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Who killed the Courier?

Technologies come and go all the time, but the real mystery is why some promised products disappear altogether without ever seeing the light of day.

Technologies come and go all the time, but the real mystery is why some promised products disappear altogether without ever seeing the light of day. The proper tech term for these products is "vaporware," a term that includes any software and hardware product that was cancelled before release for various reasons that aren't always clear to disappointed customers.

One of the most recent examples was the Microsoft Courier, a tablet concept that had the tech world excited about something other than an Apple product for the first time in a long while. Cnet ( wanted answers so they dug into the mystery in a two-part series that I recommend everyone read.

The videos are still available on YouTube if you'd like to see what we're all missing these days, but basically the courier was a two-sided tablet that folded up like a book. It worked with a stylus so you could take notes on one page while browsing the web on the other.

Microsoft built actual prototypes of these devices, and to all appearances they worked. It's safe to say that if they ever released them there would have been a stampede to stores to buy them. I want a tablet, and if I had my choice it would have been a Courier.

According to Cnet's Jay Greene, Microsoft was divided over the future of tablets. One side of the company, the side responsible for the Xbox, was not shy about developing and selling hardware. The other side, led by the Windows division, was all about software, or specifically adapting the Windows Operating System to run on tablets made by pretty much anybody - the same model of software development that has made Microsoft what it is today.

It was too tough a call for CEO Steve Ballmer, so he took the debate to company founder Bill Gates. According to Cnet, Gates met with both sides, hardware and software, and was dismayed to discover that the Courier advocates didn't think that email clients or operability with Microsoft Office products was necessary - the Courier would be a standalone device with its own operating system, software and apps, as well as integration with the web that would make it possible for users to access emails, use Office, etc.

"This is where Bill had an allergic reaction," Cnet quotes one Microsoft worker on the Courier project.

Without Gates' blessing, the product was killed within weeks. That was April 2010. A few of the principal champions of the Courier left the company - reportedly for unrelated reasons. And Microsoft is focusing on its "Metro" user interface system (as seen on phones and a few test tablets) and will release a version of Windows 8 in 2012 that will bring the same rough operating system to PCs, phones, tablets, etc.

At this point I'd like to see the Courier brought back from the dead and launch with the new operating system, but I doubt Microsoft will go down that road because they won't want to upset all of the other third-party companies making tablets these days (e.g. Samsung, Motorola, Toshiba) by launching a competing device. They want these companies to make tablets that feature Windows 8.

So that's the all-too short life of the Courier. It's not coming back, unless a third-party company decides to make it.

Meanwhile Microsoft is still developing hardware and pouring millions into tech research, some that probably won't see the light of day either - something that happens when you're a tech giant with fingers in literally everything.

Some recent technologies on display from Microsoft Research include an upgrade to their coffee table PC (one that can hang on the walls and scan documents through the screen), the use of Kinect motion sensors to model rooms and allow for interaction with 3D environments and technology that stitches together hundreds of photographs from various sources to create gigapixel photos for the web. There are literally hundreds of projects at that are worth a look - just don't get too attached to anything!


Too many good games?

On online gaming forums the recent joke has been that now would be a good time to get laid off. There are far too many great games being released these days to play them all, and it's stressing out some people who make a point of playing anything that scores a 90 or higher on the charts.

A short list of the new games out or coming out soon include Battlefield 3, Batman: Arkham City, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3 only), Dark Souls, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, FIFA 12, NHL 12, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Gears of War 3 (Xbox only), Infamous: Festival of Blood (PS3 only), Saints Row: The Third, Assassins Creed: Revelations, Dirt 3... and the list goes on.

Since you can't realistically purchase and play through ever game, the sheer number of good games out there at least forces gamers to figure out what kind of games you really, really like to play. Don't like sandbox games? Get Call of Duty. Like role-playing? Get Skyrim. Like first person shooters? Battlefield 3.