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Microsoft Courier
Internal strife, tradition sunk Microsoft's would be iPad competitor

CNET's Jay Greene has a fascinating tale regarding the dual-screen "Courier" tablet concept, which according to his piece was almost launched by Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) in early 2010 as an iPad competitor.  Instead Microsoft killed the tablet concept and the executives who designed it jumped ship.

According to Mr. Greene, like the late Steve Jobs did with the original iPhone design, Steve Ballmer had two internal teams who offered competing visions of the perfect tablet way back pre-iPad in 2009.  Windows President Steven Sinofsky wanted a full-fledged Windows tablet.  But former web guru and Xbox creator J. Allard wanted a more artistic tablet that ran a modified version of Windows and eschewed Windows staples for creative software.

Mr. Sinofsky reportedly hated the idea of modifying Windows and dumping core products like Exchange Server/Outlook and Microsoft Office from the experience.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates was brought in to mediate the dispute.  In a meeting with two Courier team members, J. Allard, and his boss, Entertainment and Devices division President Robbie Bach, Mr. Gates essentially sided with Mr. Sinofsky.  When shown that the prototype lacked a built in email client, a Courier team member recalls, "This is where Bill had an allergic reaction."

To preserve its core products, Microsoft sacrificed the Courier concept, killing it just weeks later.  In doing so it put itself in a deep hole.  According to Courier team members, the 130+ team had several finished prototypes and could have brought the device to market in mid-2010 with a bit of extra manpower.  Instead Microsoft opted to wait until Windows 8 arrived -- nearly two and a half years later -- for its tablet push.  As a result, Microsoft got its wish for a "Windows" like tablet that market researchers indicate that many crave, but at the cost of falling far behind in the market.

In a sense the article argues J. Allard was fighting tradition.  He used Apple, Inc. (AAPL) products -- a taboo at Microsoft.  He obsessed about design.  In fact, his "Courier" aimed to be the "digital Moleskine" -- leather bound notebooks beloved by designers.  At the cost of $24M+ USD, according to the report, Mr. Allard's teams created outside the box prototypes which "expressed the free flow of ideas", according to a commemorative book.  

Microsoft brought in third party device manufacturers to help with building prototypes.  Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KS:005930) (who would eventually turn to Android tablets) reportedly helped with this task.  A Microsoft executive reports, "J (was) incubating with his tribe, very much thinking consumer and very much thinking the next few years.  He was trying to disrupt Microsoft, which hasn't been good at consumer products."

In the end Microsoft opted to go with the route of tradition rather than novelty.  After the Courier was killed Mr. Allard and his boss Mr. Bach made the mutual decision to quit Microsoft, taking a retirement.  In his going away email, the now-famous "Decide. Change. Reinvent." memo, Mr. Allard challenged Microsofters to get more creative, as his team had.

While Mr. Greene's piece takes a very critical look at the death of the Courier, it does seem relatively accurate.  It compiles many bits and pieces that were known from various places.  Microsoft disputes certain aspects of it, like Courier being months away from being sellable.  But it doesn't dispute the report as a whole.

That said, the report also misses a bit that Microsoft has since opted to partially go the creative route.  While it is deploying a full-fledged Windows to its upcoming tablets, it's bundling the slick Metro UI with it.  Colorful, intuitive, and stylish Metro UI Windows 8 is the kind of product that J. Allard would have loved.  In fact, he and Mr. Bach had a hand in designing the original Metro UI for the Zune MP3 players.  In that sense, one thing Mr. Greene missed (of course this was only his first of two pieces), was the fact that while Courier was killed, its legacy lives on in Windows 8.

Source: CNET

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Why Kill It?
By lightfoot on 11/3/2011 11:45:41 AM , Rating: 5
When shown that the prototype lacked a built in email client, a Courier team member recalls, "This is where Bill had an allergic reaction."

No email client would definitely have been a deal breaker for me. But the question remains: Why kill Courier and not simply add an email client?

RE: Why Kill It?
By ChronoReverse on 11/3/2011 12:21:31 PM , Rating: 3
It seems to me there was a clash of egos here.

I'm reading between the lines a bit but it seems to me that J. Allard's design precluded including an email client out of design and he didn't want it to be.

RE: Why Kill It?
By someguy123 on 11/3/2011 4:31:13 PM , Rating: 2
Indeed. Honestly, with the way he describes it as an "art device", and the way he dumped a lot of what they considered core software, it sounded like the concept builds were all style zero function.

Also, being a dual screen tablet, that sounds like a tough sale if you're interested in keeping the screen quality and performance up to par. Single screen tablets nowadays are already hundreds of dollars. Something like this would demand a very high price and the market would likely be limited to business until the costs came down.

RE: Why Kill It?
By mcnabney on 11/3/2011 5:45:11 PM , Rating: 4
Two small screens cost less than one big screen. It also provides more options for power savings based upon functionality.

Plus, the thing folds in half for easier storage and actual protection from screen scratches. Could likely take a drop better too.

RE: Why Kill It?
By someguy123 on 11/3/2011 6:24:57 PM , Rating: 2
They look like fullsized screens to me in the concepts. Two smaller screens wouldn't necessarily be cheaper unless they were quite a bit smaller compared to the single, larger screen. The folding would be interesting, but it's not like these glass screens scratch easily. I find the backplates are always covered with scratches, while the glass stays clear...except for my fingerprints.

RE: Why Kill It?
By Mitch101 on 11/3/2011 5:52:18 PM , Rating: 2
Its more than Outlook its the Office suite. That's Corporate adoption suicide when trying to compete with products like the iPad! We have a number of iPads where I work and the number one thing they want is Microsoft Office its why two other surveys recently shows 42% and 46% of consumers want a Windows Tablet. Its one of the main reasons I own a Windows Phone.

Consumer side ask anyone what they do with their tablets and read their e-mail is one of the first three things people say.

It goes to show you how out of the loop of what people use their tablets for that he even imagined to leave it out.

RE: Why Kill It?
By mcnabney on 11/3/2011 10:05:14 PM , Rating: 2
When you get out of the 20th century you might discover this thing the rest of us are using called webmail...

/and Outlook has a webmail flavor too

RE: Why Kill It?
By fteoath64 on 11/5/2011 3:47:18 AM , Rating: 2
True that Webmail was a good alternative even in the enterprise space. A native client can certainly be built later, but was not the priority as the usability and artistic aspects were far more important on the Courier. This is one point in history where a big company like MS could not even take a chance to create a division that does something different and innovative in the market. It would have turned the tablet market in a different direction as Apple and Google nudges ahead.

This shows "older" less creative minds just cannot cut it in terms of getting innovation off the ground. They were constrained by the legacy of Windows, Win-Mo etc. Hardware wise, the Courier might have cost more compared to a standard tablet, but its capabilities would be very useful for a lot of industries and the public in general. I am surprised that there are no real clones of the courier to date.

RE: Why Kill It?
By robinthakur on 11/7/2011 5:22:36 AM , Rating: 2
Well, yes you can get it to work if you are the patient type and like clicking on tiny icons and logging in constantly. The native client for mail/calendar on iPad/iPhone is billions of times superior to the webmail option and everybody I've set it up for here at work is really grateful they no longer have to login and that it works so surprisingly well!

RE: Why Kill It?
By NellyFromMA on 11/3/2011 12:57:03 PM , Rating: 2
I second this. I don't understand why adding an email client was not a possibility?

RE: Why Kill It?
By mcnabney on 11/3/2011 3:10:35 PM , Rating: 2
Uhm, you do know that WINDOWS 7 DOESN'T HAVE A FLIPPING EMAIL CLIENT , right?

RE: Why Kill It?
By Mitch101 on 11/3/2011 3:51:25 PM , Rating: 2
It doesn't ship with one but as a Vista or Win 7 owner your entitled to the Live Essentials just check the box and download a number of great free apps. I suspect they do this to avoid legal issues of shipping it with the product on the disc.

Windows Live Essentials 2011

Windows Live Mail 2011

Windows Live Mail is a great alternative to Outlook, if you aren't already running Microsoft Office. Mail comes with a load of options, even some features that Outlook 2010 doesn't have. You can manage, send, receive and even share photo albums and videos from Windows Live Mail to family and friends around the globe. Mail comes with all the basic features you need to manage your daily emails.

RE: Why Kill It?
By mcnabney on 11/3/2011 5:22:32 PM , Rating: 2
My point was that it didn't COME with one. It has to be added. And guess what, it is just as easy to add Thunderbird.

My point was that Bill + idiots demanded an email client when their brand new desktop OS didn't come with one installed either. As Forest says - Stupid is as stupid does.

/and MS wonders why their stock price hasn't recovered

RE: Why Kill It?
By Mitch101 on 11/3/2011 6:03:42 PM , Rating: 2
It doesn't come shipped with one but it does include the link in the OS to load it.
Choose Start?Getting Started?Get Windows Live Essentials.

Its probably as close to being packaged with one without putting it on the disc as you can get.

RE: Why Kill It?
By someguy123 on 11/3/2011 6:26:24 PM , Rating: 2
They can't include it because of antitrust lawsuits.

Same reason why they have a browser ballot in the EU. If they could include it, they would, which they used to....before the whole monopoly problem.

RE: Why Kill It?
By borismkv on 11/3/2011 6:33:32 PM , Rating: 3
No Windows version has an Exchange capable mail client. The fact that the design for this table had no support for Exchange (while every Windows Mobile device for the past several years has had it built it) is a major problem for anyone looking at it with the smallest amount of logic.

RE: Why Kill It?
By borismkv on 11/3/2011 6:35:03 PM , Rating: 2
Windows Live Mail is a terrible alternative to Outlook unless you only want POP3/IMAP connectivity. You can't connect it to an Exchange server, which makes it useless in most corporate environments.

RE: Why Kill It?
By someguy123 on 11/3/2011 4:24:24 PM , Rating: 2
Not sure why you're blowing a gasket. The comment was made by Bill Gates. I don't know why, but for some reason I think he had influence over windows.

it isn't a failure
By kleinma on 11/3/2011 11:50:10 AM , Rating: 2
I don't see killing off the product before release as a failure (unlike lets say the HP touchpad which clearly was a failure, even if that failure was based on HP killing it so early).

Every success and failure they had while developing the project will be useful when developing future products.

And lets face it, that thing with no email client would have been somewhat of a joke... People would have ripped it apart from not having such basic features one would expect from a device like that. Hardware makers can still make very similar devices to run Windows 8 on, esp if they make some nice custom metro apps to run on top of it.

RE: it isn't a failure
By luseferous on 11/3/2011 12:58:40 PM , Rating: 2
And lets face it, that thing with no email client would have been somewhat of a joke...

If it was aimed at business I would agree but for most people gmail, hotmail etc are ample.

On a bit of a tangent I'm not sold on metro at all. To me it looks like sidebar+ and will probably like the sidebar be deactivated as soon as I find the option.

RE: it isn't a failure
By drycrust3 on 11/3/2011 3:34:24 PM , Rating: 2
If your email supplier has a web interface, e.g. hotmail, gmail, etc, then you don't need to have an email application, you just use the browser. This also has the advantage that you aren't using your own permanent memory (e.g. HDD) to store them. I believe some browsers, e.g. Opera, have email capability built in too.
I can see the idea of a Microsoft OS without having Microsoft Office capability would have an anathema to Bill Gates and co, but that is exactly what Android and iOS don't have.
As I see it, Windows 8 might well be the last OS that Microsoft release for the regular PC and laptop market.

RE: it isn't a failure
By mcnabney on 11/3/2011 5:29:07 PM , Rating: 2
You didn't even mention the two best reasons for webmail.

Very accurate and up to date spam filtering

Much more difficult to get infected by a virus or malware when your computer isn't handling the bad email directly.

RE: it isn't a failure
By Zoomer on 11/5/2011 1:22:07 AM , Rating: 2
Spam filtering on gmail is a joke; I just disable it when it catches tons of false positives. Think many a day.
You must be doing something wrong to get infected with malware.
Search is slow.
Filtering capabilities are laughable.

RE: it isn't a failure
By ertomas on 11/3/2011 5:32:42 PM , Rating: 2
Blackberry Playbook is "the first professional grade tablet" and it doesn't have an email client...

By Denigrate on 11/3/2011 10:57:48 AM , Rating: 4
I was very excited when the Courier concept was announced, and nearly crushed when they killed it. Too bad people get stuck in a rut and refuse to break out of their pre-defined boxes.

Should have combined the concepts.
By Articuno on 11/3/2011 11:00:46 AM , Rating: 2
Why didn't they just put Windows, or a slightly modified version of it, on Allard's version of the Courier? They made XP Tablet Edition, after all.

By Aries1470 on 11/6/2011 8:37:14 AM , Rating: 2
Hi Articuno,
Well, lets see.. I can give it my best shot, and for the benefit of others too...
It was based on Tegra. Tegra means nVidia, of which more specifially means... ARM.
MS only system for ARM is, wait... WinMo & WM7 at the moment.

That would not have done it justice.

They would have needed to either:
A: Wait for W8 that will be compatable with ARM
B: Have a phone OS installed
C: Use a different kernal

Well... I hope that clears things up, they would have had to wait some time, or write a huge chunk of code to make their own version of exchange for their platform, when the group for MS W8 was still a little way off.

Just my 2c anyway.

p.s. I don't like much the Metro. Especially if you don't have a touch screen. At least you can get the plain W7 interface ;-)

By EBH on 11/3/2011 7:32:52 PM , Rating: 3
He used Apple, Inc. (AAPL) products -- a taboo at Microsoft.

I beg to differ on the taboo statement. For all the years I have worked at Microsoft, I have seen plenty instances of employees using Mac hardware.

Hardware compat and Applciation compat teams often do testing on macs.
Alot have an I phone and macbook on their desks in their offices.

I have yet to see someone speak up about mac hardware on campus.

So um yeh he used it, but um taboo is wishfull thinking.

Absolutely the right decision
By ChronoReverse on 11/3/2011 11:01:12 AM , Rating: 2
The industry (also other industries for that matter) is a graveyard full of husks of ideas pushed to market because people would say "I'd totally buy that" and then don't.

In reality, these neat things cost a lot to develop and to sell which makes those same eager people balk when the product actually appears.

Can't say I blame Gates
By Valahano on 11/3/2011 11:35:13 AM , Rating: 2
I can't say I blame Gates. The tablet was creative, innovative, etc. But was there anything else? Could it work in practice for the masses? I don't believe it was anywhere close to mass production.

Anyway, I'm looking for Windows 8 tablets to hit the market.

By AerieC on 11/3/2011 1:03:58 PM , Rating: 2
I thought this was going to be about the font...

"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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