Two important announcements about mobile operating systems were made at the Mobile World Congres in Barcelona. Microsoft introduced Windows Phone 7 Series (WP7S), and Nokia and Intel agreed to merge their systems Maemo and Moblin in MeeGo, an OS based on Linux.

It’s clear the big players are making a strong push to overcome the growing popularity of newcomers on the smartphone market, such as Apple, RIM and Google. The iPhone, BlackBerry and Android have built up substantial market share in a relatively short period of time. Apple and Google have managed to convert their popularity on the desktop market to the mobile segment. Microsoft has struggled to do the same, and Nokia has hit a wall with the transition from traditional handset market to smartphone leader.

The key word in OS success appears to be ‘open’, even though Apple’s success was realised on its own terms. Users want access to not just Windows Live, but also Facebook, and developers want to make applications for the entire mobile market, with a short time to market. This last issue was answered by the just announced Wholesale Applications Community, an initiative supported by the GSM Association, 24 operators and three handset makers. Google, Apple, Nokia and RIM have yet to sign up to the proposal, making it questionable whether the new group can make it any easier or cheaper to develop applications for all handsets and operating systems.

For Nokia, the outlook is not so bad. Its Q4 figures were relatively well received, and the company is still the smartphone market leader in a number of countries. In early December, Nokia announced two “ground-breaking” smartphones, set for launch at the end of H1 and H2 2010. The latter will be based on Maemo 6, and therefore likely on the new MeeGo system. This may support an upturn for Nokia on the smartphone market.

The task for Microsoft may be more difficult. Its market share is already under pressure, and before WP7S hits the market, Apple will probably have launched the iPhone 4.0 OS. However, the first reactions to WP7S have been largely positive. Microsoft is making use of the powerful Snapdragon chip from Qualcomm, touch screens and ’tiles’ giving access to six ‘hubs’ including games and music. The user interface is based on the relatively successful Zune platform, which will also provide content for the music hub, while Xbox Live will be used for the games hub. Bing (which won market share from Google and Yahoo in January, according to ComScore) is the standard search engine, which will also have a special button on the handset. In short, Microsoft is making use of three brands that, just as WP7S, were built from the ground up, without the problem of any Microsoft ‘legacy’. The only thing left is to come up with a more catchy name than Windows Phone 7 Series.