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New Windows Phone operating system coming Monday

Microsoft is ready to unveil the next version of its mobile operating system on Monday. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, CEO Steve Ballmer will take the stage to show off the next version of Windows Mobile.

Except this time, the OS will most likely have a new name – something along the lines of “Windows Phone 7.”

The rumored rebranding is no surprise – Microsoft has faced harsh criticism this past year as Windows Mobile lost popularity to Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android OS and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry line, which continued to win over consumers. But there may be more to the rebranding than simply getting away from the “Windows Mobile” name – the next mobile operating system could be completely different.

Reports on Friday suggested Windows Phone 7 – or whatever it’ll be called – will look a lot like the user interface of Microsoft’s Zune HD media player.

A new look may be key in the success of Windows Phone 7. In many ways, the OS being revealed Monday is Microsoft’s last hope in the smartphone market.

Windows Mobile 6, Microsoft’s last big refresh, was released way back in 2007 and Windows Mobile 6.1 came in 2008. Windows Mobile 6.5, largely seen as a holdover until Monday’s announcement, was released in October 2009 to horrible reviews.

Meanwhile, Microsoft lost significant market share in 2009. Though comScore said Windows Mobile was on 18 percent of smartphones by the end of the year, Gartner said not even 8 percent of new smartphones sold during the third quarter were running Microsoft’s OS.

It’s time for something new.

Microsoft’s news conference kicks off at 6 a.m. Pacific on Monday. Tune into The Microsoft Blog then and in the following hours for all the information you can handle.

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