Microsoft’s Courier: The Dream That Died…and Why

By  |  Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 9:53 am

Jay Greene of Cnet has an excellent story up–the first of a two-parter–on Microsoft’s Courier two-screen tablet, which got everyone excited with an animated demo, but was killed before it ever shipped:

But the device wasn’t intended to be a computer replacement; it was meant to complement PCs. Courier users wouldn’t want or need a feature-rich e-mail application such as Microsoft’s Outlook that lets them switch to conversation views in their inbox or support offline e-mail reading and writing. The key to Courier, Allard’s team argued, was its focus on content creation. Courier was for the creative set, a gadget on which architects might begin to sketch building plans, or writers might begin to draft documents.

The Courier was a wonderful concept product, but I’m not convinced it’s a tragedy that Microsoft axed it, for three reasons:

1) It’s a heck of a lot easier to make a product impressive in a conceptual demo than in real life.

2) Like the Tablet PC, the Courier was heavily invested in the idea that lots of people want to take notes using a stylus and store them in their own handwriting. I’m convinced that very few folks actually want to do that.

3) It behooved Microsoft to identify the one most promising future path for Windows–which turned out to be Windows 8–and then pursue it as aggressively as possible. (And I don’t see why Windows 8 couldn’t be used as the basis of a Courier-like device.)

Still, it would have been fun to see the Courier in that demo in real life. Maybe the most important lesson is this: DON’T LEAK DEMOS OF PRODUCTS YOU AREN’T WILLING TO SELL.

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9 Comments For This Post

  1. Vulpine Says:

    Personally, I think Microsoft underestimated what a tablet could and should be; the idea of it as a PC complementary device is exactly where tablets are today and honestly where they should belong until we can decrease the size of most system components more while simultaneously increasing their power. Quite honestly the iPad isn't that much more than what the Courier might have been and that's really only in the OS and software available.

    I think a Courier could have had a huge advantage over the iPad by offering a close-able, self-protecting device that could even offer two-window (in the manner of dual displays on PCs) multitasking capability. In other words, I believe Microsoft screwed up by canceling something that would have truly competed against the iPad.

  2. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Also, MS isn't really a H/W company.

  3. vulpine Says:

    Tell that to the xBox users, heraclitus. If MS can make an xBox, they can make the Courier. I, personally, think they screwed up by not following through.

  4. The_Heraclitus Says:

    As a % of their business model, X-box is nothing. Whether they screwed up or not, by not going ahead is irrelevant to what the companies model is…

    Emotions of some gamer's has nothing to do with business reality.

  5. Vulpine Says:

    Gamers' feelings aside, the simple fact is that the xBox is a success for Microsoft through the games themselves if not the consoles; don't you think that's the same kind of system Apple is using with the iPad?
    As I said, if Microsoft can make the xBox, they can make the Courier.

  6. RichyS Says:

    The Courier was pure vapourware. To pretend otherwise would be foolish.

  7. Vulpine Says:

    Pure? No. Microsoft thought it could steal the show by announcing the Courier and showing their work on it early. What really happened is that Apple, as usual, blew them away by making a pad that did far more than anyone expected. Rather than adjust their own plans, Microsoft simply gave up and went back to their old paradigm, despite the ten years of failure.

  8. The_Heraclitus Says:

    10 years of failure as an OS, micro computer app company?

    Better check those worldwide O/S installed % numbers again Slim.


  9. Vulpine Says:

    Ok there, demigod wannabe, please give me exact numbers on how many tablets sold with Windows on them between 2001 and 2011–then give me the exact numbers on how many tablets sold with iOS on them in 2010 alone and tell me which one was the real success, hmmm?

    This article has not, I repeat NOT been about all computers in general, but only Courier and the tablet format. Trying to bring in anything else is a mere cheap attempt to divert the conversation and twist known facts.