Pretty much every new product gets hyped as a potentially disruptive technology these days, and usually nobody outside the company's marketing department actually believes it.
Every once in a while, however, a product comes along that everyone from the executives to the analysts to even the crusty old reporters thinks will change the IT world. Sadly, they are often misguided.
Sometimes the product really does set the industry on its ear, but all too often it falls flat on its face. This week, we look back at those that did the latter: potential game-changing products that fizzled out.
Iain Thomson: Biometrics was supposed to be the magic bullet that solved all our security needs. Look in any film where they are trying to be futuristic or hi-tech and you'll see people getting their body scanned as a security measure.
However, the reality has proved less than we were promised. Fingerprint readers are in wide circulation, but they are easily fooled these days with cheap materials, or by more direct means. Taiwanese robbers reportedly cut the finger off a man whose car had a fingerprint ignition, something that led scanner manufacturers to install a temperature sensor in future models to prevent a repeat.
Facial scanning was also touted as foolproof, and then quickly found to be anything but. Even DNA fingerprinting is now being questioned, either because the chemistry is defective or the lingering possibility that an individual's DNA may not be unique. Hell, they still haven't proved that fingerprints are unique.
Maybe one day we'll come up with the ultimate biometric solution, but I have my doubts.
Shaun Nichols: One of the problems with biometrics is that people don't really want it. As much as we love movies about cyborgs and futuristic bio-scanning systems, few people are comfortable with actually allowing machines to analyse and classify us on that sort of level.
While locks that require a palm or thumb print are emerging for high-security applications, the 'big brother' implications of taking the technology to the masses are too much for most of us.
As Iain mentioned, there are also some rather unpleasant ways to thwart such systems. Anyone who bothered to sit through Demolition Man remembers the, well, 'creative' way in which Wesley Snipes was able to get through the retinal scanning machine. If someone is determined to get into my place of work or residence, I'd rather they do so by picking the lock than by hacking off a body part.
Shaun Nichols: We're no doubt going to catch some flack for this one, but deep down even the hard-core evangelists will agree that Ubuntu has thus far been something of a disappointment. While Linux has definitely caught on in the enterprise server and database markets, the open-source OS has never really been able to move into the greater market.
Those who do use Linux as the primary OS for their home or work PC are still, by and large, tech-savvy users who comprise what used to be known as the 'hobbyist' market. The larger end-user crowd has not been able to warm up to Linux.
Ubuntu was supposed to change that. When the OS was launched, I remember all my Linux-advocate friends predicting that this would be the product to make the jump and challenge Microsoft in the consumer and workstation spaces. Nearly five years after its release, Ubuntu remains popular among Linux users, but has yet to really pick up any sort of real momentum in the greater desktop OS market.
Yes, getting rave reviews from the Linux community is nice, but get back to me when the housewives and pensioners, not just the IT pros and college students, start dumping Windows for Ubuntu.
Iain Thomson: Shaun nearly killed me with this suggestion. He and I come up with these lists over a lunch in the office in a convenient room with decent soundproofing and I'd just taken a mouthful of Vietnamese pork sandwich when he mentioned his desire to put Ubuntu on the list. I narrowly avoided the need for a Heimlich manoeuvre.
But the more he explained his position, the more I came to agree. Maybe it was just the overenthusiastic marketing or the fanboys who swarmed to the system, but Ubuntu really was supposed to change everything, whereas the operating system landscape looks very much the same these days.
Don't get me wrong, I like Ubuntu and have it running on a home system. But unless a major manufacturer starts preinstalling it it's going to be confined to the Linux enthusiast and the hobbyist market.
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