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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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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.


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