Microsoft steps up innovation with Courier tablet

Who knows when this device will come to market, but the prototype pushes boundaries

In recent years "Microsoft Innovation" has been an oxymoron, like "military intelligence" or "software schedule." But yesterday evening Gizmodo got the scoop on a new prototype tablet device that Microsoft has been working on, called Courier, and in this case Microsoft is raising the bar considerably.

The project is being led by J. Allard, a man so busy he doesn't even have a proper first name. Allard is the chief experience officer and chief technology officer in Microsoft's entertainment division and was directly responsible for launching the Xbox and Zune products.

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While Courier is still a prototype and details are thin, it appears to be a booklike device with dual tablet touchscreens that looks a bit like a 1980s executive day planner for the 21st century. Some of the work appears to be based on a couple of Microsoft research projects called Codex and InkSeine.

Who knows when this device will come to market or what form it will take when it is final? But at this point we know more about the Courier than we do about Apple's long-rumored tablet. Whether or not this leads to Ben Riga's perfect portable device remains to be seen, but if Microsoft is willing to try out new form factors and ideas, then it may well come up with something that creates a whole new category. I just hope the company figures out a way to include a real keyboard; a stylus and touchscreen can only go so far.

I don't know how Gizmodo got this story, but my guess is this is part of a deliberate campaign on Microsoft's part to show that there's more to the company than upgrades to Office and Windows. In recent weeks, Microsoft has announced the CodePlex foundation, a new Zune HD, and a futuristic gaming interface. I expect we'll see even more news over the next six months, with improvements to the Bing search engine, Windows Mobile, and hopefully more brand-new stuff like Courier.

No doubt many of these new products are a result of Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie's push for innovation in the last year. And that's a good thing.

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