November 28, 2011

Earlier this month at CNET, Jay Greene wrote a wonderful two-part story about how Microsoft killed the Courier project. Arguably the most fascinating paragraph describes a meeting in which Bill Gates, judging the device’s prospects, questions its champion J Allard about Courier’s e-mail capabilities:

“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. 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.”

The article then describes how Gates had “an allergic reaction” to the idea that the Courier would not be able to tap into Microsoft’s Exchange franchise. And while linking the death of Courier directly to its inability to handle e-mail (ironic given the product’s name), is likely an oversimplification, it is also a bit difficult to swallow that it could have even been an accessory to the murder.

Now, I somewhat sympathize with the idea that the world does not need another way to get e-mail. But to quote the Seth Meyers Weekend Update catchphrase, “Really?” From the leaked videos of Courier, e-mail did not seem like such an outlandish thing to have in the product. Surely the team could have thought of a way to “Courierize” an e-mail experience, perhaps by filtering messages relating to a specific creative project.

If Courier was killed to provide a clear path for Windows 8 tablets, then it was axed for the wrong reason, but ultimately it was probably best that it was not pursued. As engaging as Courier appeared to be, I always wondered about the size of its addressable market. We may yet get a taste of that, though, and at a much lower price than what Courier would have cost, as the Kickstarter-funded engineers behind Taposé bring their app to the iPad.

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