What happened to Microsoft's Courier tablet?

Microsoft's Courier tablet project generated a ton of press buzz after the web site Gizmodo broke the news about the product in 2009. However, the tablet device was canceled in 2010, before the release of Apple's iPad. What happened to this promising project? In the first of a two part feature at News.com, the history of the Courier is detailed, using unnamed current and former Microsoft team members as sources, and gives at least a partial explanation as to why Microsoft decided to shut down its development.

The Courier was the brainchild of J Allard, who helped to lead both Microsoft's successful Xbox business and later the not-as-successful Zune music player division. Courier was created in Microsoft's now shut down Pioneer Studios. The tablet had two 7 inch touch screens that supported both finger and stylus touch. The screen came in a case that opened and closed just like a book.

Allard decided that the Courier was going to use a modified version of Microsoft's Windows operating system. That may have been part of its downfall as the Windows division, lead by Steven Sinofsky, was working on Windows 8 at the same time. Sinofsky and his team had their own vision for a touch screen interface for tablets. Another problem with the Courier is that Allard didn't see the tablet as a replacement for a desktop or notebook PC but rather a complement to those products.

The article claims that in a meeting between Allard and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in 2010, Gates asked Allard how the Courier accessed email. Allard replied that the Courier wasn't designed to have an email client, saying that Courier users could get email from the Web. That apparently didn't sit well with Gates. Only a few weeks after that meeting the Courier project was shut down. Allard left Microsoft a few months later.

Image via Gizmodo

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23 Comments

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IMO they made the right call. While the Courier brought some interesting ideas to the table, they weren't strong enough to justify putting a stand-alone product into production. This does sound good for a Windows 8 app, though.

story about Gates not being happy with Courier's absence of email client seem way too stupid. not the reason to shutdown the project.
but Windows 8 plans and whole tablet strategy conflict is enough reason to shutdown the project, because even if Courier became successful (say, even more than iPad) it would mess up the partnership with OEMs. Also MS highly unlikely would change their Tablet PC strategy, making device "in-between" laptop and mobile, which would not help developers adapting the apps for another kind of device.
Windows 8 and the whole Metro UI design and consistency between desktop and mobile is a good idea, but I really hope they will design W8 to work on Courier-like devices as well. more so, in both book orientation and laptop-like orientation (also would help for laptops like Acer Iconia that already exists on the market). Then there you have it - just like you snap apps to the part of the screen in traditional tablets with current W8 preview, make it snap to a different screen either in portrait or landscape mode. add some planned Courier functionality via apps and everyone is happy.

Hope MS learns from Google in giving employees a chance to create and innovate. Though in terms of Business Policy, allowing them to think free or do what ever they want is waste of share holders interest, but Google successfully does it and thus brings out some amazing products out of this practice. Over all, at the end of the term, it actually proves beneficial to business also

This is a problem when companies get too big. Innovation dies before it makes it out the door. MS has some amazing people that come up with innovative ideas and products but we never see it due to their hierarchical structure. Funny that this was shown before the ipad, and look at how Apple has been branded an innovator for the ipad.

Would have been nice to see this one come to the light of day.

I can't say anything on the market comes close, but I hear there are few linux people that would like to make this happen.

Please don't repost trash from CNET, thanks.

That site has about the same credibility as a $5 hooker claiming she doesn't have STDs.

Allard didn't see the tablet as a replacement for a desktop or notebook PC but rather a complement to those products.

I can't say as I disagree with this. I think it works much better as a complement to a replacement...

FrostAM said,
I would have bought it, it looked amazing.

Me too. It was definitely an error in judgement dropping it. I mean, look at how many people would have gotten them in the arts or advertising fields alone... Or education...

You would think he would want email in. The video they showed made it seem like a business tablet. Email would tie right into it.

Mercuie said,
You would think he would want email in. The video they showed made it seem like a business tablet. Email would tie right into it.

Exactly. In fact, I'm pretty sure that in one of the videos a document that was made on the Courier was e-mailed directly TO someone... Sounds like the story is flawed...

M_Lyons10 said,

Exactly. In fact, I'm pretty sure that in one of the videos a document that was made on the Courier was e-mailed directly TO someone... Sounds like the story is flawed...

That is what I remember too; and for sure there was an address book.....

It's only being talked about because it was cancelled.
If it wasn't cancelled, the whole of the media would be going OMG MS sucks, it's going to be a massive flop etc.

Same with Nokia N9. Had they not switched to WP7 and released N9, everyone would be going about how noone cares about another ecosystem and where are the apps? Now that it's cancelled, it's the most amazing phone ever.

digger1985 said,
It's only being talked about because it was cancelled.
If it wasn't cancelled, the whole of the media would be going OMG MS sucks, it's going to be a massive flop etc.

Same with Nokia N9. Had they not switched to WP7 and released N9, everyone would be going about how noone cares about another ecosystem and where are the apps? Now that it's cancelled, it's the most amazing phone ever.

not really, the media was fawning over the courior tablet before it was cancelled... everyone wanted to see it made

neufuse said,

not really, the media was fawning over the courior tablet before it was cancelled... everyone wanted to see it made

+1. I still can't believe with the amount of interest this got that they dropped it.

How hard was going to be change the project and add an email client? Apparently hard enough to cancel the whole project!

daniel_rh said,
How hard was going to be change the project and add an email client? Apparently hard enough to cancel the whole project!

Maybe it was going to be like one of those Googlebooks where everything runs off the internets.

What happened was it was a research project? A lot of them don't see the light of day at Microsoft... they just end up as papers and prototypes that get absorbed by retail projects far later down the line.

It's a shame if Allard leaving was directly linked to the end of the project though - Microsoft could do with more guys like him spearheading different ideas.

~Johnny said,
What happened was it was a research project? A lot of them don't see the light of day at Microsoft... they just end up as papers and prototypes that get absorbed by retail projects far later down the line.

It's a shame if Allard leaving was directly linked to the end of the project though - Microsoft could do with more guys like him spearheading different ideas.

Actually the Courier was at least a "project in an advanced stage"; it was a development of a project called "Codex":

http://community.research.micr...crosoft-research-codex.aspx

Besides the dual screen concept what was really interesting was the way "things" were handled.
Regardless of the real stage the project was when it got killed there are no questions that rivalry among MS divisions played a role in its termination.
Another, potentially huge MS software that got prematurely killed was the "Small Business Accounting": a very promising competitor for QuickBooks that some people inside the company thought could undermine the relevance of the "Dynamics" accounting and CRM products and therefore killed.
I really miss it..........

Fritzly said,

Actually the Courier was at least a "project in an advanced stage"; it was a development of a project called "Codex":.

An advanced stage... in Allard's research groups - who were trying to pitch it to become an actual product, but never got that far. It's a shame that with all the money Microsoft has, they seem reluctant to risk a little to bring forward their internal innovation.

~Johnny said,

An advanced stage... in Allard's research groups - who were trying to pitch it to become an actual product, but never got that far. It's a shame that with all the money Microsoft has, they seem reluctant to risk a little to bring forward their internal innovation.

Very true indeed...........