Windows Phone 7 hackers ChevronWP7 are soon to release a Microsoft-approved app that allows users to install non-approved software. But that doesn't mean the group and the software giant have kissed and made up.
It's unlikely the decision was entirely egalitarian. It's more likely an attempt to attract users to the Windows Phone 7 platform, which despite positive reviews is still struggling to gain traction in a market dominated by Google Android and Apple's iPhone.
The official line is that the application and a corresponding application download site, labelled ChevronWP7 Labs, are to provide an official way for homebrew programmers to create and make available Windows Phone 7 apps without paying $99 a year to do so to join the Microsoft App Hub developer programme.
The ChevronWP7 team got into hot water with Microsoft last year for creating an app that gave developers access to secret parts of the Windows Phone 7 operating system, but which also allowed end users to "sideload" non-approved apps.
ChevronWP7 said the app was to aid the creation of homebrew applications, software created by hobbyists more for fun than profit. The team agreed to remove the app from Microsoft's app store after Microsoft staff made contact with them, and they subsequently agreed to work with the software giant.
By embracing ChevronWP7, Microsoft has legitimised hardware jailbreaking and created two separate paths for users, they can stick with Microsoft's approved software offerings in the Marketplace or install ChevronWP7's app and source software from just about anybody who wants to make their work available. No doubt the ChevronWP7 licence agreement will make it very clear how risky this could be.
It's not clear if the ChevronWP7 Labs will sell apps, or merely offer them for free download. The team's brief announcement hints at a subscription structure to "offset costs."
Last year phone jailbreaking was declared legal after Apple and other companies claimed it was prohibited by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). However, jailbreaking an Apple or Google Android-based phone is still far from easy, and often involves risky procedures and questionable software that can "brick" a phone, corrupt its firmware so it's permanently broken. Here at least ChevronWP7 allows Microsoft to take the lead.
Because companies like Apple frown on jailbreaking, an arms race of sorts arises whereby operating systems updates block the exploits that allow jailbreaking to work, until the jailbreak hackers find a new way to bypass the prevention measures.