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Microsoft's Courier tablet dies before it lives

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Don't bother asking Microsoft whether its rumored Courier tablet will run Adobe Flash. Microsoft just killed it. Apparently.

After hearing rumors that the oft-discussed-but-never-acknowledged two-display folding tablet had been axed, Gizmodo asked Microsoft for confirmation and received this reply from Redmond's communications veep, Frank Shaw:

At any given time, we're looking at new ideas, investigating, testing, incubating them. It's in our DNA to develop new form factors and natural user interfaces to foster productivity and creativity. The Courier project is an example of this type of effort. It will be evaluated for use in future offerings, but we have no plans to build such a device at this time.

Leaving aside his statement that Microsoft's DNA includes the development of new form factors and natural user interfaces, Shaw does acknowledges the existence of the Courier project, but he doesn't specifically hammer the final nails into the concept's coffin.

It appears that Courier was an investigative effort, elements of which may surface in future Microsoft products, but which won't - to use an industry buzzword - be "productized" in the foreseeable future.

And although we're loathe to kick a website when it's reeling from public approbation, Gizmodo made a curious omission when it wrote: "It makes sense for Microsoft to continue to trim away splinter versions of its core operating systems and focus on Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 unity across all its devices."

There's a third Windows OS that they neglected to mention, and one that may be more appropriate for a tablet form factor such as the one used in the Courier project: Windows Embedded Standard 7, the RTM version of which was announced just this Tuesday at the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in San José, California.

Perhaps - just perhaps - the Courier project was eliminated because its raison d'être had run its course with the graduation of Windows Embedded 7 Standard from beta to RTM. Of course, Windows Embedded Standard 7 is an OS designed for, well, embedded devices that range - in Microsoft's own listing - from multimedia internet devices to networked media devices to thin clients to fuel pumps (yes, fuel pumps) and more. But that's in its RTM form. Perhaps one variant of it was given a spin as a tablet OS in the Courier Project.

More likely, Windows Embedded Standard 7's graduation and the Courier project's demise occurring within two days of each other is merely a coincidence. In any case, the rumored spate of challengers to Apple's iPad has just been reduced by one.

And if you believe a report from Wednesday's Business Insider, you can add HP's Slate to the drop-out list - which makes sense, seeing as how HP acquired Palm in part because: "We see further opportunities beyond smartphones into additional connected mobile form factors."

In other words, why build a tablet based on a non-mobile operating system such as Windows 7, when a leaner, more communications-integrated operating system such as webOS just dropped into your lap?

So, tablet-rumor followers, now that the Courier has been declared a dead letter "at this time" - and until HP gets it webOS-tablet act together - you'll need to focus on the Asus Eee Pad, Dell Streak, Toshiba Android tablet, whatever Meego device Nokia eventually comes up with, Google's mocked-up Chrome (or Android) tablet, and a host of Linux and Windows 7 tablets from lesser lights. ®

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