Microsoft's Courier tablet: A Franklin Covey planner on steroids?

Microsoft's Courier tablet: A Franklin Covey planner on steroids?

Summary: Gizmodo has posted another video of Microsoft's alleged Courier tablet in action. And I'm hearing some new (but unverified) tidbits, too, especially around Courier's possible positioning and timing.


Since the first video and photo leaks went public last week of Microsoft's alleged second-generation Tablet PC, tipsters have been working overtime.

Since Microsoft isn't commenting at all on Courier (the official statement is "we don't comment on rumors or speculation"), it's tough to separate fact from fiction at this point.

But some tipsters are a little more connected than others. And one of my connected tipsters has shared some new info with me that I'm posting now, given that it seems more verifiable.

I say "verifiable" here, not in an official sense, but based on a new Courier video clip Gizmodo posted on September 29. Gizmodo's new clip shows more details about the journaling model around which Courier's user interface seems to revolve. From Gizmodo's explanation:

"The (Courier) journal can actually be published online, and it's shown here as able to be downloaded in three formats: a Courier file, Powerpoint or PDF. There's also a library that looks a lot like Delicious Library, where things like subscriptions, notebooks and apps, are stored."

That sure makes the Courier sound like it fits in with Microsoft's uber-"three screens and a cloud" vision -- via which devices, TVs and PCs all share common cloud-based services, storage, etc.

The Courier journaling metaphor isn't so different from Microsoft's OneNote note-taking app that is currently the showcase app for existing tablet PCs, my "connected" source said. He explained:

"The concept started as a software idea on how one would really build OneNote from scratch if you could for the Tablet form factor. That then morphed into building a tablet. If you look at the most successful pocket computer today - it is still the Franklin Covey Planning Products. So, the idea was how do you create a digital planner."

My source also claimed that the operating system underneath Courier is -- at least currently -- Windows 7. (That's not as crazy as it might seem, given that the OS underlying Microsoft's Surface is Vista -- and Windows 7 is touch-enabled.)

You can't install Windows 7 apps on Courier, the source said, and that's intentional.

The original Microsoft Tablets "failed because the applications were not tailored to a tablet form factor - that is, Word still had toolbars and menus and scollbars. So, a tablet needs to be like an iPhone - a UX that is specific for the form factor," the source said.

My source said that Courier is an incubation project, meaning it's further along than a Microsoft Research project, but still not in the commercialization pipeline. That said, he heard the  delivery goal is mid-2010. That seems pretty darn ambitious to me, but he also said Microsoft is currently leaning toward using the Xbox model -- in other words, making the device itself, and not relying on its current Tablet partners -- so that could speed things up a bit.

I can't verify any of what my source has told me. But I figured I'd put it out there, as it jibes with what Gizmodo has unearthed.

What's your take? Is the Courier protoype we're hearing and seeing bits and pieces about something you could see having wider appeal than the current generation of Tablets?

Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Tablets


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).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I'd buy one instantly

    The Courier embodies everything I've wanted in a portable device for well over five years now - essentially an electronic pad/binder that works very similar to the physical counterpart. Notebooks are too cludgy (being clam-shells) and tablet PCs far too heavy (and still basically clam-shells), not to mention too expensive.

    If Microsoft were to release something like the prototype today, I'd be at the store before I finished typing this comment.
    • Me too, BUT

      price would be something I'd have to look at.

      If it was under $400, then yes, I'd buy one, but I'd prefer if it was less. If it's going to be some extravagant, say, $999 device, then I'd have to pass.
      • If it does the job well...

        ...(as in Apple-well) then I'd pay $999 for it.

        But if it's slow (i.e. frustrating), or has less than an 8 hour battery life (i.e., not really portable because it's always tethered), then even at $400 I wouldn't buy it.
        • Hmm, OneNote as hardware

          Well OneNote is the only application I miss from my TabletPC, so if
          they're trying to hit that - well that sounds pretty good. As for price,
          well I guess it all depends on what else it can do;

          So can it email? That would be worth something.
          Can it connect via a cellular network? Again useful if it can.
          Can it read ebooks? This would instantly be worth a lot for me.
          Can it play music? Hey, it's not that stupid an idea.
          Can it record voice notes?
          Can you create applications for it, or is it a closed box?
          Touch games? Chess would be nice.
          Instant Messaging? Video Instant Messaging?!
          Battery Life?

          With favourable answers to the above, even $999 seems OK. Let's face
          it, the thing (from the videos) has a real flare, if the build quality is
          there, I think it would be great. I also think it needs a database -
          nothing like Oracle, but something you can chuck say product records
          into. Probably also a database client, that understand how to pull
          records into the notebook metaphor.
          • Are they dusting off Origami?

            I think all this is Vaporware to take attention away from the non-existent Apple tablet.
            Typical Microsoft Vaporware!
  • RE: Microsoft's Courier tablet: A Franklin Covey planner on steroids?

    I'm a heavy Tablet user and this Courier has really got my interest up.
  • Would this be usable in a medical environment?

    I think our doctors and dentist would be interested, but only if it could run our ehr software.
  • RE: Microsoft's Courier tablet: A Franklin Covey planner on steroids?

    So it's not left up to the user to decide whether to install Win7 apps?

    No thanks.

    I want something like this or a tablet which is flexible enough to cover most of the standard tasks people use computers for such as Internet, MS Office/OpenOffice, music/video, remote access of other pc's, etc.

    If this computer won't handle those tasks as the user desires, will this just be in addition to their existing computer? Just one more device to have to buy software for which has added quirks to deal with?

    Sure new apps can be written tailored for this machine, but will most people want to purchase 2 sets of software for this and for Win7/Vista/XP ? What about the sheer selection available for Windows vs new apps for the Courier? Has there been a real problem with manipulating windows with touch methods?

    I want an easy to carry tablet type pc which can replace my laptop, maybe even double as a desktop with added wireless keyboard & mouse.

    Why limit or cripple the device?
    • Should be unique...

      Well, this of it this way. If the device is successful and well executed, companies will want to port apps specifically for the device. Think iPhone app craze...

      I think there is a large risk making it a Win 7 tablet. It's not differentiated enough and it will be commoditized. However, if it's a unique platform with app store, it could succeed.
    • Tablet problems

      Well the TabletPC is a cursed beast to be sure. The UI of Windows is
      anything but pen friendly, as for touch... well that's worse. Trying to
      use the Start Menu with a pen on a device your holding is a frustrating
      experience, it's on the wrong place (at the bottom) and the targets are

      The problem with it being "a PC with touch and pen" is nothing get
      written for it, you get applications that are clearly desktop apps, with
      "ink features" grafted on.

      So, I think the separation makes sense. An application built for this
      won't work at all on a desktop, and a desktop application isn't going
      to offer much on a device like this.
    • Think about what you're saying

      Why is it okay to buy software/app for a Mac and an iPhone/iTouch? Be reasonable. It seems that you're saying if I buy Office for my PC, I should be able to run it on all my devices. Nice, I'd love to see your business model make money.

      The article indicates that traditional desktop apps are not suitable for portable hardware platforms. That's the problem Windows Mobile has had for years. It seems that a new development platform to handle this hardware/software configuration is required. Think about it...
      • Not so fast

        Why is a completely new development platform required to handle the
        hardware/software? That's throwing the baby out with the bath water.

        This thing is big enough that it should have some adequate hardware
        chops, which means that it could most certainly run the full Windows
        7 kernel and the core libraries. From there, Microsoft could then build
        a new user shell to take advantage of the enhanced touch

        For example, I'd be much happier if the "Infinite Journal" made use of
        the same data processing and display libraries used by OneNote. That
        would ensure that Courier notes could be manipulated and added to
        by a regular PC or laptop user. It also reduces the amount of code
        that needs to be maintained.

        Moreover, the more like common code this thing shares with Windows,
        the easier it will be to port existing applications. A completely new
        development platform simply isn't necessary.
        Rob Oakes
        • You're skirting the issue

          Why is it okay for Apple to publish an SDK for the iPhone platform but it's not okay for Microsoft? Give me a break!
  • microsoft hardware? the world's been dying for it ...

    Great stuff ... after Microsoft will have convinced 340mn facebook users that their data should move over to Microsoft. And of course after the last flickers (...) of resistance of sales forces against redmond owning all the APIs again will have seized.

    Because this is another support-my-API-and-I-will-get-your-paycheck approach. Don't get me wrong, this is what people are going to buy, so nothing wrong with msft supplying it.

    The challenge of this industry is to make user data re-usable.

    Another fancy toy is going to repeat what we already have. Too many address books, too many documents we don't find, and too many tweets to consume in a lifetime.

    And all the fancy navigation will be missing the key ingredient going forward:
    Access to generic data OUTSIDE the stacks, access to all the data a user is interested in - vs. what a specific device or environment or vendor supports.
    • Mesh

      Data sync platform. Phone, Windows, Mac. I'm sure this will be included. Remember, Mesh is the sync platform so while currently quite useful, it's only the tip of the iceberg.
      • Mesh support

        Yep they would need to add Mesh and Exchange Activesync support. With those, plus Onenote with syncing support so my on-the-go notes are synced with my PCs, this will be a killer device IMHO.
        • Don't forget that...

          Some of the best features are "Windows Only" features. Why is it called
          Mesh when it does it only sporadically? It should be called "Windows
          Mesh" since you can't do remote desktop unless it's from/to wintel. The
          only killer of this concept is its' proprietary nature.
          • Absolutely

            Agreed. And in my current use of Mesh with multiple OS I have had to come up with creative ways (not very just using virtual machines) to sync via Mesh. But I think for corporate environments that have bought into MS the Courier+Onenote+Mesh+Exchange+PC could be a viable solution.
  • RE: Microsoft's Courier tablet: A Franklin Covey planner on steroids?

    Appears to be near a product Apple might wish they had. Or
    is the mysterious MacTab more than ghost and could we see
    instant competition in this space? Sure could be interesting.
  • Tablet PC User

    I've been a long time tablet PC user, but I don't think I would purchase this without the ability to run all Windows apps. It's too big to carry in addition to a laptop.