I’m not intending to turn this blog into one-man’s-attempt-to-reverse-microsoft’s-fortunes-in-the-mobile-sector but it’s kind of inevitable that a few blog posts will follow my recent purchase of a Windows Phone.
This one is about unlocking my phone to install non-sanctioned apps – either those that are not in an app store yet, or that are written by myself (maybe, one day).
Some people may recall that Rafael Rivera, Chris Walsh and Long Zheng developed a Windows Phone unlock (ChevronWP7) soon after the platform was launched. Microsoft wasn’t amused but, cleverly, instead of outlawing them in a never-ending game of cat and mouse as Apple has with iOS “jailbreakers”, they brought the guys in from the cold and worked with them to ensure that their unofficial unlock tools for hobbyist developers use officially supported methods that do not encourage piracy.
The relaunched ChevronWP7 is the result of that process and, a few days ago (after some teething troubles last month), it was opened up again. For $9 I purchased a code that then unlocks my phone and allows me to deploy applications directly to the device (instead of the $99 it costs via Microsoft) – although I’m not really sure why the app I needed (a screen capture utility described by both Long Zheng and Paul Thurrott) isn’t either a native operating system function (actually, I do know that answer – and it’s related to DRM) or available via the Windows Phone Marketplace.
So, what was involved in unlocking my phone? And what’s the risk?
The ChevronWP7 site says:
“We believe Windows Phone development should be accessible to anyone. We are providing a Windows Phone developer unlocking service to developers across all skill levels and regions for just $9 USD per phone.”
On that basis, it’s pretty simple, for someone who is happy installing software on a Windows PC (i.e. a developer or an IT professional working with Microsoft tools). This is what I did…
I headed over to the ChevronWP7 Labs and signed in with a Windows Live ID.
Once signed in, I downloaded the appropriate version of the unlock tool (32- and 64-bit versions are available – I used the 64-bit version).
The unlock tool has a number of pre-requisites but the only one listed on the site when I downloaded it was the Microsoft .NET Framework 4 (with a link to the full version). I checked that I have this and found that I had at least a version of it (I’m not familiar with the difference between the client and full versions but both following the instructions in Microsoft knowledge base article 318785 and checking %windir%\Microsoft.NET\Framework and Framework64 showed me that I had the v4.0.30319 client installed).
Before I could successfully run the unlock tool (
ChevronLabs.Unlock.exe), I needed to install some other dependencies – the first of which, not surprisingly, was the Windows Phone SDK 7.1. Although this has a small web installer, it actually downloaded and installed 648MB of applications and data to my system before requiring a restart.
The next missing dependency highlighted by the ChevronWP7 unlock tool was the Windows Phone Support Tool v2, as detailed in Microsoft knowledge base article 2530409 (again, there are 32- and 64-bit versions available – the Microsoft Download Center links are in the knowledge base article).
With all dependencies installed, I ran the unlock tool again to confirm that my phone could actually be unlocked (some can’t, my Nokia Lumia 800 could). I then purchased a token from the ChevronWP7 Labs site and pasted the code into the unlock tool before hitting the Unlock button. My PIN kept getting in the way and I had to reboot the phone and retry the process at least once but eventually I found myself in a queue of devices waiting to be unlocked.
After about 10-15 minutes I was presented with an unassuming Windows dialog that said something like “Your phone has been unlocked. Hooray!” and the unlock tool status changed to “Phone Unlocked”.
Was that all? After all those downloads and queuing the unlock process was really fast. The ChevronWP7 guys have done a really good job at providing an unlocking service that’s simple to use.
As for the risk of unlocking, in theory it’s small – you can lock it again (indeed that’s necessary to publish apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace, via Microsoft’s App Hub) and, because the tool uses methods that are sanctioned by Microsoft (i.e. Microsoft’s own tools), it shouldn’t brick your phone either. Having said that, I’m not responsible for any action that any readers take as a result of reading this blog post, including, but not limited to, “bricked” phones…