Yesterday, news broke that ChevronWP7 had created and released an unlocking tool for Windows Phone handsets that permits the side-loading of applications. The tool alledgedly tricks the handset into registering itself as a developer’s device, which opens up the OS and permits the installation of non-Marketplace apps.
Microsoft got wind of this development and has responded with an official statement condemning this practice:
We anticipated that people would attempt to unlock the phones and explore the underlying operating system. We encourage people to use their Windows Phone as supplied by the manufacturer to ensure the best possible user experience. Attempting to unlock a device could void the warranty, disable phone functionality, interrupt access to Windows Phone 7 services or render the phone permanently unusable.
These claims that this procedure will “render the phone permanently unusable” may be exaggerated as most such hacking tools are usually well-tested before release. Most fatal errors occur when hardware unexpectedly fails during the unlocking process or a user neglects to follow the exact directions.
It is possible, though, that Microsoft could detect modified handsets and kick them off Windows Live, Zune, or Xbox Live. The Redmond company has been known to kick modified Xbox 360s off of Xbox Live and doing something similar to a hacked cell phone is not out of the realm of possibility. If Microsoft did pursue such a tactic, it would be successful at discouraging people from modifying their handsets; but it would also turn hardcore users away from buying a Windows Phone handset.
Fans of Microsoft’s former mobile OS fondly remember the days of Windows Mobile and flashing cooked ROMS. Many of those same enthusiasts are looking towards Windows Phone with a cautious optimism that Microsoft will be equally hands off with its latest mobile operating system. It will interesting to see whether Microsoft sticks to verbal warnings or takes it one step further by banning users or disabling handsets.