Windows Mobile 6.5 has been leaked and floating around the interwebs for a while already (months?). However, since the initial ported versions weren't stable enough and no official devices had been released with it, I didn't have any first hand experience to report about.
With the HTC Rhodium around the corner (a wm6.5 successor to the HTC Touch Pro), it appears that the gurus at XDA-developers.com and ppcgeeks.com have finally ported semi-stable editions of the new operating system for many current HTC devices.
I took the plunge (for the sake of science?) and tried a cooked up 6.5 OS on the HTC Touch Pro, and I must say- this is a big step in the right direction for Microsoft.
The new things I noticed that impressed me are as follows:
-Native kinetic scrolling works and is smooth - that is, you can now swipe your finger in just about any application and it will scroll as you'd expect it to (ala iPhone, Android, etc). Yes, we had this ability before with HTC's bio-touchflo and some available third party applications, however it was inconsistant and not very smooth (Some applications did it properly, others would scroll too fast, some too slow, some didn't work at all). Now, its integrated into the OS, and appears they've got it right.
-New today screen widget system "Titanium" - Sure, HTC had Manilla (TouchFlo3D), but it was a resource hog and not really well integrated into the system in my opinion (each tab on Manilla/TF3D may as well have been its own running application since you could only see what was on the screen at a time). Titanium is native, integrated into the OS, and TOTALLY CUSTOMIZABLE with a widget system Microsoft is implementing to create new plugins. One thing I didn't like about Manilla/TF3D on my Touch Pro is that I was missing my RSS feed and active tasks PIM displayed on the today screen. With Titanium, I could develop my own plugin (or hope someone else beats me to it).
(See image of Titanium + custom weather plugin already developed on right)
-Graphic Overhaul - In order to modernize the look of the OS, many of the system graphics and UI elements have been redesigned.
This includes system icons, the start menu, scroll bars, heck even the context menu windows are now larger, scrollable, and more finger friendly (see image on left).
Many haters out there are complaining that this is "nothing more than a skin atop WM6.1", just as 6.1 was to 6.0. The underlying workings of the OS haven't really changed much (although as I mentioned, it does seem snappier). However I think those people are missing the point.
Unlike certain other platforms (*cough* PALM *cough*), a entire overhaul of the system is NOT what is needed. That is, Windows Mobile is a completely competant, feature packed multi-tasking system that other platforms are still trying to catch up with (Notice how all of Apple's new feature announcements are things WM has always been able to do?). The only problem with it, is the interface. The UI is getting long in the tooth, especially compared to ground breaking new UIs on other platforms. A fresh new look is EXACTLY was Microsoft needs, and 6.5 (or at least the ported unofficial version I had the opportunity to play with), is a huge step in the right direction.
Sure, Windows 7 will have some nice new media integration and what not, but in my opinion Windows Mobile is doing just fine. It just hasn't been so pretty until now. Its still not going to win over an iPhone loyalists, but its enough that you shouldn't feel like you have to choose between a capable platform and a pretty one.