The tech world’s focus on Microsoft’s release of Windows 10 in July 2015 is another reminder of the company’s dominance in the desktop market, which still stands around 90%. Along with its successes, however, have been a few failures along the way, so today we take a look back at some of the more notable examples of Microsoft products which completely failed.
A company as large as Microsoft is bound to have a few failures in its illustrious past, so here we present some of the more notable examples.
#10. Zune: 2006
Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s iPod was the Zune. Although it was certainly a competent product, it was also five years late to the game, poorly marketed, and virtually ignored by the public. Despite several generations of design upgrades, Zune just never earned more than a couple of percentage points in market share.
Zune did offer a rich user interface, some of which was incorporated into Windows Phone and Windows 8.
#9. Microsoft SPOT Watches: 2003
Bill Gates announced a line of smart watches at the 2003 CES convention that could receive information via FM radio frequencies. Known as SPOT watches (Smart Personal Objects Technology), they required a yearly subscription of about $40-$60. The watches offered the ability to recharge wirelessly, retrieve email, and read various news headlines. A significant drawback, however, was that the watch couldn’t send information, meaning users could retrieve messages but couldn’t send them.
It turns out that Microsoft may have been ahead of its time on this one, as smart watches have become more pervasive in 2015, with offerings available from many of the big tech companies such as Apple, Motorola, Sony – and Microsoft.
#8. Windows 8: 2012
The followup to the acclaimed Windows 7 operating system sought to integrate more functionality for tablets, but ended up being a clunky and confusing dual interface which was met with mixed reviews at best. Although several problem were fixed in the 8.1 release, many users never upgraded to Windows 8, while others even reverted back to Windows 7. By June 2015 – just a month before the release of Windows 10 – Windows 7 still held nearly 61% share of the desktop market share, while Windows 8/8.1 hovered below 20%. Some analysts suggested that the name “Windows 9” was skipped distance Windows 10 as far away from its predecessor as possible. Another explanation is that legacy code looking for Windows 95/98 may be confused by a Windows 9.
#7. Clippy: 1997
Also known as Clipit, this cartoonish user assistant appeared in the form of a paperclip with googly eyes, described by Microsoft as “the little paperclip with the soulful eyes and the Groucho eyebrows.” It was included in several versions of Microsoft Office and Microsoft Publisher. Its function was to analyze user activity and offer assistance for a number of common tasks, but was derided by consumers as intrusive and distracting.
Clippy was retired in 2001, and Bill Gates appeared on stage to offer the assistant a T-shirt as a retirement gift.
When Steve Ballmer purchased the LA Clippers, a slew of Clippers/Clippy jokes circulated online.
#6. Windows ME: 2000
Windows Millennium Edition, or Windows ME, was launched in 2000 as the followup to Windows 98 SE. It was quickly criticized as buggy and unstable. It is listed as #4 on PC World’s “Worst Tech Products of All Time.”
It was only on the shelves for a year, replaced in 2001 by the well-received Windows XP.
#5. UltimateTV: 2000
This DirecTV receiver was full of bells and whistles when it was released in 2000, including a DVR, internet capabilities, email, and picture-in-picture. Its limited distribution was completely eliminated, however, when DirecTV was purchased by EchoStar only a year later.
#4. Internet Explorer 6: 2001
The default browser that shipped with Windows XP was riddled with security problems and poor support for web standards at that time. PC World ranked it as #8 on their worst tech products of all time list. In 2004, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team suggested PC users use any browser except for Internet Explorer.
#3. Microsoft Kin: 2010
Microsoft unveiled this mobile phone geared toward social networking after two years and a $1 billion investment. Sales were poor and Verizon offered it for only two months before pulling the plug.
Despite being marketed as a “social phone,” Kin lacked an instant messaging feature, and only offered limited Twitter capabilities. There was also no app support or the ability to install third-party apps. Reviewers used terms such as odd, baffling, or interesting when pointing out such obvious omissions.
Microsoft shut down the Kin’s website less than a year later after a last-gasp attempt to repurpose it via new firmware failed to attract any interest.
#2. Windows Vista: 2007
Microsoft’s followup to the popular Windows XP operating system took five years to create, yet seemed to cause more problems than it solved. Hardware requirements, licensing, and digital rights management were among some of the criticisms heaped at Vista. Consumer satisfaction with the OS was polled at significantly lower numbers than XP.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that “We tried to incubate too many new innovations and integrate them simultaneously, as opposed to letting them bake and then integrating them, which is essentially where we wound up.” When asked his biggest regret at the helm of Microsoft, Ballmer cited Vista. “I would say probably the thing I regret most is the, what shall I call it, the loopedy-loo that we did that was sort of Longhorn to Vista. I would say that’s probably the thing I regret most. And, you know, there are side effects of that when you tie up a big team to do something that doesn’t prove out to be as valuable.”
#1. Microsoft Bob: 1995
Released five months before Windows 95, Microsoft Bob was an attempt to take simplicity to a new level. The interface was presented in the form of a cartoon house, rather than the standard desktop format. The user would visit different rooms and click on objects which were linked to certain applications. Cartoon characters also assisted in the form of speech balloons.
Critics scoffed at the product and the public virtually ignored it. Years later, Steve Ballmer noted it was an exception in their history. “There is nothing that we have undertaken — with a couple of exceptions like Microsoft Bob that I’ll cop to in advance — where we have decided that we have not succeeded and let’s stop.”
In 2013, however, Bill Gates defended the concept of Microsoft Bob, stating that “We were just ahead of our time, like most of our mistakes,” but felt the idea of a computerized personal assistant was set to make a comeback.
PC World ranked Microsoft Bob as the 7th worst tech product of all time. See The Bob Chronicles for a detailed history.
In the end, Microsoft can take solace that some of their failures may have indeed been ahead of their time, with personal assistants (such as Cortana and Siri) and smart watches commonplace in 2015, even if they weren’t implemented correctly the first time around.
There have been other announcements in recent years about compelling projects which never seem to see the light of day, such as Illumiroom, but those don’t necessarily qualify as a product dud.
Did you ever use any of the products above? Tell us what you thought in the comments below.