Why Microsoft Killed Courier: The Cliffs Notes Version
November 3, 2011 10:47 AM
Internal strife, tradition sunk Microsoft's would be iPad competitor
Jay Greene has a
regarding the dual-screen "Courier" tablet concept, which according to his piece was
launched by Microsoft Corp. (
) 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
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. (
) 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. (
) (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
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.
“So far we have not seen a single Android device that does not infringe on our patents." -- Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith
Microsoft Shows Off Metro-themed Windows 8 for Tablets
June 1, 2011, 8:18 PM
Report: Microsoft's Courier Team Disbanded
May 20, 2011, 10:01 AM
Confirmed: Robbie Bach, J. Allard Leaving Microsoft
May 25, 2010, 12:25 PM
Microsoft Kills Courier Dual-screen Tablet Project
April 29, 2010, 4:40 PM
Tegra-Powered Microsoft Courier to Wage War With iPad Late This Year
March 8, 2010, 9:10 AM
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