The 10 biggest failures in IT history

We've debated the highlights of IT history. Now it's time to consider a few good ideas that went wrong - or that may have been ill-advised to begin with.

We've debated the highlights of IT history. Now it's time to consider a few good ideas that went wrong - or that may have been ill-advised to begin with.

I recently shared a list of events I believe were pivotal in shaping today's IT industry - things like the development of COBOL and the creation of UNIX. This time around, I've listed a few of the biggest failures in IT - but I've tried to steer clear of the same ol' items everyone has on their lists.

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1: Windows Vista

What a disaster! Could Microsoft have assembled a bigger failure if it tried? Well, possibly. But Microsoft wasn't trying to make a failure -- it was trying to make the best of the best. The result was the worst of the best.

2: NeXT

I have to qualify this entry, because NeXT did inspire a lot of software for the Linux desktop (such as AfterStep), and the NeXTSTEP did eventually become the foundation of OS X. So NeXT wasn't a complete flop.

3: BeOS

What is it with the capiTalIzaTion? Although BeOS has been resurrected as Haiku, the BeOS (and all the cool hardware it promised) never really got off the ground. The PC that promised to be the dream machine for the media crowd fizzled out before its fuse could really be lit.

4: Cobalt Qube

The Cobalt Qube looked cool. If you're lucky, you can still find one on eBay going cheap. Underneath that tiny blue exterior lay a beefy 64 MB of RAM and an 8.4 Gig HD that was ready and willing to serve up your Web site, your mail, your DNS, or anything else you needed. Ah, but those were the glory days -- and short-lived at that. The serious IT crowed quickly realized that function held sway over form, and the cool blue Qubes went nowhere. Even after Sun bought the Cobalt company, these devices did nothing.

5: Y2K

I can't resist including this one. The entire world was supposed to cave under the pressure this little bug promised, wasn't it? I even read plenty of sci-fi books based on that premise. But nothing happened. Banks didn't lose all of your money, the world's security didn't fall to pieces, and all IT professionals woke up the next morning collectively saying, "Was that it?"

6: MP3

I know, I know -- it isn't a flop, exactly, but the MP3 format is on this list because of all the licensing issues it has caused. On the Linux operating system alone, MP3 isn't installed on most distributions, by default, because of licensing issues. As a result, users scramble to get MP3 support built into their various tools. This causes as much hair loss as MP3 causes audio quality loss. There are much better formats out there without the licensing issues, people!

7: Richard Stallman

This man was supposed to be the champion of open source -- but he endangers open source at every turn. Instead of making ridiculous claims, RMS should stand down and let someone with a modicum of tact and sense to take over as the voice of open source software.

8: WordPerfect

What I should actually place here is Corel, the maker of WordPerfect, instead of the software itself. WordPerfect was an outstanding word processing tool. Corel, however, was not outstanding in its ability to market and sell something as good as WordPerfect. So instead of a piece of software that should have single-handedly toppled the Microsoft juggernaut, WordPerfect died. This should never have happened. Any other company could have pulled off this win.

9: IPv6

Should this already be in place? Should something so simple really be that hard? The 'net could run out of IP addresses and there is no solution in place yet. Why? Because we don't have the problem yet. But didn't everyone panic with claims that the "IP sky is falling"? Wouldn't it be smart to go ahead and put this in place? Maybe the powers-that-be are waiting until that very last IPv4 address is issued and we have to say, "We have no more!" At that point, no one will really know how to implement the solution and it will be Y2K all over again.

10: Mesh networks

At one point, wireless was going to cover the entire planet and everyone was going to have free wireless networking, thanks to wireless mesh networks. It didn't happen. It sounded like a great idea, and sites popped up all over the place trying to get users to set up their own mesh networks to further expand the "net." It was a grand idea, based on a grand ideal, but it just never got off the ground. That's a shame, since a "mesh Wifi" would have enabled anyone to be online anywhere. Of course, I am sure the telecoms had NOTHING to do with the fall of mesh networking.

Your turn

Do you agree or disagree with the items on my list of biggest IT failures? What's missing from the list? Join the discussion and let us know.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website


1. Only because it was so recent, I think that's why it's so fresh in everyone's mind. I think transitioning people from Vista TO 7 might end up being a failure in the grand scheme when we look back 20 years from now. (See my #5) 2. Yes, it didn't happen, as a separate entity, but it became the foundation for Apple's success in OS X. 3. HA! 4. Don't think it was that big of a deal to make this list. 5. Well, now we have another one upcoming in 2012. At least these "writers", (they're not authors, authors actually contribute to society) that write about things like this (conspiracies) who would otherwise be nothing but a blob on the bottom of my shoe, would have you believe that. (Queue Dan Brown) They're like the AIG of the writing world. 6. Have to agree there, period. Working for a record label gives me an interesting perspective on this as well, and I couldn't agree more. 7. He's like Rush Limbaugh: I've pretty much forgotten about him, until someone brings him up because he said something about someone/something that was remotely controversial. 8. True, but I don't know, WordPerfect was good, but I don't think it could have single-handedly toppled M$. For it to do that, users have to pay attention to what they're purchasing, and who's screwing them. 9. The sky WILL be failling in 3 years! (Uh-oh!) According to idiots, that is. (See #5 above) 10. Telecom, good 'ole American freed-- wait what??? I can't have broaband internet access why? Because they don't want to spend the money to put it out here? WTF!??! @##$#%! What happened to the "greater good"? Oh, right....CHENEY shot it in the woods. Good list though.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

the reason: fearing the 'end of the world', the government pumped 'liquidity'. i.e. created one new dollar for every 4 in existance in the time period close to 1999. This grossly distorted the economy with major ramifications, including the housing bubble and subsequent major depression that the economy is now in! It also encouraged speculations by dorks in the financial and other industries into anything that used cheap capital that would 'last forever'. now these biz are out of biz when capital dried up and special interests have made the taxpayers liable for their 'financeturbation'. besides causing lots of people their jobs, it cost everyone who is not getting brand new fed$ lots of money. Inflation hurts anyone who can't get a raise to match, and especially those on fixed incomes and the poor. Way to go, Fed!

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