CNet: Bill Gates killed the Courier tablet because it had no email client

CNet is writing what they call the definitive account of the life and untimely death of the Courier tablet headed by J Allard, the Microsoft visionary who led their Xbox team to what one could safely call a victory in the console space.

It appears there were paralel efforts going on to address the tablet issue – Windows 8 headed by Steven Sinofsky and the Courier tablet, which was already pretty advanced in development and had a staff of 130 people, headed by J Allard.

According to CNet Steve Ballmer consulted Bill Gates to help decide which route to pursue.  The outcome was not that great for the Courier, which was cancelled weeks later.

They write:

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.

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.

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.

“This is where Bill had an allergic reaction,” said one Courier worker who talked with an attendee of the meeting. As is his style in product reviews, Gates pressed Allard, challenging the logic of the approach.

CNet goes on to eulogize the device, which it seems was created by designers for designers, and had the slogan “Free Create”, in great detail, which makes for a fascinating read.

In the end however I think Microsoft made the right decision for what Courier offered at the time.  The truth is that most of us do not create, but consume media, something which Apple deeply understands. The Courier would have been a great doodling device, but unless you are in the niche which design sneakers, it would likely have remained a toy for the few.

What do our readers think?  Was Bill Gates right or wrong? Let us know below.

See one of the Courier demo videos after the break.

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