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Tech Flops

Entry 508, on 2007-04-06 at 10:52:30 (Rating 2, Computers)

I visit Slashdot every day, and there is always interesting news and discussion there. Today there is a reference to an article in ComputerWorld which lists the 21 biggest technology flops. The title is misleading, these aren't the 21 biggest flops of any form of technology for any time. They are a selection of major failures in computer-related technology fro the last 10 or 20 years, which is quite different.

I agree with most of what they say, although I'm sure there are other failures not mentioned. The most interesting thing for me was to note why the technologies failed. It was rare for a failure to occur because of a technically inferior product, although this did happen with some.

One reason failures happened was because of a product being too far ahead of the industry. The two Apple products on the list: the Lisa and the Newton, would both be in that category. The Lisa was where the Mac technology originated, and it was very advanced but too expensive and too slow. I used a Lisa when it was first released and it was a truly revolutionary machine, in many ways more advanced than early forms of the Mac, which would follow. I am also a fan of Newton (I have 4) and its hard to imagine how good it would be today if Apple had continued to develop it. I've often ranted on about how I think dropping the Newton was Steve Job's biggest mistake!

Its interesting to note which technologies failed because of obtrusive copy protection mechanisms. I hope this serves as a lesson to current proponents of DRM products, because I know this is a technology which no one wants (see my previous blog entry). Another cause of failures was lack of standardisation. eBooks and digital audio tape were both victims of this. Is this a warning for the current backers of blue-ray and HD-DVD?

Some of the failures were of generic technologies rather than specific products. Speech recognition, push technology, and virtual reality were mentioned. I agree with all of these, because I used them all at different times and it looked like they had great hope, but now where are they? Speech recognition is particularly disappointing. We really should have that working much better on commonly available computers by now.

The overall winner was Microsoft Bob, the help system built-in to Windows. But this was really just a trivial addition to a major product, so I don't know if it really belongs in the same competition as Iridium satellites, the Apple Lisa, and Push technology.

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