High-tech wonders that turned out as blunders

Filed under: News |

Some are now obsolete, like the ill-conceived I-loo that put Internet services in public bathrooms. Some, like Windows Millennium edition, have been replaced with better products. Others live in infamy on Web sites, with warnings not to download the product.

All have earned the designation of the worst, the absolute worst, tech products.

Spam, Bonzi Buddy and several Microsoft products are repeatedly mentioned when tech experts are asked for their opinion about the worst tech ideas. Other products are more obscure, such as the Lisa, an Apple computer with sales so dismal that the computers can only be found on EBay.

“Spam is a really bad idea,” said David Ashley, president of the Colorado Association of Internet Professionals and owner of Journey Internet in Colorado Springs. “But you get numb to the idea that something new isn’t going to work right.”

This Apple Lisa was listed on ebay Tuesday with a bid of $52, plus $75 for shipping.

The Lisas top the list for Jerry Wilson, information technology director at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

“It just flopped,” he said. “They had this whole marketing scheme, but it didn’t do very well. I think three people bought them.”

Wilson also cited some technology events — Y2K, for example — as the worst technology ideas. Y2K centered around the widespread belief that computers around the country — from gas stations and grocery stores, to offices and home computer systems — would crash once the date changed to 2000.

Thousands of dollars were spent upgrading government computers, and on Jan. 1, 2000 — nothing happened.

IT experts at Amnet Inc. in Colorado Springs topped their list with Windows Millennium edition.

“Windows Millennium, it’s a virus with a GUI (graphical user) interface,” said owner Trevor Dierdorff.

While Ashley did not list specific software, he said companies too often don’t test new products enough before releasing them to the public.

“It bugs me a lot when new software comes out and there hasn’t been enough beta testing,” he said. “Then you end up getting patches and quick fixes, especially with operating systems. They end up all screwed up at first, so I always wait six months to a year to buy something new.”

When PC magazine posed the “worst” question to its reporters, America Online topped the list. Other lists put spam at the top, along with spyware, pop-up ads and a purple monkey called Bonzi Buddy, which made both PC magazine and Dierdorff’s lists.

“The Bonzi Buddy is this purple monkey, sort of like the Microsoft ‘Clippy,’ that you use to surf the Internet. It reads things to you, sings – all using Microsoft narration,” Dierdorff said. “It’s actually spyware, and can collect personal information.”

“Bonzi Buddy and its companions are capable of automatically self updating, installing software and services on your computer and collecting personal information as well as aggregate information about your surfing habits. Bonzi Buddy has been known to install other software such as ClickTilUWin without consent,” according to the Web site www.scrumware.com, which advises readers about various types of spyware.

Another Microsoft product made Wilson’s list. The I-Loo only briefly saw public use.

“It was a computerized portalet – now this is a real thing,” he said. “It was wired with a computer and Internet access so you could surf the Internet while you went to bathroom.”

A more recent tech idea might reach the Boulder market soon: vending machines for tech items. Called Sony Access, kiosks will be placed in malls and users will simply scan their credit card and punch the button for iPod, for example. Their selection drops out of the machine and they pick it up – just like Doritos.

“I don’t know, it might catch on,” Wilson said. “As for me, it’s one of those things where I think, ‘How stupid is that?’”

Dierdorff also listed a few popular products which made his list because of the large amount of bandwidth needed to run the program. The weather bugs, advocated by television meteorologists around the country, are a bane to computer programmers, he said.

“It runs on background,” he said. “And it uses a lot of bandwidth. In your office, if you have the weather bug running, plus a couple of graphic programs, your Internet service dramatically slows. People blame their provider, but it’s the weather bug program sapping bandwidth.”

David Fein, president of ValuSource, said bad tech ideas tend to fade quickly because the market responds immediately. His “worst” product? Early IBM computers.

“IBM created personal computers,” he said. “So they should have been really good at making them. But they weren’t. Their computers were more expensive, more problematic than any other kind. Now that they aren’t making them any more – they sold that part of the business – their computers are actually pretty good.”

Microsoft’s “Clippy,” a helper in Office products also was a bad idea, Fein said. The perky paperclip sits at the bottom of Office programs and volunteers help when a user is creating a document. PC Magazine listed Bob, a precursor to the paperclip on its list.

“It was just a bad idea,” Fein said. “I think it’d probably make everyone’s list.”

Incredimail is another tech loser, Dierdorff said. It’s an e-mail program specifically targeted to “novice” email users and includes animated “smileys” inserted into email.

“Those gifs take up a lot of room on the hard drive; we’re always having to clean them off the computer,” he said.

America Online gets its share of negative attention because of its business practices, said the editors at PC Magazine. Noted as the least “tech-savvy” Web browser, AOL also offers “free” monthly service, but discontinuing the service tends to be difficult, they said.

Microsoft rival Apple also makes the list among local techies. Dierdorff cites the iMac, Apple’s attempt at placing a monitor and hard drive in one casing.

“If one fails, the entire unit becomes useless,” he said. “And the iMac was just in ridiculous colors — grape, tangerine. I can’t think of anyone outside a middle-school girl who would like those colors.”