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How Bill Gates killed Microsoft's iPad rival

Remember Courier, the dual-screen Microsoft tablet? Here's the story of how it was abandoned.

Tech fans with good memories will recall the hype around Microsoft's leaked Courier device -- a dual-screened tablet that was being built around the same time as the first iPad, but was killed off last year, before it was even officially launched.

Now our American cousins at CNET News have produced a thumping good read that claims the Courier's death came at the hands of none other than Bill Gates, who was concerned by the folding tablet's lack of dedicated Outlook software.

The Courier, which ran its own unique software, was being designed by a group led by J Allard, the chap behind the Xbox games console. But Microsoft head honcho Steve Ballmer reportedly couldn't decide whether the company's tablet offering should be the Courier, or whether it should wait for the tablet-friendly version of Windows.

Ballmer set up a meeting with Allard and Gates. When the ex-Microsoft chief asked how Courier owners would access email, Allard explained that he thought people would use smart phones and PCs for email, rather than their tablet.

Courier was designed to make it easy to create stuff -- doodles, drawings and note-taking, rather than doing all the ambitious tasks a PC has to do.

"This is where Bill had an allergic reaction," according to a Courier worker who reportedly talked with someone who attended that meeting. Microsoft makes a tonne of cash from its Exchange email software and Outlook, and flogging a tablet that didn't make use of them didn't sit well with Gates.

CNET News' sources say the Courier was cancelled just weeks later, after Ballmer gathered data from Gates and others at Microsoft, because the tablet didn't fit well with the company's Outlook and Windows products. Allard left Microsoft a few months later, though says the decision was unrelated to Courier being cancelled.

Was Microsoft right to can the Courier? RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet launched without a dedicated email app to hoots of derision and little success. But on the other hand, by not pushing the Courier into production Microsoft gave Apple the opportunity to seize the whole tablet market -- an opportunity it seized with both hands, and teeth.

Now we're waiting for Microsoft's 'proper' Windows tablets, which will be running Windows 8, a version we've already seen is built with touchscreens in mind. But they won't be out for ages, and in the meantime Apple is likely putting the polish to the iPad 3.

As CNET News points out, there's also the chance that Microsoft will wind up updating its tablets as regularly as it updates Windows -- every three years or so. Would that be often enough for update-hungry tablet owners?

There's loads more to the story of how the Courier was axed, including how it was developed in the first place -- we recommend checking out CNET News' full article on the subject.

Should Microsoft have released the Courier? Or is it doing the right thing by waiting to release its Windows 8 tablet?

Image credit: Gizmodo