The killing of the Courier and the history of why big companies can't innovate

Posted 6 years ago by Adam Gautsch

There were leaks last year of a Microsoft skunk works project called Courier. The Courier was a dual-screened tablet computer inspired by the Moleskine journal and focused on creation and not consumption. It was super exciting and different. It wasn't an iPad killer. It was something different all together and it was dropped by Microsoft quickly after the rumors got hot and heavy.

CNet is doing great work by reporting on the murder of this drool-inducing product. It appears that part of the reason for dropping the Courier is it didn't integrate with email* (specifically Exchange) and more generally it didn't fit in with the rest of the plans for Windows. Email seems to be a crazy reason to kill something so interesting, but there is plenty of precedent of giant companies killing smaller innovations inside of their own company for similar reasons. In the must read book The Master Switch there is a great example of Bell Labs having the technology for the answering machine for decades before it actually was offered as a product. The reason it was killed? They thought people would be afraid to use the phone if they knew conversations could be recorded. This is hardly a unique exampe and the Courier decision is certainly not unique to big, mean Microsoft. I'm positive that Apple, Google, and other innovative companies kill really cool and disruptive techonology regularly bacause it hurts or doesn't align with their main revenue source. Can you imagine Apple releasing a major product that isn't hooked into iTunes or Google launching something without search?

The death of the Courier shouldn't be a shake-your-head-and-say-stupid-Micorosoft momement. Instead, it should be an example of why we need an envoirnment that gives smaller companies at least a fighting chance against bigger companies with bigger budgets and bigger patent portfolios. After all, if Microsoft is willing to kill such a cool internal product imagine what they would do to a similar product produced by a competitor.

*At first, I thought email was the dumbest reason to kill something ever but then I realized one of the main reasons I'm an Android user (both Tablet and Phone) is the Google Apps integration. So maybe it's not that dumb.

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