updated 06:45 pm EDT, Thu May 19, 2011
Microsoft closes experimental Pioneer Studios
New tips Thursday afternoon have pointed to and confirmed Microsoft shutting down its once-hopeful Pioneer Studios. Its creative workshop, best known for the ill-fated Courier tablet, has closed down its exotic office in Seattle and seen most staff either folded into existing groups or have left elsewhere. Microsoft didn't directly confirm the end to the studio with CNET but did say it was no longer occupying its custom-designed space.
Pioneer was an attempt to break away from the stereotypical Microsoft mentality and encourage a more innovative atmosphere. Started by key Xbox creator J Allard, most of its hopes were centered on the Courier. The design, leaked out for months in advance, would have been genuinely unique with dual screens and a custom-developed interface with common features like web browsing but a set of primary features built on translating note taking to the digital world.
Trouble began to reach the public eye in April of last year when Microsoft axed the Courier in its only real formal statement that it had existed. The company tried to dismiss the development as a pure experiment, but leaks suggested that CEO Steve Ballmer personally killed the project after not seeing how it would fit the company's existing strategy.
J Allard left the company shortly afterwards, ostensibly for personal reasons. Many suspect it was a lack of faith in Microsoft's direction after the Courier project ended.
Some of Pioneer's work did make it into shipping products, including the Kin, Windows Phone, the Xbox 360, and the Zune, but many of these were interface elements and aren't always visible. Most of the blame for the Kin's failure has been attributed to divisional infighting than the quality of Pioneer's work.
As a whole, Pioneer may have been the victim of a protectionist culture in Microsoft. Both current and past employees have complained about the company's Windows and Office groups often exerting jealousy, either by demanding changes to a product to make it use their technology or attempting to kill it outright. Courier was based on WindowsCE, but its heavily customized, unique interface wouldn't have shared much with fellow Microsoft operating systems and would have undermined Windows 7 tablets.