If you can't beat 'em, go fight someone else.

That's what Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) is doing with its upcoming Windows Phone 7 operating system. Catching up to the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android platforms in one fell swoop is hard enough for mobile specialist Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM), and Palm basically died fighting the good fight -- and that was back when iPhone and Android were still sort of immature. So it makes sense for Mr. Softy to try a different tack with its upcoming mobile flavor of Windows.

The secret sauce? Gaming. Your Windows Phone 7 phone will connect to Microsoft's popular Xbox Live network for a social, connected, and presumably amazing gaming experience.

Games will be downloaded over the air -- though a Wi-Fi connection will probably make for a more pleasant process, especially if you get your Windows phone from AT&T (NYSE: T) -- and then be fully playable on your shiny new gadget. The games are coming in from many popular publishers including Microsoft's own gaming division, THQ Interactive (Nasdaq: THQI), and Glu Mobile. Titles range from Bejeweled to Guitar Hero 5, with a taste of everything from casual simplicity to immersive 3-D worlds.

So it looks like Microsoft is ready to milk its Xbox brand for whatever street cred it's worth in order to get a leg up on the mobile market. In effect, your phone becomes a miniature Xbox, controlled by gentle multi-touch taps on your screen.

If that's a major selling point around which Microsoft plans its marketing strategy, Windows Phone 7 could end up in a market niche all by itself, somewhere between handheld video games and high-end smartphones. Some would call it a risk and others an opportunity; me, I don't really believe that Big Bad Redmond would be happy in such a specialized role.

The Windows Phone 7 platform may fracture into business and gaming versions before it even hits store shelves. Fragmentation is a major knock against Android -- will Microsoft catch flak from the same verbal grenades?

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Google and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor choice. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.