A Windows Phone 7 “unlock” tool was released on Thursday that allows owners to side load home-brew applications. The tool, named ChevronWP7, uses a method to trick the OS into registering itself as a Windows Phone 7 developer device with the application rather than Microsoft directly. Microsoft normally charges $99 a year for the privilege of loading developer applications. Some reports also suggest that the tool will be used by pirates wishing to bypass the Windows Phone Marketplace completely.
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 was revealed, earlier this month, that end users could download the source XAP files (the type that all Windows Phone 7 applications are packaged in) from an ATOM XML feed. The ATOM XML feed powers Microsoft’s Zune software and allows would-be thief’s to retrieve applications just by reading the XML. MobileTechWorld suggests that using this method combined with the ChevronWP7 tool will result in a “piracy heaven”. Individual XAP packages are still protected from privacy using a separate solution and hackers have not yet cracked this. Microsoft also restricts the number of side-loaded applications by default to 10 apps but ChevronWP7 developer Rafael Rivera says a future version will disable the limit.
It will be interesting to see whether Microsoft sticks to verbal warnings or takes it one step further by banning users or disabling handsets.