Any industry is littered with the corpses of companies that blazed a trail and then stuttered and died. It's happened in most industry sectors, but in IT some of the failures have been profound and yet strangely uplifting.
Shaun and I agonised over this one. We spent a good couple of hours trying out various ideas in our local diner Morty's before we hit on the topic that would be both interesting and fun to write.
It took another hour to build the list; thank goodness for Morty's spaghetti and the forbearance of staff member Rachel, who's a bigger XKCD fan than either of us and knows her onions when it comes to tech.
Any industry is full of also-rans. As an industry sector matures it consolidates, taking the best from the competition and either integrating it or crushing the competition. Adam Smith was only half right; innovation is not only down to the market, but to who can outspend or buy the competition.
So here's a list of those IT innovations that fell under the bulldozer. Some were cruelly robbed of their advantage, others threw it away with bad management. As ever, your comments are appreciated.
Iain Thomson: Betamax is a case history in how technological battles are fought and lost. It also reveals a lot about Sony's corporate culture.
In the 1970s the concept of home video was just beginning to take off. Sony, one of the leaders in the field, created the Betamax format for home video and graciously said that the rest of the industry could use it, for a small fee. JVC and others politely told Sony where it could stick its format, and created VHS to compete.
This has been a long-term problem with Sony. It wants to own storage formats and get paid by the rest of the industry. Betamax was an early example of this, but MemoryStick and Blu-ray show that the instinct runs deep.
On the face of it Betamax should have swept the market. It launched first, had the backing of one of the biggest names in entertainment and the picture quality was superior to VHS. It was loved by the broadcast community, but in the home market it failed to take off.
The most telling reason was probably the capacity. To watch Betamax videos at their best resolution each tape would hold only an hour of film. For home recorders this wasn't much of a problem, but for Hollywood it was a major issue.
Secondly, the public didn't play ball. Most home video players were rented rather than bought in those days, and JVC has good retail connections. Finally, and some say crucially, the porn industry went for VHS and this was what a lot of the early video viewers wanted to watch.
So Betamax was relegated to the dustbin of history, but personally it taught me an important lesson. My dad was one of the first to buy a Betamax recorder, as well as being in the vanguard of eight-track buyers. Now, if dad buys it, I wait to see what the dominant format will be.
Shaun Nichols: As an American born in the 1980s, I didn't even know what Betamax was until The Simpsons made a joke about it. Still, the story of Betamax remains a poignant example of why the industry needs co-operation.
As Iain noted, Sony's arrogance was the major reason for the failure of Betamax. Rather than get everyone on the same page and compete at the hardware feature level, Sony tried to squeeze everyone in the industry and sell a proprietary format. It was the original victory for open standards.
Years later, Sony learned its lesson. When the battle between Blu-ray and HD-DVD erupted, the company immediately built up a coalition of its peers and courted the studios. As we will see later on in the list, the outcome was decidedly better for the company.
Shaun Nichols: It's not dead yet by any means, but Gateway was once a promising firm that now languishes way behind vendors such as Dell and HP.
Back in the mid and late 1990s Gateway was a presence in desktops and TV sets around the world. The company was a major player in the exploding PC market and its signature cow-patterned boxes were prominently displayed through countless ads.
Unfortunately, when the dotcom bubble burst and the economy slumped, PC sales slowed and Gateway took a big hit. The company is now owned by former rival Acer and only recently returned to the UK market.
Iain Thomson: For a brief period in the 1990s Gateway looked like a game changer. It had the order-to-buy model that Dell perfected, the great PR and, most importantly for consumers, those boxes with the Holstein cow markings. At a time when the average consumer was getting used to buying a PC, this was the friendly face of the industry that they could understand.
In a way Gateway was the Apple of the PC world. It stressed approachability as its selling point and initially sold on its image as a computer company that understood that you didn't need to be a techie to buy a PC. But then it tried to get all Silicon Valley and lost its soul.
You can still buy a Gateway PC today, but it's not the same. Its folksy image is little more than a marketing plan. A sad end to a great early mover in the PC industry.
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