Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is talking up Windows Phone 7 during his keynote at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today. The first major update for the operating system is due out in March, bringing support for copy and paste functionality. But even bigger things are due out later this year, including:

  • Internet Explorer 9 with enhanced web browsing experience
  • New multitasking applications
  • Support for Office documents in the cloud using Windows Live SkyDrive
  • Twitter integration in the People Hub

Microsoft says the company sold 2 million Windows Phone 7 licenses in the first two months, and the OS is available on devices from 60 mobile operators in 30 countries. That’s still just a drop in the smartphone bucket, but Microsoft describes the smartphone arms race as a marathon rather than a sprint.

Engadget grabbed some photos of the new multitasking functionality coming later this year, and you know what? It looks exactly like multitasking on webOS or on the BlackBerry Playbook’s QNX software. Basically you zoom out to see a series of “cards” showing running apps. Each card shows the state of the running application, allowing you to easily find the app you’re looking for.

To be fair, webOS wasn’t the first OS to use thumbnail icons to show running apps. Arguably the Windows alt+tab or OS X expose features offer something similar. So it’s not surprising to see that thumbnails are becoming something of a standard for sifting through running tabs on devices that aren’t running iOS or Android (although Android 3.0 Honeycomb’s recent apps menu also shows thumbnails in a non-card-like way).

When Windows Phone 7 launched it had very limited support for multitasking to help reduce the amount of energy used by apps running in the background. The company says it’s addressed the power draw issue and will be able to enable support for wider multitasking later this year without dramatically affecting battery life. We don’t have any real details on whether this means true multitasking like you have in webOS and QNX, or a save-state/fast app switching system like the one Apple uses for iOS 4.x.

My bet is on the latter, since the company says it will add “the ability to switch quickly between applications, run applications win the background (such as listening to music)” and other features in the second half of 2011.

Microsoft also says support for CDMA networks including Sprint and Verizon is coming in the first half of 2011.

Brad Linder

Brad Linder is editor of Liliputing and Mobiputing. He's been tinkering with mobile tech for decades and writing about it since...