10 'great' tech products that really weren't

Ah, the good old days of tech. Old, certainly. Good? Not so much.

Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, it's clear many products people thought were great at the time don't look so great any more. In fact most weren't all that hot when new. Yet many continue to worship them as if they were even better than sliced bread.

Well, enough of that. Here are ten technologies that don't deserve all those accolades. Join us as we stumble down memory lane and tip over a few sacred cows.

[ See also: Computer de-evolution: Features that lost the evolutionary war ]

10. Vinyl records (1948)


Image source: flickr/Andres Rueda

We're not big fans of compact discs or evangelists for MP3s. But the utter devotion "audio purists" pay to those hissing, popping, scratched-up slags of warped plastic earns vinyl a spot on our curmudgeon's top 10.

"Sure, vinyl records sound warmer than digital, whatever that means to you," says Troy Davis, CTO for coupon marketing site CoupSmart (and a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music). "But that's because of low-level distortion inherent in the process of scraping vinyl to reproduce complex, high-frequency information, not some magical hippie goodness that comes from the forces of nature."

9. Segway PT (2001)

It was supposed to revolutionize personal transportation. Jeff Bezos was an early investor, and Steve Jobs allegedly predicted future cities would be designed around them. But when the first Segways rolled off the production lines, most of us uttered a collective "Huh?" Who uses them today? Tour guides, Google employees, mall cops (at least, the Hollywood version), and a handful of stubborn Segway devotees who've managed to rack up nearly 4 million miles on them... very, very slowly.

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8. Apple Lisa 1 (1983)

Apple Lisa

Image source: flickr/Alan Light

The Lisa is often hailed as the first personal computer to sport a graphical user interface (but only by those who conveniently ignore the Xerox Alto, built a decade earlier). That -- and a $10,000 price tag -- are really its only claims to fame. Yet some fanboys still can't let go of Lisa, even though Apple did, burying the last 2,700 of them in a landfill in 1989.

"The Lisa is only noteworthy for being Mac-like before the Mac was released," notes Dave Farquhar, a network security engineer who writes The Silicon Underground blog. "It was unreliable, there was no software for it beyond what was shipped with it, and nobody bought it."

7. Amazon Kindle (2007)

Amazon Kindle

Image source: flickr/Phillie Casablanca

With its boxy shape, clumsy keypad, and putty color, the original Kindle looked like the bastard offspring of an IBM PC and a Texas Instruments calculator. The no-glare screen looked great, thanks to its E-Ink electronic paper; but so did the Sony Reader, which had been using E-Ink technology for more than a year. The Kindle's primary advantage was it let you download book directly via Sprint's wireless Whispernet. But that also allowed Amazon to undownload books, as we discovered in July 2009 when when Amazon deleted unauthorized copies of Animal Farm and 1984 from users' Kindles.

6. CP/M (1973)


Image source: flickr/mrbill

Before Windows there was DOS, and before DOS there was the Control Program for Microcomputers, or CP/M. (Before CP/M? Typewriters.) As the legend goes, had CP/M developer Gary Kildall of Digital Research Inc. not blown off a meeting with IBM about licensing a version of his OS in 1980, DRI might have ended up ruling the PC roost. Instead, Bill Gates and Paul Allen adapted a clone of CP/M for Big Blue, and the rest is history.

The problems with that story? 1. Kildall didn't actually blow off the meeting; and 2. CP/M wasn't really all that good, says Winn Schwartau, author of Information Warfare and chairman of smart phone security firm Mobile Active Defense.

"A number of my friends still run Kaypro CP/M machines because they're still fast and not cluttered up by endless DLLs and other crap," he says. "But I think CP/M was a kluge that fell far short from a usability standpoint."

5. 8-bit video games (1981)

Space Invader

Image source: flickr/AdversMedia

Sure, the original versions of Space Invaders, Frogger, Donkey Kong, and Super Mario are "classic" video games, but only in the same way that "Who's the Boss?" is classic TV or Culture Club is classic rock. Like many products of the 1980s, the chunky, two-dimensional games don't stand up well to the test of time. But never underestimate the power of pure nostalgia; nearly all of these "classics" have been reincarnated as Flash games. If you still like to play those, you'd probably also enjoy watching Tony Danza reruns on your VCR while listening to Boy George on your Walkman.

4. Super Nintendo Entertainment System (1991)

Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Super Nintendo Entertainment System is a feline favorite. Image source: flickr/goodrob13

When you've lived in an 8-bit gaming universe, moving up to 16 bits is like cranking up the amps to 11. But after a while then you come to realize that louder isn't necessarily better. While Nintendo sold tens of millions of 16-bit Super NES units, it was hardly state of the art even back then, says Luis Levy, co-author of Play the Game: The Parent's Guide to Video Games and co-founder of Novy PR.

"People used to adore the SNES for its cheesy Mode 7 effects and 'orchestral-quality' music," says Levy. "But the console was hampered by a dog-slow CPU and a sound chip that severely crippled creativity because it was sample-based. The Sega Genesis, which featured 6 FM and 4 Programmable Sound Generator channels, was vastly superior."

3. Windows 95 (1995)

Windows 95

Windows 95 was an enormous improvement on the various Microsoft operating systems that preceded it. But that's only because Windows versions 1.x, 2.x, and 3.x set the bar so low that an ant could have tripped over it. A $300 million marketing campaign couldn't hide the fact that Win95's "new" features -- like better multitasking and memory management, or a mouse friendly graphical interface -- were already available from the Mac OS and IBM's OS/2. It was still buggy, crash prone, and had trouble running older DOS games. And though Win 95 didn't come with the notoriously insecure Internet Explorer built in, IE eventually became part of the standard Win95 installation. An entire generation of malware authors are in its debt.

2. Facebook (2004)


Image source: Facebook

Back when it debuted in February 2004, "Thefacebook" was a far cry from the 750-million-member monster it is today. It looked more like LinkedIn marinated in beer and testosterone. You could create a profile, add friends, send messages, join groups -- and that's about it. The ability to view a steady stream of updates from your friends, share photos and videos, and run apps all came later. This social network was pretty much all about seeing which coeds were available for hookups. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

The one thing the original Facebook was pretty good at? Privacy. Once it expanded beyond Harvard Yahd, you could only qualify for a Facebook account if you were matriculating at a major university. How things have changed.

1. Apple iPhone (2007)

original iPhone

Image source: Apple.

Yeah, sure, the iPhone changed everything. But if you penetrate the reality distortion field and cast your mind back to June 2007, you'll realize the original iPhone was crap. Sure it had a multi-touch screen and all that whizzy interface stuff. But remember, this was a 2G phone -- and we're talking AT&T 2G. The iPhone had no copy and paste function. No multimedia messaging. No push email or support for Exchange. No GPS. No Java or Flash. You had to jailbreak it to add these features on their own. Most important, when the iPhone debuted there was no app store. It was just a friggin' phone -- one that cost $600, plus a two-year commitment to the world's worst wireless company. The Jesus Phone? Lord help us.

Now read this: Priceless! The 25 funniest vintage tech ads

When not flaying sacred cows, Dan Tynan writes ITworld's Thank You for Not Sharing blog and tries to keep his head low. Visit his ehumor site eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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