17 Notably Bad Products from Great Tech Companies: Page 2

Posted September 24, 2009

David Strom

David Strom

(Page 2 of 3)

7) TopView (1984)

Notable for: Before there was OS/2 or Windows, there was TopView.

bad tech products from great companies

This was IBM's answer to Microsoft Windows, the ability to run multiple programs in DOS. Being DOS, it was only character based, and it took so much memory to run properly that there was little left over to run programs – back in the day, we only had 640 kB at our disposal.

8) 5155 Portable PC (1984)

Notable for: The first portable PC that wasn't really all that portable.

bad tech products from great companies

Back then Compaq was just getting started. One of the items that helped the company was IBM's entry into the portable – or "luggable" space. These nearly 30-pound behemoths had two floppy drives and nine-inch monochrome displays. I remember when this PC came it out it was the first IBM product that our Information Center wouldn't buy, and led us to convince our upper brass that the Compaq equivalent was superior Ironically, while IBM was developing these dogs, Apple released its first version of the Macintosh in 1984 (remember Ridley Scott's SuperBowl commercial that only ran that one time?)

bad tech products from great companies

Some other notable failures from IBM include OfficeVision and Systems Application Architecture and AD-Cycle. All three were big efforts from Big Blue in the 1980s to standardize its software tools across a wide range of operating systems on PCs, midrange and mainframes. I remember breaking some of the first stories on these products, and wondering how IBM could afford to have thousands of developers working on them. Well, that was a very different IBM from the one that is with us today, to be sure. All three of these efforts failed to gather any real market traction and have largely disappeared.


Today Novell is more known for its Unix offerings, but back in its day it was the pre-eminent software company for networking and communications. Here are two products that will bring back some memories:

9) Netware 4.0 (1993)

Notable for: The introduction of directory services.

bad tech products from great companies

Novell Netware v4 was the beginning of the end of the company's domination as a network operating system. At the time the company had more than 90% market share but they ignored the rise of the Internet. It didn't help that Microsoft took more careful aim at Novell and finally began selling network operating systems with better quality and features, although it would take several years before Active Directory was part of their network servers. I remember working with dozens of "Netware Loadable Modules" – their version of extensions that added all sorts of functionality to the network operating system, all from a simple command line. Now we have Linux and Windows. I guess that’s progress.

10) Novell Groupwise (1986)

Notable for: group collaboration software before there was Exchange.

bad tech products from great companies

Originally part of WordPerfect, Groupwise is still in use today in many organizations, where it competes with Microsoft Exchange as an integrated messaging platform. It had one legendary feature that allowed users to recall emails after they were sent – anyone who hadn't yet read the message would have it removed from their inbox without ever seeing the message. The product is still being sold, and there are a lot of people who are big fans – the current version does some neat tricks with you can combine data sources from calendars, email and contacts in some interesting ways, as you can see by the screen shot below.

For those of you that want a trip down memory lane, here’s a paper that I wrote for Novell comparing Groupwise' features with Exchange back in 1996. As one IT manager who once used Groupwise told me, "it was ahead of its time back in the 1990s, but looks dated and eclipsed by Exchange and other products now."

11) Compaq EISA bus (1988)

Notable for: First useful expansion bus architecture.

bad tech products from great companies

Back at then end of the 1980s, we had the "bus wars" of a group of nine vendors versus IBM. All of the major PC makers realized that the initial 16-bit 8 MHz bus wasn't going to cut it, and developed the "Extended Industry Standard Architecture" or EISA bus to carry us forward. Well, by the time anyone cared it was too late, and PCI and other bus extensions moved into play.

12) Dell SL320i (1993)

Notable for: Fire and smoke, dude!

bad tech products from great companies

One of the more notable mistakes that Dell made really had nothing to do with its PC, but the batteries that it used that could catch on fire, giving this model the notorious moniker of the "Ford Pinto of notebook PCs." It probably also ignited Dell's efforts at beefing up its support lines.

Next Page: Apple takes a fall

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Tags: Windows, services, Microsoft, wireless, Lotus Notes

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