Allard departure would hit Microsoft hard

I first encountered J Allard at a pre-launch gathering introducing a gadget called the XBox to a mixed bag of UK hacks.

Some were spotty and overexcited. Most of us cynical, as is our self-appointed role in international affairs. After all, what did Microsoft know about the console market? It was hardly Nintendo at that point let, alone Sony

But Allard soon piqued our interest and managed to convey some of the potential of the device with a mixture of enthusiasm and insight. Not that it was easy to take a bloke who claimed his first name was a letter that seriously.

Allard drove the XBox into pole position in the console stakes and is also credited with being a driving force behind Zune, a device for which there was evidently a huge market, even if it was subsequently eclipsed by the iPod.

And Allard appears also to have come up with another neat product in the shape of the Courier tablet. This was a bold-looking idea - a tablet computer that opened up like a book. How cool is that?

Not cool enough for Steve Ballmer, it seems, as the device was canned while still on the drawing board. Or just past it, at least.

Now the word on the Web is that Allard has had enough and says has gone on sabbatical and is "unlikely to return to Microsoft".

That inveterate Microsoft watcher Mary-Jo Foley has been searching for Allard she reckons, ending up with a phrase that seems spookily familiar.

Microsoft's keeping schtumm on the subject, but, if as seems likely Allard is out it is likely to be a significant blow to the lumbering monopolist.

Who would you trust to come up with ideas that appeal to the consumer in the street, the bloke who brought you the XBox and Zune? Or Ballmer, whose main contribution to the technological ecosystem is volume.

Not that we're suggesting everything Allard did was bang on the nail, mind.