Microsoft's Courier: May the best OS win

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?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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?

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