Microsoft's Courier: May the best OS win

Microsoft's Courier: May the best OS win

Summary: When the first pictures and videos of Microsoft's next-generation Courier tablet leaked, I heard from my sources that the prototype in the shots was running Windows 7. New leaks claim it's running some kind of mobile OS based on Windows CE. So, which is it?


When the first pictures and videos of Microsoft's next-generation Courier tablet leaked, I heard from my sources that the prototype in the shots was running Windows 7.

On March 5, Engadget got some more Courier pics and details. According to their information, the "Franklin Covey planner on steroids" (as I described it months back) is now running a Windows CE-based operating system which may share components with the forthcoming Windows Phone 7.0 operating system (and/or the Zune HD OS or Project Pink OS). All three of these latter operating systems are built on top of the Windows CE core, not Windows.

So, which is it? Is Courier a Windows-based tablet? Or is it a Windows CE-centric/Windows Phone OS-based tablet? Or is it a Microsoft Linux tablet? (Had to thow that in, in anticipation of my many Linux-loving fanboys in the Talkbacks.)

At this point, Courier is nothing but early prototypes and marketing videos. Technologizer's Harry McCracken wondered aloud whether that's all Courier will ever be -- more of a "look what could be possible if you stitched together all the Microsoft Research demos we have" kind of thing than an actual device that will come to market any time soon.

I think Microsoft does have some kind of next-generation Tablet in the works, which may or may not end up using the InkSeine and Codex Microsoft Research technologies. It's not surprising that such a device would support multi-touch and allow note-taking a la OneNote.

At this point, in my opinion, there are a few different factors influencing which operating system that device will end up running.

Politics: Windows is the big cash cow at Microsoft. Remember the HP slate that Microsoft CEO demonstrated at CES this year? It was running Windows 7, not Windows Phone OS 7.0/Windows Mobile or the Zune HD OS. Windows isn't too big or bloated to power some very sleek mobile devices.

However, a Microsoft Alchemy Ventures project supposedly spearheaded by J Allard, is an Entertainment and Devices kind of thing. Products from the E&D division (Xbox, Zune, mobile phones) aren't Windows-based. So I'd say the choice could go either way, at this point....

Processor: If the Courier device is Intel-based, Windows is likely to be the OS within. If Courier ends up running Tegra, a CE-based operating system is likely what will be inside.

Timing: I know Engadget's sources are saying Courier is a Q3/Q4 2010 product. I stick by what my sources are still saying: Courier isn't going to be out until 2011 at the absolute earliest. Even if the iPad ends up being a rousing success, Microsoft isn't going to rush the Courier out of its incubation labs.

If Courier ends up being Windows-based, it could be even later if the Softies want it to run Windows 8. If it's a CE-based OS like Windows Phone OS, Silverlight will have to be running without any glitches, meaning it might take an iteration or two to work out the kinks. (Remember, Silverlight still isn't running -- yet -- on Windows Mobile or the Zune HD. It's expected to debut on Windows Phone 7 devices for the first time this holiday season.

What's your take? If and when Microsoft does deliver Tablet PC 2.0, a k a Courier, what will it be running?

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Tablets, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Microsoft's Courier: May the best OS win

    I don't think its going to matter what version of Microsoft Windows it will be running as long as it is functional (and is Windows of course). If people can load some of the portable/mobile apps and have a nice e-reader, then it won't really matter. But if I had to pick one I'd say Windows Phone 7 just because it has future growth. Its new, will be around for a while, will have plenty of apps for it in due time, breaks the screen into segments, it just makes more sense.
    Loverock Davidson
    • Is there real demand for so many gadgets

      I think these tablet / mobile producers might be disappointed by a potential lukewarm market response.
      • Market suggests otherwise...

        for the right price at least. Netbooks are
        extremely popular and smartphones are extremely
        popular. The is just a tween device. I would buy
        one over a netbook if it was similarly priced, so
        far they're more expensive. Also I believe the use
        of GPS, accelerometer and compass adds a new
        dimension of input that is in high demand. I
        believe you'll see them standard in laptops in 10
        years just like cameras became standard.
  • Interesting Read Mary Jo , Thanks! *NT

  • RE: Microsoft's Courier: May the best OS win

    Too tough to call.

    Microsoft releases several great marketing videos of
    superb potential products, but have terrible follow through
    in releasing such products, or when they do, it's horribly
    hindered unrecognizable from the concept videos they
    release, or extremely overpriced.

    My take? I'll believe it when I see it. Sorry Microsoft. Your
    track record is behind you on this.
  • Marketing vs. Potential

    I watched the videos on it, and it's really slick. I
    mean seriously, I'm generally platform agnostic, but
    the demo they showed for this, if accurate, definitely
    puts the iPad to shame. I really like the journal
    functions that were there and how it so seamlessly
    merges the functionality of Outlook, IE, and OneNote
    into one app that looks like it's so much fun to use.

    IMO the OS should be dictated by what third party
    functionality they want to be available. For me, as
    sweet as this thing seems, first one that can run
    Photoshop wins, but I know I'm in the minority. Is
    Microsoft looking to integrate WinMo devs, WinDOWS
    devs, start a new ecosystem entirely, or make everyone
    stock spec like the 1.x iPhone, leaving third party
    stuff to the xda devs?

    • Drink that kool-aid

      This is standard MS practice. Demo something incredibly awesome that
      doesn't exist yet, but soon will in order to shut down sales of a
      competing product that is not so slick, but actually does exist.
      • So you think it's better than the iPad?

        Gotcha. Thanks for clearing that up.

        Incidentally, what will you say when it actually comes out?

        Sleeper Service
        • Much slicker than the iPad.

          When/if it comes out. There are many little things in the videos that
          show this is the very early stages of conceptual design. There may even
          be some test hardware to try out the concepts.

          But don't expect it to ship in the next 6 months... or 12 or 18 for that
        • fantasy

          but even you should get the difference between a fantasy and a real
          product. the one is a designer's dream with no basis in real technology
          and the other is real shipping product. gotcha?
          • " basis in real technology."

            None of that functionality actually exists? How do you know? Some inside track with Microsoft product development? Oh, I know, Apple didn't think of it, therefore it's not real.

            Face it, it would take only half of those features to blow the iPad away. Of course, the new Lenovo tablet netbook already blows the iPad away.
            Lester Young
          • Watch the video.

            And you will notice at least a half dozen gestures that under the same
            conditions on the same type of object under very similar contexts do
            something completely different.

            So yes, conceptually the Courier is pretty cool but the videos do not
            seem based in real technology. They are very much conceptual ideas of
            how to interact with a device.
          • I did.

            It is illogical to conclude that the functionalities do not exist because they are not proven on the video. Many of those functionalities are tablet adaptations of One Note functionalities. It's not as huge a leap as you are implying.
            Lester Young
          • @Lester Young. You miss the whole point.

            I am sure you believe you do a rough sketch and a bit of a mockup
            and 1 to 2 months later you have a fully functional major product with
            all the software written and debugged. It simply does not work that

            The problem with the Courier videos is not that they show a super-
            cool technical product (they do), the problem is there are lots of
            inconsistent gestures used. Does lassoing text create a copy action or
            create a yellow stick-it? Both results are shown. Same gesture. Same
            context. Same datatypes. Different results. This is one of many many
            similar conditions that goes to show this is little more that conceptual
            design at this point.

            Do you undertand the idea of "conceptual design" VS "finished
            design"? Even AFTER the finished design is complete, you still have
            implementation to go through. This will take something called time:


            And the amount of time from finalized design to finalized
            implementation can be quite a bit. Especially something as
            conceptually ground-breaking as the Courier is trying to be.

            In short, the iPad will be on version 2 to 3 by the time this gets out.
          • Ha ha!

            The iPad sold a million units in its first month. Microsoft just canceled Courier. HP just bought Palm. The HP Slate that Ballmer showed at CES is also dead. At least that was a physical product. Courier never existed, except is the hearts and minds of the believers. Talk about Kool-Aid.
        • Idiot.

          You really are childish. twisting words that aren't even there?! How, in
          your tiny little mind, has that post got anything to do with iPad.
        • Gotcha?

          Now, I'm not a huge fan of Apple, but they do have a reputation for being ready to deliver when they announce a product (overpriced or under featured, but on time). The iPad will ship soon, and the Courier is just a concept, right now. The iPad 2 or 3 (with many more features - multi-tasking maybe) will probably be shipping before the Courier does.

          I'm sure that, with some creative software, I can make a video of a product that fits in your pocket, projects the images in the air above it, and has a direct link to your brain (MindLink (TM)). It might just take a little while for me to deliver it :).

          • Most likley...

            when the courier ships the ipad will be dead, since it is dead on arrival. No need for anymore versions. But courier is cool and more functional, even in concept. Smoke dat!
      • Not drinking KoolAid

        First off, it was Flavoraid; Koolaid is a
        common misconception and is largely used out of

        That said, I wasn't going to buy an iPad. it
        doesn't interest me. At all. It's not to say
        that there's not a market for it, it's just
        that I'm not that market. Apple didn't lose a
        sale because I like the Courier concept. It's
        that the iPad *never* interested me, while the
        Courier does. Heck, I'd even eyeball the HP
        Slate over the iPad, because the Slate is much
        more likely to do what I want than the iPad is.

        Apple doesn't make products for me, at any
        price. I want a number pad and two physical
        hard drives in my laptop. Apple doesn't make
        them. Being as it's my money, I'm going to
        purchase the tool that does what I want it to
        do. I want a stylus on my tablet. Apple doesn't
        make them. HP does, and the videos demonstrate
        that Microsoft might be as well. Guess who gets
        my money, and guess whether the logo on the
        outer plastic has any influence on my purchase?

        • Well, yeah, but YOUR logos don't glow.

          How can you live without that, like, totally cool thing?

          Koolaid: Ken Kesey, Merry Pranksters, LSD

          Flavoraid: Jim Jones, People's Temple, cyanide
          Lester Young