The most expensive notepads in Microsoft history

Many years ago, I visited the office of a colleague who worked on Internet Explorer in order to work on some problem or other. As we investigated the issue, we took notes on a 5"×7" tear-off notepad which bore the logo Forms³.

My colleague then pointed out to me that we were taking notes on the most expensive notepads in Microsoft history.

Forms³ (pronounced "forms-cubed") was the code name for the project that was the precursor to Trident, the layout engine that powers Internet Explorer. As I recall the story as it was told to me, project management thought it would be cool to have custom notepads made for their project. The people responsible for converting this idea into reality designed a logo, laid it out, and found a vendor to produce the notepads. But there was some sort of misunderstanding (maybe the asked for too many colors? didn't order enough notepads to trigger the bulk discount?), and the price for the notepads ended up being something ridiculous like $10 for a 50-page notepad.

That's how the most expensive notepads in Microsoft history came to be.

Bonus chatter: Oh, by the way, the word "precursor" I used up there? Yeah, that was a euphemism for "cancelled (but used as a learning opportunity)." Microsoft engineers are fond of black humor when it comes to software (especially software made by Microsoft) as a way of coping with adversity, and after the Forms³ project was cancelled, there was a subculture of engineers who morbidly called it Forms tubed.

Comments (9)
  1. Damien says:

    I kept looking for footnote 3 (even after you'd explained it was cubed)

  2. So it went from forms³ to prongs³.

  3. Gabe says:

    I thought Forms^3 was the forms package used by Office of that era. Perhaps it was designed for Access, but also used in Excel and Word. Are you saying that there was an effort to take that and use it as a browser rendering engine? Or something else I didn't get?

  4. Guest says:

    @Gabe, I think the forms for Office was Forms2, and Forms3 is actually Trident.

    If you run MSHTMPAD in WACK, its titlebar says "Forms3 Trident"

  5. John Muller says:

    I've worked on three different projects at MS with the codename 'Trident' it's pretty popular for some reason.

  6. Joshua Ganes says:

    I was expecting some convoluted story about how you spent thousands of dollars to acquire some product or company and the only thing of salvageable value was the notepads. Perhaps you should make that a stretch goal.

  7. Michael Grier [MSFT] says:

    Forms^3 was designed for Sterling, the follow-on to Access.  I thought it did ship in the MS Query designer and some of the Office for Mac stuff.  It rolled pretty directly into Trident but at one point I was working on a prototype of adding Forms3 support to msdev c++ designers and switched to Trident since they were more up to date than what we could get for Forms^3.  I think it was Forms3 because it merged three technologies that were under development; there was a Windows layout engine, Forms^2 and another one in Office and Forms^3 was going to be the one single unified presentation technology that everyone was committed to moving to… oh wait… maybe it's just another layout/presentation technology in addition the ones before and the ones that come after…  Only Adam Bosworth really knows and maybe he's blocking it.

  8. Yuhong Bao says:

    So where did hasLayout come from?

  9. Dave says:

    something ridiculous like $10 for a 50-page notepad.

    So you bought Moleskines?

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