit. “I passed from being excited that I was able to see more to being stressed that Microsoft will be angry about the leak, but it was only a matter of time until somebody else modified the ROM,” he told TechNewsWorld. “I really hope there’s nothing illegal about it.”

Cracking the WinPho7 Emulator

The emulator lets developers write apps for mobile phones without having a physical phone to test the apps on, Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC, told TechNewsWorld. “The emulator will provide a software virtual machine that lets developers run and test their apps, and fix and debug them,” he said.

After “six hours of work and a lot of digging,” Ardelean unlocked the ROM image in the emulator Community Technology Preview. The CTP is a package of beta bits, including the actual code that will be released in production, sometimes bundled with developer and other tools, Hilwa explained. It’s released to developers in advance of production.

Microsoft probably released the emulator before any handsets are available as part of its marketing strategy. “The idea is to release the emulator early enough to build interest in Windows Phone 7, and have a wide variety of third party applications created and made available by the time the first Windows Phone 7 Series smartphone is launched,” Chris Hazelton, a research director at The 451 Group, told TechNewsWorld.

Unlocking the ROM image lets developers know what other features Microsoft might reveal prior to production, Hilwa said.

Why Lock Down the Emulator?

If Microsoft released the emulator early so developers could get a running start with working on apps, why would it lock down parts of the software? “That’s partly because Microsoft has yet to decide about what parts of the operating system will be made available as features on Windows 7 smartphones,” Hilwa said.

Some parts may not be ready in terms of code quality, or may not be included in the final version of the operating system that’s shipped, Hilwa remarked. “Whenever an embedded version of an operating system is tailored to a hardware device form factor, some functionality is disabled or somehow locked down,” he explained.

For example, Apple has locked down the ability to run any random app they choose on the iPhone — most users must buy Apple-approved apps from the App Store. However, hackers have been able to crack into the iPhone’s operating system and figure out how to run unauthorized apps on the device, a process known as “jailbreaking,” Hilwa pointed out.

Windows Mobile Developer Dan Ardelean cracked open the emulator to see what's inside.

Windows Mobile Developer Dan Ardelean cracked open the emulator to see what’s inside.

Microsoft should have been more open about the emulator, Ardelean said. “Obviously nothing’s really finished, but I don’t understand why Microsoft didn’t want to show it all,” he said. “I think every developer would understand that this is a CTP (Community Technology Preview), so you cannot expect too much.”

He hacked the emulator because he was interested in learning why smartphones running the Windows Mobile operating system can’t be upgraded to WinPho7. “I also wanted to know why we aren’t able to develop with NET CF as it’s already built in,” Ardelean said. “I’m a real fan of the Windows Mobile platform, and it seemed impossible that after more than two years of waiting, we got only Internet Explorer and a bunch of closed .NET classes.”

What’s on the WinPho7 Emulator

The WinPho7 emulator has a file explorer and a “very nice task manager,” Ardelean said.

The hack might give developers access to more information than Microsoft wants to release and could spark unwelcome speculation about the WinPho7 operating system and devices.

The WinPho7 emulator has a file explorer and a “very nice task manager,” Ardelean said.

“Getting access to the emulator means that developers will be able to see various functions that probably aren’t even complete, in addition to all kinds of things that Microsoft may not have announced,” Carl Howe, director, anywhere research at the Yankee Group, pointed out.

“What these guys really are doing is looking for a scoop on Windows Phone 7 Series’ ins and outs. It sounds to me like they found some,” Howe told TechNewsWorld.

That might make Microsoft a little uncomfortable. “Like any vendor about to release a new product, Microsoft doesn’t want stories speculating about what features might or might not come to it,” IDC’s Hilwa explained. “That will confuse the market.”

On the other hand, Redmond might not be very teed off at all. “This hack shows off the operating system to a wider audience than just those who downloaded the emulator,” 451 Group’s Hazelton pointed out. “So Microsoft may be okay with it.”

Getting Things Right

In any event, Microsoft should probably say something publicly, perhaps via its company blogs, about what the features discovered through the hack do and don’t imply, IDC’s Hilwa said. “Hardware takes time to develop and is not as easy to change as software, which is why the features of smartphones must be nailed down a few months before the phones actually hit the market,” he explained.

“At some point, Microsoft has to take the Windows Phone 7 Series operating system as it is, and any new features it wants to enable will have to wait for a new release and, potentially, a new generation of hardware,” Hilwa pointed out.

Microsoft did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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