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Fate of Windows Phone Unlocker Tool is Undecided


In early November, the enterprising folks at ChevronWP7 released a Microsoft-sanctioned utility that would allow developers to inexpensively "developer unlock" their devices in order to test apps on actual hardware. Microsoft offers a similar service through its App Hub developer program, but that costs $99 per year. The ChevronWP7 tool, called ChevronWP7 Labs, does the same thing, but costs only $9.00. (Joining Microsoft's developer program provides other features, including the ability to submit apps to the Windows Phone Marketplace.)

There's just one problem: Microsoft's initial allotment of tokens, which allow ChevronWP7 Labs to do its magic, numbered 10,000. And as of New Year's Day, those tokens are gone. So ChevronWP7 can no longer developer unlock phones, unless they receive more tokens.

And here's where the silliness starts.

On January 1, 2011, ChevronWP7 revealed via its Twitter account that it was running out of tokens. "We have only 18 tokens left," the update reads. "Once we sell out, we don't (currently) have plans to restock. So get your token before it's too late!"

ChevronWP7's intent with this post was simply to alert developers that they needed to move quickly if they wanted to take advantage of the tool's low-cost developer unlock capabilities. But some tech blogs, unaccustomed to simple fact checking, assumed the Twitter update meant that Microsoft had shut them off. And of course blog posts were written to that effect.

Nope. Rafael Rivera, my Windows Secrets coauthor and the co-developer of the ChevronWP7 Labs tool, says that any indecision about obtaining new tokens from Microsoft is coming from his team and not from the software giant. That is, ChevronWP7 has now sold out of the allotment of tokens Microsoft has provided. But ChevronWP7 is not sure if they want to obtain more.

"We started off small to make sure everything was working properly," he told me. "Then we met certain milestones that opened up the availability of more tokens over time. So we have actually sold-out of tokens before. This isn't new."

What is new is that ChevronWP7 isn't sure it wants to continue providing these tokens to developers. And that's because supporting the many different Windows Phone handset types has proven difficult, leading to an onerous amount of time supporting one-off issues that are literally phone model and version specific. Since ChevronWP7 is the one providing the unlock capability, they're stuck with support as well. 

There's a Microsoft Knowledge Base article that hints at the problem. This article refers only to one Windows Phone handset model, the HTC Arrive, and highlights the difficulties that even Microsoft has circumventing the changes its OEM partners make to the platform. But HTC isn't even the worst offender here. Samsung, for example, is known to have silently released a bizarre range of versions of its its own phones. These changes were what caused the Windows Phone software update problems that customers complained about in early 2011. 

Not coincidentally, Rafael previously wrote a blog post of his own about this issue called It’s a miracle “Mango” rolled out as smoothly as it did. This post was based on his experiences supporting all of the bizarre Windows Phone handset models and versions there are out there.

As for the future, don't despair yet. Rafael tells me that ChevronWP7 are still on the fence about obtaining more tokens. That is, no decision has been made yet, and it could still happen.

Stay tuned.
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