The True Story of the Microsoft Courier's Tragic Death

The Microsoft Courier died an unfortunate death, which was somewhat shrouded in mystery. Now Cnet has the full story, which chalks it up to bureaucracy, a fear of losing its corporate customer base, and an unyielding loyalty to established brands like Windows.

Ever since we uncovered the innovative tablet project two years ago, there's been much speculation as to why the project was abruptly halted, but little hard evidence. Now Jay Greene, who spoke to 18 people directly involved with the project, has the details. At the peak of its development, 130 employees were working the Courier. Many of them felt they were onto something big, and were within reach of creating a product that was wholly unique. Working internally and with manufacturing partners to develop multiple prototypes, each housing different features which were to eventually meld into a single device.

"It was not off-the-shelf tech," said a Courier team member. "There is no commercial product today that meets the specs we had for it. It was highly demanding and innovative and no one partner had all of the pieces."

...

"We were on the cusp of something really big," said one Courier team member.

Mastermind J. Allard wanted to create a product that broke away from catering to the enterprise world, and even consumers to a degree, focusing instead on those looking to create above all. The "typical" productivity tasks were of secondary concern.

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.

According to Greene, this was one of the key reasons why Microsoft got cold feet and 86'd the project. When asked to weigh in, Bill Gates struggled to wrap his head around the Courier, conceptually speaking, while others worried about losing out on their corporate bread and butter who would want familiarity and security features above all else. Then there was Steven Sinofsky, the head of Windows.

Sinofsky, by all accounts disliked the project because it didn't jive with his tablet plans for Windows 8, which was still years away from completion. Along with the input of Gates, Sinofsky's resistance towards the project weighed heavily in Ballmer's decision to kill Courier.

From the sounds of things, Microsoft preferred to follow their desktop OS model, offering their software on as many third-party devices as possible instead of cultivating a single, focused product and building a devoted userbase around it. As Cnet insightfully assesses, this could make the platform less agile and adaptable to updates, given that its attached to a much larger ecosystem of devices that are polar opposites. But to be fair, a platform like iOS has yet to receive a truly radical overhaul since its first appearance in 2007.

Allard, along with entertainment device guru Robbie Bach, both left Microsoft after the Courier's cancellation (all signs point to that being the reason). And now Microsoft is about to release Windows 8 with their tablet interface intact. And while it's hard to argue about the short-term financial viability of the plan, Microsoft's resistance towards taking risks and really innovating could very well come back to haunt them. For the rest of the story, check out the article over at [Cnet].