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How Microsoft Killed the Courier Tablet



Remember the Courier? Perhaps the single most exciting concept that many thought was going to come out of Microsoft since, well, since the original Tablet PC. OK, Tablet PC folk thought that about the original Tablet PC but many others didn’t. But the thinking was different for the Courier. When Gizmodo broke the story about the Courier it excited quite a few folks. The timing made the environment ripe for that kind of product excitement. Tablets as we know them today were still just a “unicorn” as many thought back then. The iPad wasn’t the iPad then.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Microsoft pulled the plug on the Courier. And of course the rest is history.

CNet’s Jay Greene has a very interesting post up called “The inside story of how Microsoft Killed it’s Courier Tablet” that delves into some of that history and as the title says purports to have some inside info on how the plug got pulled. It is well worth a read even if its conclusions aren’t all that startling for those who’ve followed Microsoft for any period of time.

According to the post, this came down to a battle between Microsoft’s bottom line counters. Under the leadership of J Allard the Courier was apparently not geared towards the same old same old at Microsoft, meaning that it didn’t run Windows or Office. The dual screen device was geared towards creative types and was being pushed as a new device category. Steve Ballmer had a choice to make between that approach and the Windows way, headed up by Steven Sinofsky. To try and get a handle on things, Ballmer brought Bill Gates back in to check things out and he apparently had “an allergic reaction” when told that Courier users would get email via the web instead of via Outlook.

That sealed Courier’s fate. Microsoft’s bottom line lives and dies on Windows, Office and the Enterprise. Apparently their wasn’t vision enough to see past that and the decision was reached to pull the plug a few weeks after the original iPad was launched.

According to Greene there were over 130 members on the Courier Team, which certainly means there were resources devoted to the vision of The Courier. Greene’s post goes into depth on some of the players and somewhat into the development of the device and the strategy behind it. Theoretically we should all be amazed if Microsoft didn’t devote these kind of resources to these kinds of products, even if they don’t make it to market. Question the motives, as we all do, but certainly it could be argued that Microsoft’s decision to stick with the bird in its hand rather than look at those in other bushes fits its history and corporate culture.

Greene promises a second post tomorrow with more info on the death of The Courier.

Anybody feeling like this might put even more pressure on Windows 8 Tablets next year?



  1. GTaylor

    11/01/2011 at 7:29 am

    Warner, the type thinking reported on in this article (At Cnet) is what many posters to your articles have been trying to highlight. Especially in the very good discussions you have held regarding how GBM should balance its coverage of the mobile environment.
    Yes many people are enthralled by the fun embodied in the way popular systems do things. But there are some people who can feel the productivity potential deferred by the marketers who are driving the gadget business. This device and the process which developed it embodies the (gadget) instinct of too small a minority of you readers. This is way too small a demographic for marketers to care about.
    The plan for using the Courier is best summed up with these quotes  from the article:

    “The Courier group wasn’t interested in replicating Windows on a tablet.
    The team wanted to create a new approach to computing. The metaphor they
    used was “digital Moleskine,” a nod to the leather-bound notebooks
    favored in the design world. In fact, according to a few team members, a
    small group led by Petschnigg flew to Milan, Italy, to pick the brains
    of the designers at Moleskine to understand how they’ve been able to
    create such loyal customers.”
    “Free Create is a simple statement that acts as a rallying cry, uniting
    the consumer’s core need and Courier’s core benefit,” reads a passage in
    an internal Microsoft book memorializing the Courier effort, reviewed
    by CNET, that was given to the team after the project was shuttered.
    “Free Create is a natural way to digitally write, sketch and gather
    inspiration by blending the familiarity of the pen, the intuition of
    touch, the simplicity of the book and the advantages of software and

    We can’t know if Courier could have done the job that we vaguely hope it would, but thanks Warner for keeping the discussion going.

  2. Anonymous

    11/01/2011 at 8:43 am

    It may be a small market, but so were tablets before the iPad changed the way people thought of a tablet.  This would have been a great tool for anyone in a creative field, a student, or a business traveler.  In the end, it is probably good that it didn’t come out when it was originally speculated it would; the technology wouldn’t have been able to make it perform the way it potentially could today.  
    I get them not wanting to hurt their bread and butter.  But in the end, that may not have been the correct approach regarding this project.  They could have had a totally new platform that could have lived alongside their bread and butter.  I may be in the minority, but I see this as a missed opportunity.  Especially considering all of the buzz around it.

  3. Sam P

    11/01/2011 at 11:01 am

    I think “killing” is the wrong word to use for something that was essentially a prototype of a concept, and not something that was actually intended to be a product. I haven’t reread the various articles about Courier, but my recollection is that the actual hardware was pretty much cobbled together from existing devices* and the important part is the software. At the minimum this would be a major application, though they probably were thinking of an entire application environment, which would be a major initiative on the order of Windows Mobile or Office.
    * IIRC, the project started by using 2 small slate Tablet PCs mounted on a board.

    • GTaylor

      11/01/2011 at 1:48 pm

      Yes Sam, read the article that Warner refers to. All will be revealed.

  4. Willem Evenhuis

    11/01/2011 at 3:17 pm

    Well on the one hand I do agree that some kind of cloud supported app would have been the way to go I suppose. I still prefer a preloaded app for those moments of lost conectivity, which still is an issue in Europe, but just like the real outlook, just one press of the send/recieve and everthing is uptodate, all data is synchronised and i can continue with my offline activities. But that reaction by Bill Gates should still not have been a deal breaker. If microsft is able to make an integreted software with email client and office hub for windows mobile, the team should certainly be able to fix a basic outlook app to run smoothly and with a great user experiences with touch and inking support.

  5. Maracine Robert

    11/02/2011 at 2:26 am

    Well I didn’t like the dualscreen on it from the start, too many unneeded engineering hurdles, I mean paper notebooks are like that to save paper , an electronic device with more that one screen is for the most part a gimmick.

      Windows 8 and Office are coming to ARM tablets, that’s all most people REQUIRE from a main PC, so if today’s cheap lightweight and ventless ARM tablets  get that, than it would as if they inherited Courrier’s legacy.

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