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Microsoft may crack down on users that unlock Windows Phone 7

The admission of a top Windows Phone executive that the company is “following in Apple’s line” appears increasingly true. The newly released Windows Phone 7 OS lacks certain features found in other phones on the market, much like the iPhone long did. But like the iPhone it sports a slick interface that has convinced some buyers to look past its shortcomings.

And it appears that the pair may soon share a common war against the unlocking community.

Just hours after Rafael Rivera, Long Zheng and Chris Walsh released the first jailbreaking tool for the phone they have come under fire for their work both by developers and Microsoft itself.

Zheng, et al’s program, ChevronWP7, is billed as a “unlocking” tool that allows unauthorized third party apps to run on Windows Phone 7 handsets. That distinction is a bit confusing as this is commonly referred to as “jailbreaking” on the iPhone, while removing carrier restrictions is known as “unlocking”.

Semantic confusion aside, the purpose is relatively straightforward. Zheng, et al say that the tool will allow the homebrew community the ability to develop for the platform, without paying for licensing or official development tools (typically Microsoft requires developers to pay a $99 annual fee to side load apps with private APIs). However, some developers seem upset with the move as they believe that it opens the door to pirated apps.

Windows Phone 7 developer Michael Crump offers a complaint along those lines. He recently posted on Twitter, “It sucks that most people will be using the ChevronWP7 for piracy. They could care less about developing apps.”

And Microsoft is upset as well, according to MobileTechWorld writer Makran Daou. Mr. Daou speculates that Microsoft may opt to blacklist unlockers. He writes, “Re-locking it afterwards won’t help you if you Device ID is blacklisted. It’s up to you to decide if you want to unlock your device this way at the risk of being blocked by MS (if they decide to take this route) but I won’t be surprised to see a WP7 update in the near future “fix” this potential security hole.”

Mr. Daou accuses the unlockers of giving birth to a “piracy heaven”. And today he claims that Microsoft spokesperson insinuated that action is incoming.

The spokesperson is quoted as stating, “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.”

It will be interesting to see if Microsoft really resorts to banning Windows Phone users who unlock. It might not be surprising if it did, though, given that it’s resorted to similar tactics with Xbox modders.

Despite the criticism Zheng, et al defend their work. In a blog post, they write, “We will not help or support efforts to pirate WP7 applications. Our intention is to enable and create WP7 homebrew applications that cannot be submitted to the Marketplace in the first place,” the site reads. Unlocking the phone does not affect the ability to purchase, download or run applications through the Marketplace. Furthermore, unlocking doesn’t circumvent the inherent piracy protection in applications published to the Marketplace.”