You’ve seen the stats: Google’s Android is the best-selling smartphone platform, followed closely by Apple’s iOS. Microsoft’s Windows Phone is a distant follower, and RIM’s BlackBerry is fading away.

Don’t count Microsoft out so fast. The company enjoys several advantages that none of its competitors can challenge. Microsoft knows how to woo developers, including large ISVs and small startups. Microsoft understands enterprise IT. Windows runs on most desktops and notebooks.

Those are all true, but as our special report on the Microsoft tools ecosystem points out (see p. 30), that’s only part of the story. No company—none—has the breadth of tool partners that Microsoft offers through Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server.

Make no mistake: All three of what we consider the most promising smartphone platforms—Android, iOS and Windows Phone—have powerful IDEs that developers like. Android developers build software in Java using Eclipse; iOS developers program in Objective-C with Xcode; Windows developers of all stripes use Visual Studio and languages like C# and Visual Basic.

All three are powerful IDEs, and Eclipse in particular offers a fantastic range of add-ins, add-ons, plug-ins and integrations. But Visual Studio has them all beat.

Not only that, but the for-profit nature of Microsoft’s Visual Studio team lets the company embrace third-party providers in a way that the not-for-profit Eclipse Foundation can’t hope to match. (It doesn’t hurt that Microsoft’s Visual Studio and Windows teams report to the same shareholders, while the Eclipse Foundation, Oracle’s Java Community Process and Google’s Android Developers are three independent organizations.)

We predict that the mobile wars will gel into a three-horse race, at least when it comes to smartphones. (We don’t foresee any significant challenge to the iPad on the tablet front for some time; Microsoft isn’t going there, and Android lacks a clear message.)

• Android will sell more units, in large part due to the broad base of carriers and handset makers, which will drive prices low. And, of course, there’s a new Android phone appearing every week.

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