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How the Courier folded
November 1, 2011 11:40 AM   Subscribe

The inside story of how Microsoft killed its Courier tablet
posted by Artw (150 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was thinking about posting this. It is interesting to me how closely tied the Xbox team was to the Courier project (and for a while, Zune). While it's fair to say Microsoft's track record for hardware is mixed, sometimes their work is outstanding: the Xbox 360 controller, keyboards and mice, latter Zune hardware, etc.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:49 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Steven Sinofsky, the winner of this particular struggle, is now tipped as the next Microsoft CEO, J Allard on the other hand is off road racing.
posted by Artw at 11:49 AM on November 1, 2011


I remember that Gizmodo article. Was looking forward to seeing Courier. What a shame they killed it. Seems really short sighted of them.

Considering how constrained certain aspects of the content creation process are on an iPad, I'd really love to see anyone improve upon it. What the iPad does, it does really, really well. But try to go outside the box, even a little (try making a vertical keynote presentation!) and suddenly it becomes very challenging.

Of course, Microsoft isn't exactly known for their seamless, easy end-consumer experiences. But if the code were open, perhaps third party apps would allow complexity without turning it into a total mess.
posted by zarq at 11:50 AM on November 1, 2011


Sooo, Microsoft maybe, coulda, perhaps owned the tablet market, but got sidetracked by the desire to protect its Windows monopoly? Not too surprising.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:51 AM on November 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


"The products will be introduced, and they'll be better (than the iPad) or they won't be."

Anyone offering odds on that?
posted by Trurl at 11:53 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Steven Sinofsky, the winner of this particular struggle, is now tipped as the next Microsoft CEO, J Allard on the other hand is off road racing.

I think I know who really won.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:53 AM on November 1, 2011 [30 favorites]


In the 90s I really thought MS should split up (voluntarily). Now I really really wish they had. Granted, the XBox might never have happened if they were their own entity, but Ballmer has destroyed so damn much value.

I really hope MS gets it mojo back someday soon.
posted by DigDoug at 11:53 AM on November 1, 2011


Even people at microsoft don't like being forced to use windows, apparently.
posted by empath at 11:54 AM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


No email client? We all know how well that worked for the Blackberry Playbook.
posted by furtive at 11:54 AM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


"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."

I know there's more to the story, but this is the huge difference between Apple and MS, businesswise: Microsoft kills anything that threatens the products that pay their bills. Apple aggressively cannibalizes its own products. Now, maybe that's the right call for Microsoft - god knows Office and Windows are huge, huge things and there's an enormous risk in doing anything that could impair that cash flow. But it's very telling that something at MS got nuked because it might damage sales of existing products, while Apple's perfectly happy to make an iPad that might lose them sales of laptops because the upside is selling zillions of iPads to people who wouldn't have bought Macbooks.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:54 AM on November 1, 2011 [13 favorites]


And this is kind of emblematic of Microsoft's lack of creativity and vision. They do feature checklists better than anybody in the business, but it's so rare that they do anything interesting.
posted by empath at 11:55 AM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Microsoft is basically a fleet car manufacturer. They have no interest in risk.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:56 AM on November 1, 2011 [15 favorites]


But it's very telling that something at MS got nuked because it might damage sales of existing products, while Apple's perfectly happy to make an iPad that might lose them sales of laptops because the upside is selling zillions of iPads to people who wouldn't have bought Macbooks.

And also the macbook folks get a headsup on what's coming way in advance so they can design around it. If they didn't do things that way, they'd have been playing catch up when someone else came out with a tablet before them.
posted by empath at 11:57 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


sometimes their work is outstanding: the Xbox 360 controller

I assume you don't mean the first one, or the ursine replacement.
posted by Gary at 11:57 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I assume you don't mean the first one, or the ursine replacement.

He did say 360. Which has an awesome controller, if you don't care about the D-pad.

(seriously, how has that D-pad still not been fixed?)
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:59 AM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is so classically Microsoft, although I'm surprised and disappointed that Gates seemed to be a driving force in killing the Courier; I expected better of him. The Courier, like the TouchTable (aka Surface) were two products that when I saw them got me so excited... and both were basically killed off by MS for all intents and purposes. Surface should have been launched in 2005/2006 as an SDK and add-on for Windows; MS dropped the ball on being cool, forward, and creating what could have been a really interesting marketplace.

The company is such a waste at this point; I was having brunch with two friends, all three of us MSers together a decade ago (one still works there, one is contracting for a short while until he and his wife move to NY, and I haven't worked there since 2005). We, like many technology workers there, are pretty unanimous that Microsoft is stuck in a rut where Ballmer and his clones down through the ranks are running the show. It's not even a software company anymore, and technology/merit don't seem to be rewarded. It's all politics and positioning, managing up and fighting turf wars; the joke "org chart" cartoon wasn't wrong, at all.

Microsoft doesn't make products anymore so much as have turf wars among VPs, and the Courier sounds like another example where a good product is lost for the wrong reasons. When you see VPs getting $6M bonuses for groups that lose market share and lose money, while smart techies in the trenches scrape and claw to get a 10% bonus... the writing is on the wall.

But I really miss the Courier not having shipped. It was my dream product: the electronic moleskine, to doodle in, to sketch out architectural concepts for work, to keep notes, etc. Add in a decent sync capability to a PC, and I'd have been hooked.
posted by hincandenza at 12:00 PM on November 1, 2011 [15 favorites]


The Zune was actually kind of nice.

After mocking my friend mercilessly for owning one, I used it, and found it to be far better than the iPods of a similar vintage. It was...actually pretty nice.

The same friend later bought a Palm Pre. Poor guy.
posted by schmod at 12:03 PM on November 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


Ehhh. I don't think courier would have damaged windows sales.if anything sales of courier would have been anemic and they would have been mocked mercilessly. Ignore the fact that shipping a modified windows means they now ace two codebases to maintain. Microsoft wouldn't ship a a commuting device that is "limited", Microsoft wants it's products to be all things to all people. Shipping a device targeted at 'creatives' and excluding others is simply not in the Microsoft DNA. It may have been smart to target Apple's core audience, but Microsoft does not do niche.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:03 PM on November 1, 2011


Tomorrowful: " I know there's more to the story, but this is the huge difference between Apple and MS, businesswise: Microsoft kills anything that threatens the products that pay their bills. Apple aggressively cannibalizes its own products. Now, maybe that's the right call for Microsoft - god knows Office and Windows are huge, huge things and there's an enormous risk in doing anything that could impair that cash flow. But it's very telling that something at MS got nuked because it might damage sales of existing products, while Apple's perfectly happy to make an iPad that might lose them sales of laptops because the upside is selling zillions of iPads to people who wouldn't have bought Macbooks."

Well, this is and isn't true for Apple. With regard to their computers, Apple has historically forced users to upgrade to the newest hardware (and related software,) without providing a steady backwards compatible path. I've used Macs since they first came out in '84, and the number of connectors, peripherals and chips that have become obsolete over the years through planned product obsolescence is pretty steep: SCSI, ADB, floppy discs, cd's, the switch from Power Macs to Intel chips, etc., etc. For a while, if you wanted to use the latest version of a certain piece of software, you had to upgrade your hardware to accommodate. The switch to USB alone gave a lot of people fits. Apple iMacs didnt have USB ports. If you wanted to plug an ADB peripheral into an iMac, you either needed an adapter or were SOL if they wouldn't work with one.

This is a very clear philosophy for the company. which is directly geared towards getting people to buy new products and reducing support for old ones. They want you to spend money on hardware. Try getting support for an older powerbook these days, and Apple will tell you to buy a new one. My 2nd gen iPod mini was obsolete (and no longer given support by the company,) just 18 months after it was purchased. I had the power supply to an old G3 tower die on me a couple of years ago and Apple had stopped supporting that particular model. Was nearly impossible to find the part -- I had to go through our local Apple repair shop, TekServ. And that took two weeks.
posted by zarq at 12:04 PM on November 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


Ignore the fact that shipping a modified windows means they now ace two codebases to maintain.

What, the way Apple has two codebases to maintain? If anything, development can be faster because you don't have to make sure that changes made for one platform don't damage the other.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:04 PM on November 1, 2011


Is the second part of this up yet, or is that tommorow?
posted by bonehead at 12:06 PM on November 1, 2011


What, the way Apple has two codebases to maintain? If anything, development can be faster because you don't have to make sure that changes made for one platform don't damage the other.

Hasn't Apple stated they want to merge the two at some point?
posted by Ad hominem at 12:08 PM on November 1, 2011


Right decision. We now know that a tablet without tablet-optimized email and social networking tools is dead meat.
posted by mobunited at 12:08 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hasn't Apple stated they want to merge the two at some point?

Stated, no. It's a conclusion a lot of people are drawing from the degree to which Lion pushed OS X toward iOS, interface-wise. I happen to think any merger is a long time coming, if ever, and I'll predict it will only happen when normal people start buying iPads instead of Windows/Mac systems exclusively - that is, when the Tablet begins to really kill the Laptop, Apple will throw in with it and start deprecating the Laptop into a Tablet With Keyboard. But while both are profitable going concerns, I think they'll remain fundamentally separate codebases that happen to share things where appropriate.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:12 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ad hominem: "Microsoft does not do niche."

Heh. They think of products designed for use on Macs as "niche." Such as MS Office for Mac.
posted by zarq at 12:13 PM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Mercy killing.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:13 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apple aggressively cannibalizes its own products.

Name me an Apple product that can't run iTunes.
posted by Chuckles at 12:13 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


He did say 360. Which has an awesome controller, if you don't care about the D-pad.

Fair enough, the 360 controller, especially the wireless versions, is excellent. I think I still prefer Sony's controller though, and Microsoft really shouldn't earn much praise when their task was "copy this".
posted by Gary at 12:15 PM on November 1, 2011


Well that Courier concept had quite a few interesting features; it's a shame it won't see the light of day. I hope that MS takes a look at some of the features, esp. the sketching/writing/smart ink things, for future tab iterations, as these are really useful features. Sometimes I just don't want to type on a teeny tiny screen with no tactile feedback!
posted by Mister_A at 12:15 PM on November 1, 2011


This part of the piece seems like a really long introduction/teaser!
posted by hyperizer at 12:17 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


the sketching/writing/smart ink things

Oddly, developers can already use InkPresenter to do that, I demoed a POC that let users mark up document by writing on them, but if you only have a mouse, not a tablet, it kinda sucks.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:21 PM on November 1, 2011


While the Courier looks cool, and was sort of on the right track, Bill was definitely right that it had fatal flaws. It is all well and good to say that people don't want a sophisticated email client on their Windows tablet, but the reality is that they do. It needs mail. It needs Internet connectivity, both wireless and 3G.

I've been in a meeting with Bill. He is remarkably astute, and asks tough questions. It's obvious that he didn't like the answers he got from the Courier team. It easily could have been another Zune. Microsoft cannot produce an iPad, which is only aimed at consumers. They must have functionality that interacts with other Windows software in the enterprise.

The fact that the Windows tablet that "won" was also fatally flawed was maybe the lesser of two evils. The form factor of the Courier is cool. We'll see if the Windows 8 tablets save any of that innovation.
posted by Xoc at 12:21 PM on November 1, 2011 [11 favorites]


Why couldn't the answer for email on Courier have been OWA? It's a flagship MS product, and fits with the use case of the Courier (people on the go, at a coffee shop not on the corporate network).
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:25 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sooo, Microsoft maybe, coulda, perhaps owned the tablet market, but got sidetracked by the desire to protect its Windows monopoly? Not too surprising.

The same thing happened in the history of Internet Explorer, which would have become the new Windows, if its developers were allowed by management to turn it into a web application platform.

There have always been two pillars in Microsoft: Windows and Office. Any project that runs counter to those two teams gets hosed.

David Bank's Breaking Windows covers the history of all of this in greater detail.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:27 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


(seriously, how has that D-pad still not been fixed?)

The transforming D-Pad one is supposed to be very good. I haven't tried it though. (Don't play fighting games enough, and it's not used that often in other types of games.) And it doesn't come standard with new 360s, which is a shame.
posted by kmz at 12:29 PM on November 1, 2011


Whether or not I ran a company that made Outlook and Windows (full disclosure: I don't), I would have at least killed that design.
posted by zippy at 12:29 PM on November 1, 2011


Hasn't Apple stated they want to merge the two at some point?

Nothing publicly, but if you read the rumor mills, Apple has been keeping AMD and ARM builds of OS X up-to-date, for the moment when they want to shift over.

With the push for longer and longer battery life in their portables, and the recent release of a 64-bit ARM processor, I wouldn't be surprised to see an ARM MacBook variant within the next 2-4 years.

Apparently, the shift of Macs from PPC to Intel took place on the day of a Keynote speech by Jobs, who left the decision to the very last second.

Other rumors include adding ARM hardware to existing portables, so that you can run both iOS and Mac OS X apps on the same device.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:32 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know, one problem with these pen input things is that there's an upcoming generation that finds pens awkward compared to various types of keyboards. I know that I, a member of the old guard who uses cursive comfortably, have decreased my pen/pencil input dramatically over the past few years. That leaves drawing-type tasks that are not necessarily what most people are going to want.
posted by mobunited at 12:36 PM on November 1, 2011


Tomorrowful: "I know there's more to the story, but this is the huge difference between Apple and MS, businesswise: Microsoft kills anything that threatens the products that pay their bills. Apple aggressively cannibalizes its own products. "

Well, yes and no. Apple cannibalizes its own products once it has collectively decided to. But the other, bigger difference between Apple (after Jobs returned) and MS is that either Apple never would have worked on a Courier analog at all, or we never would have heard about it. Apple's got way too much consistency of vision to go very far down the road with something like Courier that they're never going to execute (seriously, I don't think a project like that at Apple would have the support of someone equivalent to J Allard's status unless it was already blessed), and way too much discipline to leak it if a renegade group were trying to build buzz for it.

Remember all those technologies that Apple had in 1997 that were interesting on their own but didn't add up to a unified whole? Game Sprockets? OpenDoc? Newton? And how they all got "Steved"?
posted by adamrice at 12:38 PM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Having watched a colleague take notes yesterday at a meeting using his ipad, there is no way to type on that device and (a) be speedy enough to keep up with conversation and (b) not look like a douche. A pen with decent handwriting recognition would be far better.
posted by maxwelton at 12:39 PM on November 1, 2011


Writing with a stylus on a smooth glass surface is not a pleasant or easy experience. Palm Pilot owners know this too well. The glass surface will need some resistance to feel as good as paper. I think that's one of the reasons that pen-input methods aren't popular---pen on tablet glass feels awful and has terrible precision because of lack of surface texture.

Hand grease doesn't help either.
posted by bonehead at 12:44 PM on November 1, 2011


1 finger fuck. 2 finger fuck.
posted by Iteki at 12:45 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


See my comment up there where every other word is wrong? That is what happens when I try to type on a tablet.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:47 PM on November 1, 2011


Why would they name a tablet after such a boring font? There's your problem right there.
posted by grubi at 12:51 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


A pen with decent handwriting recognition would be far better.

To old people, yes.
posted by mobunited at 1:02 PM on November 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


A pen with decent handwriting recognition would be far better.

See, then I'd need decent handwriting.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:08 PM on November 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've used iPads a little, and they do seem more like consumption devices than creation devices. My current mobile computer is a netbook that I mostly use for note taking and Internet browsing. I can see putting the Courier in to that same niche and being happier with it. The synching between devices seems very 2009 to me... I would vastly prefer a drop-box like system where I just have a cloud folder that I can put stuff into and take stuff out of as I'd like.

An innovative feature of the Microsoft Courier would have been users' ability to "clip" content from web sites or emails, to "tuck" the clipping underneath the physical hinge of the journal, and then to flip the virtual pages until the clipping was pasted into the appropriate page.[7] This differs from a traditional clipboard, in which copied items are not visible while on the clipboard, and are usually manipulated one at a time.

If you could've incorporated PDF clipping in addition to web clipping then I may have used this exclusively for writing papers.
posted by codacorolla at 1:09 PM on November 1, 2011


Why would they name a tablet after such a boring font? There's your problem right there.

Had they named it Comic Sans, people would now be asking, "What's an iPad?"
posted by eyeballkid at 1:10 PM on November 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


Really, all you need is a projected holographic keyboard with the throw, weight, and feedback of a Model M. Though maybe in an ergonomic arrangement.

They can do that kind of stuff now, right?
posted by kmz at 1:13 PM on November 1, 2011


We're missing the obvious; the thing should have been called Papyrus.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:13 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


A pen with decent handwriting recognition would be far better.

An actual keyboard is better still. Fortunately, any number of Bluetooth keyboards work fine with the iPad.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:15 PM on November 1, 2011


pen on tablet glass feels awful and has terrible precision because of lack of surface texture.

As opposed to finger on capacitive touchscreen, which has much worse precision because you're using your frickin' finger.
posted by Zed at 1:17 PM on November 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


I can type pretty fast on my iPad. But I don't know how to type, so my two-finger typing approach seems to be the key. If you can already touch type, it ain't for you.

I still won't try to use it for meeting notes though. That's what the paper notepad is for. Retyping an idea I want to share, either by email or as a start on a longer document? Sure. Reading a PDF? Sure. But anything I need to get down fast - with my doodles, scribbles, etc. along with it - goes on paper.

The Courier might have been enough to be a suitable replacement for the steno book I use for notes. Maybe. If it had worked as advertised. But we'll never know now, will we?
posted by caution live frogs at 1:21 PM on November 1, 2011


From the article: The iPad is all about content consumption--surfing the Web, watching videos, playing games. Courier was focused on content creation--drafting documents, brainstorming concepts, jotting down ideas.

He was making a very expensive note pad, and you couldn't e-mail the results to clients.

I've seen Apple users become too defensive about the whole "consumption device" thing. But for another company to take that seriously, especially Microsoft, would be amazingly stupid. First because it's not really true, even for the first iPad. But mostly because people love consumption devices. Books, music players and TV still take up a large portion of people's free time. If you are a corporation required to make lots of money, you want to allow people to consume content easily and often.

You can fix the input problems of an iPad. But to do that at the expense of everything else? Running Windows had nothing to do with why this thing was canned.
posted by Gary at 1:23 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


But the other, bigger difference between Apple (after Jobs returned) and MS is that either Apple never would have worked on a Courier analog at all, or we never would have heard about it.

This. Microsoft's problem isn't that they killed the Courier, it's that it was leaked out in the first place. It's pretty obvious to me that the Courier team leaked their product to the Internet prematurely in an attempt to give themselves leverage in the internal turf battle. They not only lost the turf battle, but ended up making the whole company look worse in the process.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 1:26 PM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


pen on tablet glass feels awful and has terrible precision because of lack of surface texture.
That's why you need a shitajiki.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:26 PM on November 1, 2011


Name me an Apple product that can't run iTunes.

Well, I could answer "iPod Shuffle" or "Airport Express" but I'll be a little more serious:

The thing called "iTunes" on my iPhone has basically nothing in common with the one on my laptop except they can both buy songs and movies. The thing that plays music on an iPod Nano resembles neither. And the thing on an AppleTV doesn't even have the iTunes branding, if my memory serves.

Apple does make a lot of gadgets that can buy things and play back content, but it isn't even always called iTunes, never mind the inconsistent functionality and interface.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:28 PM on November 1, 2011


Gary: " He was making a very expensive note pad, and you couldn't e-mail the results to clients."

At the time the original iPad was launched, Microsoft was heavily invested in the idea of Windows Live collaborative Cloudspace. They still are, actually. It comes built in to Windows 7. You can also see it in action on the new Windows phone models. If your phone is wiped, you log in to Windows Live and can restore an exact mirror of your phone (contacts, apps, calendar, all your settings) or selected items with no hassle whatsoever.

I would be willing to bet that was being considered as an option -- collaborative cloudspace work. Share your work / files, etc online with a select audience, who can then be given permission to edit.
posted by zarq at 1:30 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


There have always been two pillars in Microsoft: Windows and Office. Any project that runs counter to those two teams gets hosed.

I've heard that something similar is happening right now at Google, with the two pillars being search and Plus. It'll be interesting to watch Google grow into being the next Microsoft over the coming decade.
posted by heathkit at 1:40 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing called "iTunes" on my iPhone has basically nothing in common with the one on my laptop except they can both buy songs and movies. The thing that plays music on an iPod Nano resembles neither. And the thing on an AppleTV doesn't even have the iTunes branding, if my memory serves.

The commonality being that they all let you buy media from the iTunes store and gives Apple a cut off it, and once you're buying via that store why deal with any other stores?

iTunes is absolutely a pillar, if not *the* pillar of their business. You will never find Apple doing anything without carefully considering how it integrates with it.

( If we're going with a "everyone has two pillars" model I'm not really sure what the second one would be. Manufacturing a compelling hardware device at regular intervals?)
posted by Artw at 1:51 PM on November 1, 2011


(this is a very timid input, because I'm scared of entering the mac/MS drama. Usually, I use my iPad for fun. But on one occasion, I was at an international meeting in a fully wired space, and in that context, the iPad was amazing. Normally, I am at local stuff in less than wired space, and I will need my laptop or even paper. But people I know who communicate in modern ways seem to have experienced stuff similar to me several times).
posted by mumimor at 1:51 PM on November 1, 2011


For old people? So you're faster with a touch screen keyboard than I am with a pen? (Just to note, I use a pad and pen to take meeting notes. Efficient, quiet, and most importantly, I'm not taking up three acres of table space. My colleague brings a MacBook AND an iPad AND an iPhone to meetings. The idea that's he's also going to now bring a bluetooth iKeyboard gives me a stroke.)
posted by maxwelton at 1:54 PM on November 1, 2011


I would be willing to bet that was being considered as an option -- collaborative cloudspace work. Share your work / files, etc online with a select audience, who can then be given permission to edit.

That sounds like what they would be planning, but still a bad idea overall. The iPhone has an "e-mail photo" button, not an "iCloud this to your desktop and e-mail it from there" button (which would be bad even if iCloud worked flawlessly). But maybe if you work inside a company like that long enough you just assume everyone you are working with would be on Cloudspace. The downside to eating your own dogfood is you assume everyone does.
posted by Gary at 1:56 PM on November 1, 2011


I have been at meetings where everyone brought a tablet PC. The general impression i got is that it was so they could fick around with email and pretend they were not actually in the meeting.
posted by Artw at 1:56 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have been at meetings where everyone brought a tablet PC

I spent an hour today in a meeting where everyone brought a laptop.

I don't understand the point of using an ipad with a keyboard. If you want a screen with a keyboard, why not just use a laptop? That's what they're for, isn't it?
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:58 PM on November 1, 2011


The difference between Apple and MS is that Apple basically made devices to offer to Steve Jobs for his amusement, and were also nice enough to let the public buy them. There's something to be said for products that haven't been focus group tested.

Microsoft makes designed-by-committee products that are greenlit by people who have no interest in ever using them, and it shows.
posted by mullingitover at 2:00 PM on November 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


I know this was supposed to be a damning indictment of Microsoft's lack of innovation or whatever, but I came away thinking that killing Courier was the right move. The whole thing stinks of high-concept design wankery that is completely divorced from the needs of most users. Maybe that's what Bill Gates was talking about when he asked how you check your email. You can chalk this up to wanting to sell licenses of Exchange, or you could maybe look at another tablet devices that's really great for checking your email: the iPad.
posted by AlsoMike at 2:02 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


In case you missed it, the Courier could do email. What Allard said was that web-based email was sufficient, and that a full Outlook client wasn't necessary.

I have no problem using web-based email on the iPad. I default to the app because it's convenient, but I'd be just as happy (sometimes happier) using gmail.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:13 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyway, if anyone here didn't read the article, it's part one of two. It ends thusly:
So why did Courier die? The answer lies in an understanding of Microsoft's history and culture.
Editor's note: This is part one in a two-part series. Coming tomorrow: how two rising Microsoft executives differed on the company's vision for tablet computing.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:18 PM on November 1, 2011


I think it's interesting form a process point of view, rather than an indictment of lack of vision. I also think they made the right decision, in that:

1) As Mini-Microsoft says: MSFT is still very strong in the enterprise but to the consumer, MSFT seems completely dead. MSFT has no consumer mindshare any longer - Nobody ever bought a Zune that didn't end up loving the thing, and WP7 is arguably the better phone OS out there right now, but nobody cares because as a brand to consumers it's neutral or worse. So if they had gone ahead and released the thing as a consumer focused device they'd basically have ended up with a bunch of unsolold units to through on a pile of dead kins.

2) I've always kind of pointed and laughed at tablet PCs. Those HP jobies you see the contestants being awkwardly prompted into using every week on Project Runways? They'd much sooner be using an iPad, right? Or plain old pen and paper. Though they've come a little ways since Windows XP Tablet they still seem like they're not quite there as devices. Astonishingly, with Windows 8, the one OS strategy same-windows-on-tablet-as-on-desktop approachlooks like it might actually WORK, and may in the long run leave all the jumped up media player OSs looking like an odd distraction. I have some doubts, of course, the split personality of the two distinct interface styles is worrying, but it does actually seem like in the days since the Courier went out of the window Sinofsky has actually delivered.
posted by Artw at 2:19 PM on November 1, 2011


This seems like a case study right out of The Innovator's Dilemma. (If you're not familiar with the book, its thesis is that otherwise well-run companies routinely miss market opportunities that involve what Christensen calls "disruptive innovation," which he defines as innovations that do not bring incremental benefit to the company's existing markets.)
posted by mr vino at 2:19 PM on November 1, 2011


I can type pretty fast on my iPad. But I don't know how to type, so my two-finger typing approach seems to be the key. If you can already touch type, it ain't for you.

I'd beg to differ here. I touch type pretty well, and can actually 'touch type' on my ipad. i don't have the tactile feedback, but the memory of where the keys should be is more than enough. I'm slightly slower, make a couple more errors, but if the pad is landscape, it's surprisingly easy to touch type on.
posted by usagizero at 2:20 PM on November 1, 2011


It's a pity that Courier isn't a real product. True challengers to the iPad/iPhone kingdom are rare, especially one's that aren't knockoffs of iOS. Microsoft seems locked into marketing to the enterprise, and locked into supporting it's giant money makers - Windows, Office, Outlook. Anything that threatens those, no matter where it comes from, is to be put down.

The article mentions that at one point, they wanted to power XBox with Windows. I'm guessing that that would be a highly modified version, but that's telling all the same.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:24 PM on November 1, 2011


Gary: " That sounds like what they would be planning, but still a bad idea overall. The iPhone has an "e-mail photo" button, not an "iCloud this to your desktop and e-mail it from there" button (which would be bad even if iCloud worked flawlessly).

If the Courier tablet didn't have a full-fledged email app, they could still incorporate simple email functions like "Send this in an email, or Share on X service." There are a lot of ways one can share work publicly or privately without also incorporating a strong email client with lots of bells and whistles.

But maybe if you work inside a company like that long enough you just assume everyone you are working with would be on Cloudspace.

Well, it's available to all users of Windows Vista and Windows 7 automatically, and is backwards compatible (I believe) to Windows XP, and there are clients for Mac and Linux, last I heard. As with Dropbox, one can use/access Windows cloudspace online, without being on Windows or using an app. So access and downloading isn't a problem. On the other hand, collaboration might have been interesting to coordinate across platforms. But (to use an Apple example,) documents made in Pages and Keynote on the iPad are compatible with Word and Powerpoint, respectively. So it's obviously possible.
posted by zarq at 2:25 PM on November 1, 2011


2) I've always kind of pointed and laughed at tablet PCs. Those HP jobies you see the contestants being awkwardly prompted into using every week on Project Runways? They'd much sooner be using an iPad, right? Or plain old pen and paper. Though they've come a little ways since Windows XP Tablet they still seem like they're not quite there as devices. Astonishingly, with Windows 8, the one OS strategy same-windows-on-tablet-as-on-desktop approachlooks like it might actually WORK, and may in the long run leave all the jumped up media player OSs looking like an odd distraction. I have some doubts, of course, the split personality of the two distinct interface styles is worrying, but it does actually seem like in the days since the Courier went out of the window Sinofsky has actually delivered.

Two thoughts. First, for artists, a tablet PC is a godsend. The ability to draw directly into a full-featured photoshop without the separate and not-super-reliable Wacom is invaluable.

Second, while Windows 8 looks very interesting as a tablet OS, it looks downright unusable as a desktop OS. Different form factors really do have entirely different requirements.
posted by kafziel at 2:25 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the point of using an ipad with a keyboard. If you want a screen with a keyboard, why not just use a laptop? That's what they're for, isn't it?

Aside from the obvious size and weight advantages (try passing a laptop around at a meeting) a Bluetooth keyboard is optional. You might very well only break it out for meetings.

You might opt for an Air instead, but that's just approaching the solution from the other direction.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 2:28 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Artw: "WP7 is arguably the better phone OS out there right now, but nobody cares because as a brand to consumers it's neutral or worse."

It doesn't have the sheer volume of apps that itunes and the Android marketplace do. It may work well, but it's not going to appeal to consumers if it only has limited third party vendor support.
posted by zarq at 2:28 PM on November 1, 2011


Apparently, the shift of Macs from PPC to Intel took place on the day of a Keynote speech by Jobs, who left the decision to the very last second.

Uh, that's pretty insane theory. Where do you people get this stuff?

As one of the people who assembled the 300 Intel Macs that were on the conference floor for the announcement, let me assure you the decision was made prior to Steve giving the speech.
posted by ryanrs at 2:29 PM on November 1, 2011 [15 favorites]


I've used Linux for the past eight years, and have never had more than a vague inkling of desire to go back to Windows save for occasionally wanting to play some new games. I hate Microsoft's entire software strategy, the need to run for-pay software to use a bunch of other for-pay software, etc, etc. I think the Zune is kind of stupid (if apparently pretty good hardware). All that said, I would have bought the SHIT out of a Courier. I have literally never wanted a piece of consumer electronics more than that one. I would have paid through the teeth for a Courier. Still would. Just... fuck you, MS. I want my goddamn Courier.
posted by cthuljew at 2:29 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that strategy tax is hurting Microsoft more and more. They're trying desperately to diversify away from Windows and Office, but anything that could conceivably hurt Windows or Office in the slightest way get a whack in the neck with a very sharp axe.

But really, a Microsoft tablet would either combine only the worst features of the Xbox 360 and the iPad, or be a full-on Windows tablet computer like they tried last time. Anyone here remember that? Windows did tablets ("Tablet PCs") years before Apple did, but they didn't take off.
posted by JHarris at 2:32 PM on November 1, 2011


when the Tablet begins to really kill the Laptop, Apple will throw in with it and start deprecating the Laptop into a Tablet With Keyboard.

This is why I don't think the laptop will ever die. For many applications involving productivity you really need a keyboard. It's possible to write on a tablet but typing is still far faster, and for certain applications I can't imagine how handwriting would replace typing. I could see how the laptop would become more geared towards business and the tablet geared towards general use, but typing on a tablet sucks, and handwriting for long stretches is a PITA even on real paper.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:34 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


If nothing else, a tablet properly designed around handwriting would have considerable heft versus a tablet that dismisses handwriting as inferior (iPad) or a tablet that adds handwriting recognition on top of Windows.

I'm reminded of Microsoft's response to the OLPC initiative.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:42 PM on November 1, 2011


Tablet With Keyboard

That's an approach that's done ASUS really well with the EEE pad transformer. Looks like there may be Win8 versions of that on the way.
posted by Artw at 2:45 PM on November 1, 2011


Uh, that's pretty insane theory. Where do you people get this stuff?

As one of the people who assembled the 300 Intel Macs that were on the conference floor for the announcement, let me assure you the decision was made prior to Steve giving the speech.


Via Jon Stokes:
Years ago, I heard the back-story on Apple’s switch to Intel first-hand from some folks on the IBM side of things, and what I learned was that Steve Jobs agonized over this decision and waited until the morning of the keynote before pulling the trigger on this move. He actually went into that day with two keynote presentations prepared: one for a PowerPC-based product line, and one for The Switch. When he pulled out The Switch presentation, the IBM team was absolutely as stunned as the rest of the world, as was the P.A. Semi team who had been separately assured by Jobs that their dual-core PowerPC part would find its way into Apple portables.
Reading further, it sounds like Intel Macs were designed and prepared in-house, even if it is uncertain when the actual decision was made to shift from PPC:
From the very beginning of OS X, Apple kept an internal, top-secret x86 port of the entire OS up-to-date, just in case Jobs might one day decide to make the change that he eventually in fact did make.
Stokes' sources could be wrong. But I'm not pulling this "stuff" out of thin air. Sheesh.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:48 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here's a link to Stokes' piece.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:49 PM on November 1, 2011


Honestly, the sector I work in (higher ed) is flooded with these iPads and other tablets in meetings. Nobody has demonstrated something better than pen and paper. The digitizers and display are too low res for artists, and you lose some of the wierd stuff wacom knows about like angle.

Really, my coworker's electronic pen does a surprisingly good job for meetings, assuming you have their magic paper. Hell, my 2007 TabletPC does a better job. I suppose if oneNote were available more widely the Courier would have been feasible, but when I see suggestion about being "for the creative set," it simultaneously ignores Microsofts strengths and the crazy insane difficulty in making software for creatives that pay the bills. Anyone can make a fingerpaint app, but they're gonna want something that integrates with Actual Photoshop, works in a CMYK colorspace, etc.

Mostly what the tablets have going for them seems to be size and weight sufficient to fit in a purse.
posted by pwnguin at 2:51 PM on November 1, 2011


At one point during that meeting in early 2010 at Gates' waterfront offices in Kirkland, Wash., Gates asked Allard how users get e-mail. 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.

Oh my what a stupid, stupid statement. "Build an email experience?" What the fuck does that even mean? oh wait, I know. It means he wants to advance his petty vision at the expense of including an app/feature that nearly, oh, 100% of the world uses. Fuck him. I'm glad he's mountain biking somewhere AWAY from technology. Maybe he's contracting for RIM?
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 3:00 PM on November 1, 2011


Also, to note, I own a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and I use it way more than I thought I would. All my electronic documents for school I read off my tablet. I also use it to read books and comics all the time. Much easier to read from than my laptop (in cases where I only have the electronic copy). It's a consumption device, yeah, although I do occasionally use it to take notes or draw (which actually works a lot better than you'd expect, once you get the hang of it). However, I can't imagine ever using it nearly as productively for any input purposes as I can a Courier. If the Courier, however, had been designed as the article implies as a primarily creation than consumption device, though, it might have been a problem, as consumption is a very large part of creation. If I can't flip open a book for half an hour on my computer as a break from being creative, that would have been a huge, huge gap in the Courier's usefulness. However, I find it hard to believe that Allard would be that short-sighted.
posted by cthuljew at 3:01 PM on November 1, 2011


In case you missed it, the Courier could do email. What Allard said was that web-based email was sufficient, and that a full Outlook client wasn't necessary.

I have no problem using web-based email on the iPad. I default to the app because it's convenient, but I'd be just as happy (sometimes happier) using gmail.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:13 PM


Yes, I did miss that. Thanks. I retract most of my vitriol.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 3:04 PM on November 1, 2011


Metafilter: I retract most of my vitriol.
posted by Ryvar at 3:13 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


If the Courier tablet didn't have a full-fledged email app, they could still incorporate simple email functions like "Send this in an email, or Share on X service." There are a lot of ways one can share work publicly or privately without also incorporating a strong email client with lots of bells and whistles.

I could see that. Actually, if it was built on top of Windows and had a windows based file system underneath (as opposed to the locked down sandbox iOS file system), that could make it a lot easier for third party apps to come fill the gaps.

But his answer of "you could use a web app instead" is still as disheartening as when Apple said it about the first iPhone. You're building a great tablet designed to be work like a notebook, and I'm going to be poking around in Outlook Webmail (which already feels clunky on a desktop).
posted by Gary at 3:14 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm coming around to the opinion that most non-game apps are useless garbage that would have been better done as a solid web app these days, but you still want that ability, and email and social media clients are areas where you definatly need it.
posted by Artw at 3:16 PM on November 1, 2011


Also, damn you, Artw, I had just about forgotten about the Courier, and here you go dragging all my geek wet dreams out for inspection once again. ; ;
posted by cthuljew at 3:21 PM on November 1, 2011


I just got an eee pad transformer* a couple of weeks ago and it's working quite nicely for me: I've been meaning to get a netbook for several years, but dithered long enough that when mr epersonae saw this, he bought one for me.

It's a bit odd using Android on the tablet, especially after having gotten an Android phone last winter. I have specific ire directed at sites that redirect me to their "mobile optimized experience", and some apps are not quite right on the bigger screen.

BUT...I can do basically everything I would've done with the netbook**, and I can snap off the keyboard for comfortable reading on the couch. And yes, it fits in my purse, just barely, even with keyboard attached. I type fairly fast, so I care a LOT about having a keyboard; got the G2 for exactly that reason. I'm seriously considering getting a stylus for drawing, too.

* OMG I OWN A TRANSFORMER. :)

** Although I'm still looking for just the right word processor; I still really miss Scrivener on the Macbook that died this year.

posted by epersonae at 3:31 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Artw: "I'm coming around to the opinion that most non-game apps are useless garbage that would have been better done as a solid web app these days, but you still want that ability, and email and social media clients are areas where you definatly need it."

Wow, I'd think it's completely the opposite. I'm perfectly happy with webmail these days, and the facebook and google plus mobile apps are generally crap imho. Meanwhile I couldn't imagine trying to do the Korg, Moog, and plethora of other music apps via a web interface.
posted by mullingitover at 3:33 PM on November 1, 2011


Well, for the most part I'm thinking of apps that act as front ends for websites that should by rights have workable mobile UI, or act as a front for shovelware content.
posted by Artw at 3:36 PM on November 1, 2011


The New York Times iPad app is a good example of what can be done that improves on a web interface. Additional touch gestures become possible, which makes the layout and usage simpler. It is a more pleasant experience than reading the web site.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:43 PM on November 1, 2011


I'd just like to point out that the 'Related Posts' link for the TabletPC dates back to 2001.
posted by fragmede at 3:43 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The New York Times iPad app is a good example of what can be done that improves on a web interface. Additional touch gestures become possible, which makes the layout and usage simpler. It is a more pleasant experience than reading the web site.

The fundamental problem this doesn't solve however, is that it's still NYtimes content.
posted by bonehead at 3:47 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Not to start arguing semantics, but JavaScript in a web app can handle gestures.
posted by fragmede at 3:56 PM on November 1, 2011


I'm beginning to believe, more and more, that losing the anti-trust argument would have been healthier for Microsoft.
posted by parliboy at 4:13 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Where a pen far exceeds a keyboard, especially with good handwriting recognition, is the transition between entering text and either drawing, or entering text in a non-linear way (like filling in the cells of a spreadsheet, or spot-annotating a document). Keyboards, even with cursor keys or well-memorized speed keys, or even a clit-mouse, just aren't as fast going from A to B than a pen or finger or a mouse--and if you have a choice between breaking out a keyboard and mouse, or a pen, the choice is obvious.

From the article, Allard had it right that the strong pen interface made it a moleskine--a free form content creation arena with few restrictions. You may not be as fast with a pen now at just entering text, compared to a keyboard, but if you made a Courier-like product a mainstay of your note-taking throughout the day, you'd be just as fast with a lot more flexibility.

Maybe MS couldn't have made the Courier work. But I weep that there's nothing comparable available now.
posted by fatbird at 4:19 PM on November 1, 2011


I've heard that something similar is happening right now at Google, with the two pillars being search and Plus.

Plus? A pillar? Eh? Search (or more appropriately "search ads") is the single massive pillar that is Google's business. Content ads is maybe a very weak second. If you're talking about subsites that might help support the company, Docs and Maps come to mind. But really, I think Android has the best chance of becoming a second pillar. Not that I disagree with the notion that Google is slowly morphing into the next Microsoft. But if that does happen, and Android generates significant income, the order in which Google established those pillars is interesting: service first, then consumer platform.
posted by A dead Quaker at 4:32 PM on November 1, 2011


From the very beginning of OS X, Apple kept an internal, top-secret x86 port of the entire OS up-to-date, just in case Jobs might one day decide to make the change that he eventually in fact did make.

There was a point where this project stopped being about running separate compiler chains and started to be about getting Intel hardware into consumer-ready shiny aluminum cases. I suppose Jobs could have aborted everything the morning of the announcement, but that's true of any project. Of course the IBM guys would have been the last people to know about the switch.
posted by ryanrs at 5:10 PM on November 1, 2011


For corporate email you really need some sort of native alerts. If they could figure out OWA and integrate some sort of alerts it would work, but you really need push for that.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:39 PM on November 1, 2011


> Name me an Apple product that can't run iTunes

The current version requires Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) which requires a PowerPC G4 @ 867MHz but 1GHz + 1GB RAM is lowest reasonable so most Macs from before 2002 won't run iTunes and some more recent ones than can play music won't play video or HD video.
posted by morganw at 5:51 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


It also can't run on Apple II's. I think he meant 'current apple product'.
posted by empath at 5:54 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


*sobs*... wanted...this...so...bad...

Then I found Evernote.
posted by Gable Oak at 6:12 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


a Bluetooth keyboard is optional

Especially since Swype.
posted by juiceCake at 6:37 PM on November 1, 2011


Seems like there is some enthusiasm for a "digital moleskin" but I gotta say that Microsoft was never the right company to bring something like this to market. Microsoft has actually done something more important in the last few years and that is work on bringing their everything AND the kitchen sink OS to ARM. Windows 8 will be to developers making visual/tactile software what Win2K/XP was for hardware accelerated 3D; a solid base to develop on and target. I think Adobe and Autodesk will show what is possible.
posted by vicx at 6:44 PM on November 1, 2011


As someone still tethered to their stylus (find a way to make drawing with your finger more accurate and pressure sensitive and I'll switch) this seemed like it could have been the perfect device for me. Now my portable solution is an Asus EP121 slate for drawing/notes/web an iPod Touch for e-mail/text/maps all connected to the internet by a mobile WiFi hotspot.
posted by the_artificer at 6:53 PM on November 1, 2011


I guess I should have made it clearer why the chief competitor to the Courier wasn't an iPad or a Kindle fire. The article had it right: the Courier was designed to be a 'digital Moleskine.' Inkseine was the prototype of its "killer app." When I saw the first demo video, I thought "This is a product I've been waiting for all my life." I *immediately* downloaded Inkseine and started using the heck out of it.

We were looking to remodel our kitchen. In Inkseine, I took organized clips of the door styles and stains and countertops and lamps and tiles and costs and company websites. I dragged and dropped them 100 different ways to see what looked good together, then changed my mind and dragged them around some more. When I got to a kitchen designer, I had a the digital equivalent (zoomable! reconfigurable!) of an interior design board. I.loved.Inkseine.so.much.

Through months of heavy use, it became apparent that MS wasn't giving the developers the resources they needed. Bugs weren't fixed. New features weren't added. Linking to the screenshots' source websites never worked quite right. Most of the time, I just took a screenshot of the URL bar and drew an arrow to the product that came from it. It was really missing the ability to include typed text. Even with great handwriting and a pen tablet, all my notes looked like they were written on a credit card signature screen. I hoped it meant they were saving up their secrets for the final version, but as time went on, that seemed more and more like wishful thinking. I loved it and it had so much promise, MS just chose to do nothing with it.

Evernote doesn't allow for layered screenshots, but their tagging/notetaking/URL tracking/sharing features made up for it. I could spend all night organizing flower ideas for my destination wedding, saving arrangement ideas and color themes and shop locations and individual flower names. My sister downloaded an iphone app and had all of that with her as she went from shop to shop. She could show the arrangements to the florists or take photos and tag them back to me. This was my dream, my digital moleskine.

The apps and hardware that make me *so* jazzed for the future are all just glorified scrapbooking tools. How Victorian!
posted by Gable Oak at 7:02 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


It was an interesting idea, but the book-style physical thing looked unwieldy.
posted by delmoi at 7:26 PM on November 1, 2011


I think people are missing the gist here. The point wasnt whether Courier could do email - at any point, any device that could do the web does email - but whether that was the intended use-case. In short, it's not whether X was possible on a device, but whether doing X on a device -sucked-.

I think MS made the right choice here; making a two-touch screen device with hardware designed primarily for broad use-case, note-taking, wouldn't have been a mass market device.

Thing is this: the reason tablet PC's weren't too popular when they came out was not just because they sacrificed computing power for a non-efficient input method, touch, but also because they were _expensive_. With two screens, a HDD, it's own custom OS [shell, more likely; see below] and built by a firm who's core competency was software, who knows how expensive this would have been; I can see them positioning this at the USD 1.5-2k mark at the very least, perhaps cut a few corners to offer a lower value flavour too. At which point, you'd be saying: why would I want to spend twice as much as an iPad when I could do most of this there and fire projectiles at evil farm animals?

That's the reason use-cases matter here; because beyond USD 400 (max), you'll need a massive justification as to why your computing-based mass-market device is intended for only a limited set of use-cases. (Note that I said use-cases, not walled gardens) Otherwise, with Moore's law and everything, you'll easily be cannibalized in today's market.

(About the OS: while I have no special insight into the designer's minds, Im thinking they wouldn't have created a new OS for the Courier; they'd have used Vista Premium as a base and run a WPF-isque touch-heavy shell on top of that. That is, assuming they were targetting to release the product by at least Q1 2010, and chose to use Intel, and not ARM or Qualcomm processors)
posted by the cydonian at 7:27 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Vista

And may god have mercy upon it's soul.
posted by Artw at 7:30 PM on November 1, 2011


One interesting thing re: Windows 8: the whole WPF business appears to be dead as a doornail. In fact .net in general is largely absent, C++ appears to be the new hotness.

(presumably over in webdev land where I work c# will continue to be a thing.)
posted by Artw at 7:33 PM on November 1, 2011


There are at least dozens of LOB apps using WPF.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:47 PM on November 1, 2011


The same thing happened in the history of Internet Explorer, which would have become the new Windows, if its developers were allowed by management to turn it into a web application platform.
They tried, remember ActiveX? What they didn't want an OS that ran the same programs that as a browser from any other browser maker. They even poisoned Java.

That said, people need to remember the DOJ was on their back since the 90s. If Microsoft had been able to "Leverage" their windows monopoly the way they had in the 1990s in the 2000s Neither Apple nor Google may never have taken off the way it did.

What if, for example Microsoft fucked with windows to make break Firefox the way they did with Lotus 123 and that hard drive doubler thing? They could have made the search bar in IE use Microsoft search only. They could even have used the malware epidemic as an excuse to crack down on 3rd party apps and require they go through an 'app store' the way Apple does with iOS apps. If they ran that app store the way apple does, they could have kept iTunes off windows and required that any music players use Windows Media Player to get songs.

So, the fact that Microsoft 'lost it's way' is actually a good thing and the result of an intentional act buy the U.S justice department.
You know, one problem with these pen input things is that there's an upcoming generation that finds pens awkward compared to various types of keyboards. I know that I, a member of the old guard who uses cursive comfortably, have decreased my pen/pencil input dramatically over the past few years. That leaves drawing-type tasks that are not necessarily what most people are going to want.
I'd rather use a pen then a fat finger for a lot of UI stuff. Using your fingers has two disadvantages: low accuracy and worse: You can't even see what you're doing. I just got a new phone and I played a demo version of Minecraft for the first time (I'd been too worried it would be too much of a time suck to even try it on my PC :P) and it was kind of ridiculous. One finger to move, another finger to dig/place blocks and you're covering up like 30/40% of the screen while you're doing stuff.

Remember the Nintendo DS actually comes with a stylus, rather then being finger only.

The problem with a stylus is that it's just too easy to lose them and a hassle to pull them out when you want to use them. Finger stuff is good for simple things but for complex and creative work you want a stylus.
A pen with decent handwriting recognition would be far better.
See, then I'd need decent handwriting.
Actually, for text input why not just use voice input? Not too gush too much about my new phone but with Swype on the screen, a physical keyboard and voice input I feel like I've got input pretty much covered. (my old phone could do voice stuff, but it was really slow. It was the first android phone ever made) Unfortunately voice input is modal. You talk, then the text shows up. If it were real time and you could narrate large blocks of text it would work even better.

Of course, a lot of times you want to enter text silently. Not taking would be one example.
One interesting thing re: Windows 8: the whole WPF business appears to be dead as a doornail. In fact .net in general is largely absent, C++ appears to be the new hotness.
This isn't exactly true. Supposedly you can take a normal .net/windows app and convert it into a 'metro' app with a few lines of code. Microsoft did a demo of this. Their own platform isn't dead it's just that they're supporting Html/Javascript as the 'primary' way to do Apps.
posted by delmoi at 8:14 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thing is, if the Courier had come out, it would have been after the iPad 1, and it would have been DOA. This was billed as a device for creatives to bundle and build. This wasn't a device for "normal people." The iPad, OTOH, was instantly the tablet that no one knew they needed until they put their hands on it.

Microsoft didn't need the Courier. What Microsoft needs is to figure out if it wants to be an enterprise software company or a consumer software company. I think they can last a long time as the former and do pretty well at the latter with the right pivoting... but they're terrible at doing both at the same time. Apple, OTOH, is pretty much going all consumer and de-emphasizing the pro and enterprise market. They know who they are and what they do. I'm not sure anyone at MSFT has a really good sense of how many pies they have fingers in.
posted by dw at 8:18 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


It became apparent that MS wasn't giving the developers the resources they needed.

That's not the way that Microsoft Research works. MSR has a charter that doesn't include the creation of shipping product -- the Songsmith aberration notwithstanding. Inkseine would have needed a product team to take it over. That would probably have to have been Office, given its functional proximity to OneNote. And getting Office to add a new sub-brand is probably impossible today, so the features would actually have to have been merged into OneNote -- which realistically means reimplementing them.

Not that any of this helps you, but each link in the chain of corporate logic is pretty reasonable. It's just the end result that sometimes seems silly.

One interesting thing re: Windows 8: the whole WPF business appears to be dead as a doornail. In fact .net in general is largely absent, C++ appears to be the new hotness.

For a variety of reasons -- some legitimate -- Windows was never going to ship an API that required managed code. So the new Windows runtime is implemented entirely in C++ and COM. But COM now has a much stronger metadata system, which (somewhat ironically) is actually the CLR's type system. And "projections" are generated automatically for various target environments: C++, .NET and Javascript/HTML. I suspect that -- by far -- most apps targeting the new runtime are actually going to be implemented in C#, at least for the first year or two.
posted by Slothrup at 8:20 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Corporate customers may be more inclined to use a Windows tablet than, say, Apple's iPad, because those devices will likely include well-known management and security tools that should make them easy to plug into secure corporate networks.

Sales shoved the iPad down IT's throat at the megacorp where I'm an inmate. I'm sure IT would have loved to have a Windows alternative, but it just didn't exist at the quality to put in front of a customer.

Barn door: open. Horses: gone.
posted by underflow at 8:30 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sales shoved the iPad down IT's throat at the megacorp where I'm an inmate. I'm sure IT would have loved to have a Windows alternative, but it just didn't exist at the quality to put in front of a customer.
I'm kind of confused here. Did sales want interactive iPad demos to show people or something?
posted by delmoi at 8:50 PM on November 1, 2011


"a clit-mouse"

I'd honestly never heard that one before. I'm never going to look at my laptop in the same way again.
posted by joannemullen at 8:54 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of confused here. Did sales want interactive iPad demos to show people or something?

Exactly. And, since there was no longer any real barrier to entry, IT now offers iPhones as well.
posted by underflow at 9:09 PM on November 1, 2011


I'm just going to echo the "there would be no market for a courier type device", assuming of course its price point is comparable to the iPad. There simply aren't enough techno hipsters seeking to replace their moleskins with expensive gizmos to justify the product.

Sell them at $99 like the touchpad firesale of course and things are different, but intentionally losing vast sums of money isn't a sustainable long term business strategy.

You can do Ink reasonable well on capacitive iPad type devices. NoteTaker HD and other programs have a mode with an expanded zoom in box that is mirrored to a smaller page view, so basically you write big and sloppy and the ink is shrunk and inserted, then the box advances. Its workable. and not a new solution. I had something similar on a palm pilot 10+ years ago. And some stylii have some drag at the tip, so its not exactly pen on paper, but its decent.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:12 PM on November 1, 2011


Tomorrowful writes "I know there's more to the story, but this is the huge difference between Apple and MS, businesswise: Microsoft kills anything that threatens the products that pay their bills. Apple aggressively cannibalizes its own products."

Apple despite being technically of similiar age as Microsoft has been to the brink recently and often enough that they are still in start up mode with little entrenched territory to defend; watch for them to become much more Microsoft like in the next 10 years as they continue to defend the iTunes and app store revenue streams. It's a familiar pattern and pretty well how MS got where they are by out manoeuvring IBM.

usagizero writes "I'd beg to differ here. I touch type pretty well, and can actually 'touch type' on my ipad. i don't have the tactile feedback, but the memory of where the keys should be is more than enough. I'm slightly slower, make a couple more errors, but if the pad is landscape, it's surprisingly easy to touch type on."

My fingers hurt just reading this, glad it works for some people but I can't imagine using a typing interface with zero travel at all for more than a few minutes at a time.
posted by Mitheral at 1:10 AM on November 2, 2011


I can't imagine using a typing interface with zero travel at all for more than a few minutes at a time

The iPad keyboard tech comes from the fingerworks touch keyboard of years back. Apple bought their intellectual property. The travelless keyboard is far far superior at eliminated RSI and carpel tunnel stuff. You can't type as well, but its much lower impact typing when you do. A programmer friend of mine started getting bad rsi stuff and switched to the fingerworks. He was slower and less accurate, but that was better than unable to type at all.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:16 AM on November 2, 2011


Gruber has it right:
Interesting reporting by Jay Greene for CNet, but I’m not buying it that Courier was near completion. This, to me, is damning:

When Courier died, there was not a single prototype that contained all of the attributes of the vision: the industrial design, the screen performance, the software experience, the correct weight, and the battery life. Those existed individually, created in parallel to keep the development process moving quickly. Those prototypes wouldn’t have come together into a single unit until very late in the development process, perhaps weeks before manufacturing, which is common for cutting-edge consumer electronics design. But on the team, there was little doubt that they were moving quickly toward that final prototype.

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


One prototype that looks right, one with the right screen, one that has the right software, one that has the right weight, and one with the right battery life. Just mash them all together in a few weeks and you’re done. Sure.
You simply cannot take something as ambitious and novel such as the Courier interface and slap it together in a few weeks. The end result would have been a cobbled together product of such poor quality and design it'd make Maylong blush.

It's a damn shame, but they were years away from producing a product on par with what the ambitious promo videos promised.
posted by iheijoushin at 6:24 AM on November 2, 2011


You can't type as well, but its much lower impact typing when you do.

This isn't my experience with typing on glass. Maybe I'm too used to typing on sprung keyboards, but bashing my fingers against an unyeilding surface isn't pleasant for even moderate lengths, a few paragraphs, in my experience. I suspect, to gain these benefits, one would either need to learn this way or have long, painful experience to retrain.

Have you ever worked with people who learned to type on typewriters? There's a reason old programmers like those IBM type M keyboards. They punch the keys hard enough to drive nails.
posted by bonehead at 7:18 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if there's a market for an an intentionally 'old-school' portable pc. Bigger, heavier, sturdier, mechanical keyboard, trackball, etc.
posted by empath at 7:20 AM on November 2, 2011


I worked for about 6 months on the marketing for the Courier project--it was so exciting and felt like such a huge leap forward for MSFT, but there was just way too much internal political battling for the thing to ever get out the door.

What really seemed to kill it from day 1 was that it didn't fit neatly into any of MSFT's rigidly-defined product groups--it wasn't a phone, so it didn't fit into mobile. It wasn't a PC so it didn't fit there. It wasn't a gaming device so it didn't fit there...but all three groups wanted ownership of it, and when they didn't get it, what I hear is that their department heads tried to crush the project.
posted by jonathanzoomer at 7:37 AM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Part 2: How Windows 8 KO'd the innovative Courier tablet
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:12 AM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


What really seemed to kill it from day 1 was that it didn't fit neatly into any of MSFT's rigidly-defined product groups--it wasn't a phone, so it didn't fit into mobile. It wasn't a PC so it didn't fit there. It wasn't a gaming device so it didn't fit there

Hmm. For the first year of the iPad's public existence, I remember a lot of discussion where otherwise smart people were certain of its doom for similar reasons: "It's not small enough to fit in your pocket, it's not as powerful as a laptop, it doesn't have e-ink for easy reading or super long battery life."

But that's a category/conceptualization failure. What you're talking about here:

all three groups wanted ownership of it, and when they didn't get it, what I hear is that their department heads tried to crush the project.

sounds like an organizational behavior failure -- like the hierarchy, structure, and politics of the place won't support products that aren't "owned" by a group that exists to manage an existing product.
posted by weston at 9:15 AM on November 2, 2011


What really seemed to kill it from day 1 was that it didn't fit neatly into any of MSFT's rigidly-defined product groups--it wasn't a phone, so it didn't fit into mobile. It wasn't a PC so it didn't fit there. It wasn't a gaming device so it didn't fit there...but all three groups wanted ownership of it, and when they didn't get it, what I hear is that their department heads tried to crush the project.

Clearly, you folks should have re-named Courier as a Microsoft Live SharePoint OneNote Workspace tablet. So with a single Live ID sign-on, all your scribbles on the device automatically get uploaded into SkyDrive, a SharePoint list and as a OneNote notebook on a laptop and a WP7 phone.

</sarcasm>
posted by the cydonian at 9:35 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Clearly, you folks should have re-named Courier as a Microsoft Live SharePoint OneNote Workspace tablet. So with a single Live ID sign-on, all your scribbles on the device automatically get uploaded into SkyDrive, a SharePoint list and as a OneNote notebook on a laptop and a WP7 phone.

And then, when it died, nobody would have shed a tear.
posted by acb at 9:40 AM on November 2, 2011


bashing my fingers against an unyeilding surface isn't pleasant

I think that you're headed into RSI territory if you start off by "bashing" anything. You don't need to press the iPad screen with any significant pressure to type. If you can't help but crack walnuts with your powerful presses, I can see how that might take lots of adjustment though.

Is there any feeling out there for how common RSIs were back in the day of typewriters and Model Ms?
posted by Chekhovian at 10:05 AM on November 2, 2011


This is one of those rare moment where I suspect Gruber is right.
posted by Artw at 10:13 AM on November 2, 2011


Pitting product groups against one another is almost as much a part of Microsoft's culture as complaining about the employee review system or grabbing a free soda from the employee kitchens.

Here's a related piece from last year on how the Office group slowed down the Tablet PC.
posted by Artw at 11:06 AM on November 2, 2011


Wow, that Artw link is more cutting than the OP, but more meaningful; that internecine warfare, and that way the VP of _____ can play pure politics to gut the attempt to ship _____, is the heart of the real story only hinted at obliquely in the OP. People like to say MS doesn't make anything, but the real sadness is the amazing things they almost-make, or which sit on a shelf for too long so instead of being cutting edge, they become also-ran.

And like the "MBA Seeks Code Monkey" writ large, Ballmer and his ilk don't see the tech people as of any value: it's just a business, just accounting tricks and market share through marketing or brute force. The innovation is unneeded, or at best an afterthought. And because of that cultural change, far too many of the smartest young minds aren't going near MS anymore, which like a baseball team gutting its farm system, is spelling real problems in a few years. We know it still has smart people- look at Metafilter's own dr.flakenstein, posting about the really cool stuff over at Photosynth and MS Labs... but that seems to be the exception, and not something MS is really pushing to be a key part of products to make them "cool". They have no willingness to beta amazing new things to make MS seem like not just the OS/Office giant, but the place to look for the direction of the industry.

MS still has the talent to be the coolest, most forward-thinking tech company, and when they have moments of lucidity on the business side they make something like the Xbox 360 and it's best-in-class online experience. But mostly, they have a culture of sweater-wearing VPs killing good ideas to protect their own apparently untied-to-any-results annual 7 figure bonuses. And that, more than two guys in a garage, is what will ultimately make them less relevant.


I also love that a VP was named "Dick Brass"... really!?! That is stupendously awesome!!!
posted by hincandenza at 12:17 PM on November 2, 2011


empath: "I wonder if there's a market for an an intentionally 'old-school' portable pc. Bigger, heavier, sturdier, mechanical keyboard, trackball, etc."

People who need one probably just buy a Panasonic Toughbook, no?
posted by zarq at 12:56 PM on November 2, 2011


Fuck it, I'm getting a Osborne 1.
posted by Artw at 1:03 PM on November 2, 2011


Nokia hints at Windows 8 tablet.
posted by Artw at 3:46 PM on November 2, 2011


Why Microsoft Embraced Gaming
posted by Artw at 10:29 AM on November 3, 2011


That article says X360 is the "best-selling video-game system of its generation". Where are they getting their numbers from? Wikipedia and VGChartz both put the Wii way ahead (for both America and World Wide). (Oh, I see their first comment says the same thing).
posted by Gary at 1:54 PM on November 3, 2011


I have no idea, but I would be shocked if those Wikipedia figures in any way reflected current sales.
posted by Artw at 2:13 PM on November 3, 2011


OLPC to be flung from helicopters at the worlds poor
posted by Artw at 3:08 PM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The VGChartz Hardware Totals are the most up to date. Wikipedia is a few years old but the proportions are more or less accurate.

Also interesting: How badly the PS2 beat the Gamecube. I knew it was a lot, but wow. What a recovery for Nintendo for this generation.
posted by Gary at 3:09 PM on November 3, 2011


Gamecube had a brief flurry of interest, then expired, whereas PS2 sales just marched on and on.

TBH I wouldn't be surprised to see a similar thing happening over time with 360 Vs Wii - certainly if you look at the old numbers versus now 360 has crept up whilst the Wii has remained pretty static.
posted by Artw at 3:44 PM on November 3, 2011


Yeah, I wonder how much of the Wii's more casual market has been lost to the iPad (25 million as of June 2011).

The 3DS is at 6.68 million which is pretty disappointing given the complete dominance of the DS. So I guess this Christmas (with Mario Land and Mario Kart being released) will show if that was due to a lack of games or due to smart phones. I suspect both.

That OLPC thing is such a waste of money. It also seems kind of racist. They also took a charitable project and turned it into social experimentation on African people.
posted by Gary at 4:04 PM on November 3, 2011


It feels like they've been reading too much Stephenson...
posted by Artw at 4:09 PM on November 3, 2011


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