There’s no ignoring the Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system: According to market researcher IDC, the Windows OS system for smartphones will surpass the popular iPhone iOS by the year 2015. The recent report predicts Microsoft’s mobile OS will account for 20.9 percent of the smartphone OS market, compared with 15.3 percent for Apple’s iPhone.

Part of the reason for this projected growth is the just-announced strategic alliance between Nokia and Microsoft, a partnership to compete with rivals like Apple, Google and Research in Motion. Certainly, more small-to-midsized businesses will consider deploying Windows Phone 7 devices to on-the-go employees. After all, there are many options for carriers, manufacturers, prices and form factors.

But will IT professionals like you feel that this OS is worthy? Is it secure enough for your company?

The Windows Phone 7: A Small-business Tool

Market analysts say you should weigh a number of factors when considering the viability of Windows Phone 7 right now for your organization.

“Security should always be top priority, and Windows Phone 7 does have the minimum security requirements, such as the ability to securely connect to Microsoft Exchange,” says Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at the Gartner research and consulting group. “Of course, it depends on the policies in place, but these smartphones include features such as strong password support and the ability to wipe the device if it’s lost or stolen.”

The partnership with Nokia will have a real impact, says Tim Doherty, a research analyst for IDC in Framingham, Mass.: “Aside from the fact that Nokia makes very nice hardware, they have the scale and brand strength outside the United States to quickly and efficiently raise the footprint of Windows Phone 7 devices.”

Your company may want to take advantage of the relatively aggressive pricing on the hardware as Microsoft attempts to grow its market share. “With some Windows Phone 7 smartphones selling for $49, it’s a bargain,” says Dulaney.

Windows Phone 7: Familiar Apps, Limited Selection

Windows Phone 7 is a Windows phone, after all, so your end users will find familiar apps, such as Outlook and Windows Live services, Internet Explorer (Web browsing), Bing search and maps, and even pocket editions of Microsoft Word (word processing), Excel (spreadsheets), PowerPoint (presentations), SharePoint and OneNote.

However, Windows Phone 7 falls short when it comes to selection. You’ll find approximately 11,500 applications available at the Windows Marketplace, says Microsoft – compared with roughly 400,000 at Apple’s App Store, 200,000 at the Android Market and about 25,000 for BlackBerry App World.

Windows Phone 7: A Step Backward?

The lack of Windows Phone 7 apps might not be the biggest obstacle for the Redmond, Wash., tech giant. “There are those who were disappointed with Windows Mobile, and they might not want to take another risk with Windows Phone 7,” says Delaney. “Plus, people already have iPhone, BlackBerry and Android, so Microsoft has a hurdle in getting people to switch and winning back their trust.”

The current Windows Phone 7 platform also has a ways to go. “Its functionality is where the iPhone 2 is. Windows Phone 7 devices can’t copy and paste, and apps can’t be put into folders,” says Delaney. “In other words, people are understandably reluctant to go backward.”

Clearly, Microsoft is seeing the smartphone race as a marathon and not a sprint, and the company will continue to evolve and improve Windows Phone 7 for both consumers and businesses alike. “The Windows brand is strong among businesses,” says Doherty. “But Microsoft just hasn’t gotten mobility right yet. They have a chance to now.”