Five tips for unlocking your Windows Phone 7 device

Whether you want to test your own apps, install homebrew apps, or get a look at Mango, there are potential benefits to unlocking your WP7 device.

For IT pros, it's only natural to want to tinker with that Windows Phone 7 device. Although Microsoft has the devices locked down to prevent users from tampering, it's possible to unlock it. Here are five tips for getting your phone unlocked.


Before I get started, I need to get the disclaimer out of the way. There are risks involved in unlocking your phone. Doing so could potentially void the warranty, and if you happen to lose power during the unlocking process, you might turn your phone into a brick. With that said, let's get started.

1: Become a registered developer

As a rule, Microsoft allows only registered developers to unlock their phones. The good news is that you can become a registered developer and unlock your phone even if you have never written a single line of code. The bad news is that becoming a registered developer will cost you about a hundred bucks.

To become a registered developer, you must first create an account on Microsoft's App Hub. Once you have created an App Hub account, you will need a copy of the Windows Phone SDK. At the time of this writing, the SDK was in beta testing, but you can download Beta 2 here. Finally, you will need a copy of the Zune software, which should have been installed automatically the first time you connected your phone to your PC. I will talk more about the Zune software later on.

Once you have created an App Hub account and installed the necessary software, it is simple to unlock your phone. All you need to do is open the Windows Phone Developer Registration utility (which is included with the Windows Phone SDK) and then enter your Windows Live ID and password. The instructions are available on MSDN.

Some people have complained that the MSDN instructions are inadequate and misleading (although I didn't have any trouble using them). In response, Microsoft published a clarification.

2: Make sure that you have the right version of the Zune software

If you unlock your phone using the method discussed above, you will need to make sure that you have the Zune software installed on your PC. However, you must make sure that the Zune software is the correct version. Currently, this is the required version.

My recommendation is to not only install this version of the Zune software, but also to save a copy. That's because one of the main reasons for unlocking your phone is to install the Beta 2 release of Mango (Windows Phone 7.1). Once Mango has been installed, the Zune software will no longer work. You have to download and install a beta version of the Zune software to use with Mango.

So if you ever need to revert to the original version of Windows Phone 7, you won't be able to do it with the Zune beta software (at least not at the time this was written). You have to uninstall the Zune software, install the version of the software I linked to above, and then restore the backup of your device.

3: Go back to school

You don't have to be a professional developer to unlock your Windows Phone 7 device. Microsoft allows students to unlock their phones for free. The catch is that you must have an email address ending in .edu. This article offers instructions for students.

4: Wait for Chevron

When Windows Phone 7 was first released, someone created a utility called Chevron that could unlock the device without the need for a developer account. Microsoft promptly took action, and using Chevron to unlock your phone is no longer an option. However, the story does not end there.

The developers of the Chevron utility have worked out a deal with Microsoft that will allow you to purchase an unlock utility for about 10 dollars (as opposed to the hundred dollars needed to register a developer account). Unfortunately, the utility isn't available yet, and it can't be used to submit applications to the Windows Marketplace.

5: Don't expect a miracle

Unlocking a Windows Phone device only enables you to install beta operating systems and to install homebrew applications or applications that you have developed yourself. Unlocking the device does nothing to expose the file system, registry, etc. Furthermore, Microsoft has included new "security features" in Mango that break many of the homebrew applications.

Bonus tip: You don't have to unlock your device

If your only reason for unlocking your device is to get a copy of Mango, you don't actually have to unlock your phone. Some of the hacker Web sites provide instructions for deploying Mango to a locked phone. In fact, that was how I put Mango onto my own phone before I got an App Hub account. This article explains the method I used. Although this technique worked for me, you must be extremely careful to follow the instructions EXACTLY or you can turn your phone into a brick.