Ina Fried

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Microsoft’s Long Love Affair With Tablets

The success of the iPad could make one forget that it is Microsoft, not Apple, that has long been pushing for portable computing in slate form.

Bill Gates stood up at Comdex in Las Vegas in November 2000 and spoke of a coming wave of Tablet PCs that would be as adept at handling handwritten words as those typed on a keyboard.

The product shipped commercially in 2002 as Windows XP Tablet PC edition, and it found some niche use, particularly in business circles. However, to Gates’s lasting dismay, the product never became a mainstream hit.

Several years later, in a rarely remembered speech, Gates outlined a future for the tablet that should have led to something like the iPad. He spoke of a future of products costing as little as $500, delivering all-day battery life and a powerful touch experience.

Unfortunately, the product Microsoft and its partners delivered — under an effort known as Project Origami — fell well short of that goal. The devices, such as Samsung’s Q1, cost hundreds of dollars more, worked only so-so with finger-based touch, and had pitifully short battery life.

Had Microsoft given the project more time, it might have been on to something, but the company gave up before the technology caught up with Gates’s vision.

The most recent internal Microsoft project — before the one being introduced later on Monday, that is — was code-named Courier. Unlike the other efforts, which were housed within the Windows group, Courier was done by a team within the Entertainment and Devices unit.

Courier proposed a tablet as a powerful pen-based electronic journal, but the project was killed before it saw the light of day. Some said its demise prompted the exit of Robbie Bach and J Allard from Microsoft, though both executives cited other reasons for leaving.

And, of course, the past is prelude.

All this brings us to today. In a few short hours, we’ll hear about the new project, which, if Microsoft is to be successful, needs to chart a path all its own.

AllThingsD will have live coverage of Microsoft’s announcement, starting just ahead of the event at 3:30 pm PT.

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