At one point during that meeting in early 2010 at Gates’ waterfront offices in Kirkland, Wash., Gates asked Allard how users get e-mail. Allard, Microsoft’s executive hipster charged with keeping tabs on computing trends, told Gates his team wasn’t trying to build another e-mail experience. He reasoned that everyone who had a Courier would also have a smartphone for quick e-mail writing and retrieval and a PC for more detailed exchanges. Courier users could get e-mail from the Web, Allard said, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
But the device wasn’t intended to be a computer replacement; it was meant to complement PCs. Courier users wouldn’t want or need a feature-rich e-mail application such as Microsoft’s Outlook that lets them switch to conversation views in their inbox or support offline e-mail reading and writing. The key to Courier, Allard’s team argued, was its focus on content creation. Courier was for the creative set, a gadget on which architects might begin to sketch building plans, or writers might begin to draft documents.
“This is where Bill had an allergic reaction,” said one Courier worker who talked with an attendee of the meeting. As is his style in product reviews, Gates pressed Allard, challenging the logic of the approach.
It’s not hard to understand Gates’ response. Microsoft makes billions of dollars every year on its Exchange e-mail server software and its Outlook e-mail application. While heated debates are common in Microsoft’s development process, Gates’ concerns didn’t bode well for Courier. He conveyed his opinions to Ballmer, who was gathering data from others at the company as well.
While Steve Jobs was releasing the iPad, Steve Ballmer was killing the Microsoft Courier, possibly the most innovative product concept ever to come out of Redmond. Ballmer was on the fence about the Courier until he talked to Bill Gates. Not long later, the exec behind the idea, J Allard, left the company (though he claims this wasn’t the reason). This is a corporate culture that prints money, but when presented with an amazing idea, kills it. Our heart sinks.