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Tech Industry The inside story of how Microsoft killed its Courier tablet Microsoft's decision to cancel its innovative Courier tablet computer a year and a half ago reverberates today, as the software giant plots strategy to catch the market-leading iPad. He had two groups at Microsoft pursuing competing visions for tablet computers.
One group, led by Xbox godfather J Allard, was pushing for a sleek, two-screen tablet called the Courier that users controlled with their finger or a pen. But it had a problem: It was running a modified version of Windows. That ran headlong into the vision of tablet computing laid out by Steven Sinofsky, the head of Microsoft's Windows division.
Sinofsky was wary of any product--let alone one from inside Microsoft's walls--that threatened the foundation of Microsoft's flagship operating system. But Sinofsky's tablet-friendly version of Windows was more than two years away.
For Ballmer, it wasn't an easy call. Allard and Sinofsky were key executives at Microsoft, both tabbed as the next-generation brain trust.
So Ballmer sought The microsoft initiative 2 from the one tech visionary he's trusted more than any other over the decades--Bill Gates. Ballmer arranged for Microsoft's chairman and co-founder to meet for a few hours with Allard; his boss, Entertainment and Devices division President Robbie Bach; and two other Courier team members.
Concept photo of Microsoft's Courier tablet Gizmodo At one point during that meeting in early at Gates' waterfront offices in Kirkland, Wash. Allard, Microsoft's executive hipster charged with keeping tabs on computing trends, told Gates his team wasn't trying to build another e-mail experience.
He reasoned that everyone who had a Courier would also have a smartphone for quick e-mail writing and retrieval and a PC for more detailed exchanges. Courier users could get e-mail from the Web, Allard said, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
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.
As is his style in product reviews, Gates pressed Allard, challenging the logic of the approach. It's not hard to understand Gates' response.
Microsoft makes billions of dollars every year on its Exchange e-mail server software and its Outlook e-mail application. While heated debates are common in Microsoft's development process, Gates' concerns didn't bode well for Courier.
He conveyed his opinions to Ballmer, who was gathering data from others at the company as well. Betting on Windows 8 Two rising Microsoft executives differed on the company's vision for tablet computing. Within a few weeks, Courier was cancelled because the product didn't clearly align with the company's Windows and Office franchises, according to sources.
A few months after that, both Allard and Bach announced plans to leave Microsoft, though both executives have said their decisions to move on were unrelated to the Courier cancellation. The story of Microsoft's Courier has only been told in pieces. And nothing has been disclosed publicly about the infighting that led to the innovative device's death.
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