In stark contrast to their historical treatment of homebrew developers, Microsoft appears to be loosening up the reins on Windows Phone 7’s developer unlock. With their previous mobile platform, Windows Mobile, Microsoft adopted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. ROM “Cooks”, their custom ROMs, and the tools used to create and modify them were largely ignored by Redmond.
Fast forward to today, with WP7; Microsoft has taken a different approach, adopting a stance that is decidedly unfriendly to homebrew developers. With requirements such as a $99 fee to enable the sideloading of applications (to allow a developer to test his or her program), and tying the unlock to a specific device and Live ID, the environment is not quite so friendly.
The ChevronWP7 team sought to ease this unfriendly environment by enabling sideloading without the required $99 fee; and further hacks have enabled the prevention of the device automatically re-locking itself when syncing. Microsoft quickly took action to get this software removed from circulation (it can of course still be found online, but is no longer distributed by ChevronWP7)
After the ChevronWP7/Microsoft meeting, in the short term, things still look status quo. Microsoft is still pushing to shut down the security hole ChevronWP7 used to enable the developer unlock in it’s next update, and no concrete details have been revealed as to just how homebrew will be supported in the future.
In a related tweet, Microsoft Windows Phone 7 developer experience director Brandon Watson asked famed iPhone jailbreak developer George Hotz if he would like a WP7 device to encourage development. This also serves to highlight Microsoft’s changed stance.
However, judging by the comments found in the ChevronWP7 blog and elsewhere online, there is a healthy amount of skepticism in the development community about Microsoft’s claims. There is also concern about Microsoft enabling development in currently unsupported places; there are a number of countries where you can purchase a WP7 device, but Microsoft will not allow you to register for a developer account. When the patch is released, these developers will be left out in the cold.