NEWS ANALYSIS: Microsoft made an executive decision to kill its innovative Courier tablet project. It might have been a good move.
Microsoft have kept its Courier tablet project alive?
In April 2010,
Microsoft announced its decision to kill the in-development project, which
involved two touch-screens bound together along a central hinge. The book-style
device would have offered users the ability to write notes or draw longhand,
potentially attracting architects, designers and other creative types.
Courier project was J Allard, who had shepherded the Xbox into production.
According to CNET's Jay Greene, who interviewed a number of
unnamed company executives with knowledge of the company's tablet
deliberations, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer decided to eliminate Courier after a
review that included input from Bill Gates.
At the heart
of the decision to terminate Courier with extreme prejudice: The device wasn't
intended to run Exchange or Outlook, instead pulling down email via the browser.
"The device wasn't intended to be a computer replacement," Greene wrote. "The
key to Courier, Allard's team argued, was its focus on content creation."
according to an unnamed Courier worker quoted in the article, had an "allergic
reaction" to the concept. After all, Microsoft has grown on the concept of
supplying an integrated ecosystem of software products, portable across a wide
variety of form factors. Something that operates outside that matrix, well, is
according to Greene's sources, "Courier was cancelled because the product
didn't clearly align with the company's Windows and Office franchises." By that
point, the project had evolved into several prototypes, but still faced
significant technological hurdles.
Microsoft decided to bet on Windows 8 and its dual focus on both tablets and
traditional PCs. The upcoming operating system, due sometime in 2012, includes
a start screen loaded with colorful tiles linked to applications, the better to
manipulate with fingers. It also allows users to quickly switch to a "regular"
desktop interface. In tablet mode, it will presumably play well with Office and
other Microsoft legacy applications.
8, Microsoft desires a hit in the mode of Windows 7, something that will sell
hundreds of millions of licenses, hydrating the company's bottom line for years
into the future. Courier seemed unlikely to achieve those sorts of numbers,
with functionality that cast it as more of a niche offering. Nonetheless,
should Microsoft have let Courier survive in a more limited capacity, perhaps
as a piece of hardware aimed at the "creative" market?
not a company seeking niche markets. Ballmer has referred to Microsoft as a perpetual seeker of
"high volume." Niche products cannot support the company's gargantuan
efforts (and equally gargantuan cash-burn) in search, the cloud, gaming,
productivity and other areas. For that reason alone, a project like Courier
would appear D.O.A.
Had it reached
completion and launched, Courier would have complicated Microsoft's attempts to
link tablets with Windows, thanks to its apparent lack of compatibility with
the company's legacy software. With its modified operating system, it could
have confused Microsoft's attempts to sell the story of Windows 8. And it might
not have sold in sufficient volume to battle Apple's iPad on its own terms. For
those reasons, Microsoft felt justified in smothering the innovative tablet in
Follow Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.