Every company has its hits and misses. Microsoft, however, seems to have a tendency to miss a lot more often than other companies. Perhaps it's because the company has been so big for so long, or perhaps it's because people are always so eager to point out the faults of the Redmond giant. But no matter what the reason, Microsoft's list of flops is long and legendary.
So this week, we count down 10 of what we think are Microsoft's biggest duds. It's been a tough one to write, not because of a shortage of candidates, but because we had to hold ourselves in check. We've suffered through all of these examples and the temptation to rant has had to be curtailed. We've managed to keep it under 5,000 words - just - but if time had permitted we could have doubled that.
Iain Thomson: In under 24 hours Encarta will be no more, except for the Japanese version which gets a stay of execution. So let's dance on its grave a little.
Encarta was one of those 'seemed like a good idea at the time' things. I suspect more than a few Microsoft staffers grew up with a full set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and loved them dearly. I'd also suggest that someone looked at the thousands of dollars that the Britannica crew were charging, and figured they could get a slice of that pie.
The result was Encarta, and it was about as much a threat to Britannia as Bambi to Godzilla. Encarta was clunky, badly written and had more than a few inaccuracies. It was also a sizeable bit of software and was pricey for what it was.
But what really killed Encarta was Wikipedia and the power of crowds. Wikipedia beat off a host of researchers and software engineers because nothing commercial can overcome people doing something for fun.
Shaun Nichols: It's a bit ironic how Microsoft, a company known for wiping out countless numbers of competing products from smaller vendors, is now being forced out of this market by a project created almost exclusively by small and independent groups. Wikipedia may have its faults, but you have to applaud it: if nothing else, it has got rid of Encarta.
Still, it seems that Britannica can't be too far behind. Unfortunately the encyclopaedia vendors took far too long to move from the CD-ROM to online services, and as a result users stepped in and created Wikipedia. It's a bit of a shame, because Wikipedia is flawed, and multimedia encyclopaedias did have uses in a number of areas.
Hopefully, somewhere down the line, somebody will relaunch another encyclopaedia service to keep Wikipedia on its toes. We shall wait and see.
mention: Ms Dewey
Shaun Nichols: A few years back, Microsoft was looking for a way to boost interest in its MSN Search service. One of the ideas was an interactive search site dubbed Ms Dewey. The live-action search allowed users to submit queries which would be answered by a wise-cracking actress.
Unfortunately, the idea of a pretty lady who would answer all your questions caused almost everyone who used the site to revert to the intelligence level of a 14 year-old boy, and most of the time on the site was spent asking dirty questions. Things only got worse when some of the steamier early work by Janina Gavankar, the actress who played Ms Dewey, began to surface.
The site didn't last very long, as Microsoft could not have been thrilled by the reception it got. The company had hoped to create a cute little marketing gimmick that would bring more attention to its search service. Instead, the campaign ended up looking at best amateurish and at worst a bit sleazy.
Iain Thomson: Actually Shaun, I think there's more than a little of the teenaged boy in many people in the technology field. Look at previous female personifications brought to life on the computer: they are all failures and seem to have come from the bottom of a teenager's sock drawer.
You can't condemn Ms Gavankar for some of the schlock she's done early in her career; we've all done things we aren't proud of (see number five of this list for example). I thought she did the job rather well. The problem is that the job itself was a duff one.
Apparently the Ms Dewey search idea wasn't Microsoft's but came from its advertising agency. I can believe it. The whole concept seems perfectly suited to people who know very little about computers and their users, and was probably inspired by a liquid lunch and a generous helping of Columbian marching powder.
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