The 20 most annoying tech products

Some things are annoying by their very nature -- spam, your in-laws, comedians. But when the annoyances stem from stuff you've paid for or products you rely on to get things done, that really takes the cake.

Unlike PC World's 21 biggest IT flops, irksome products aren't necessarily bad, buggy, or dangerous. But they all have one or two traits that make you want to wrap them in 200 pounds of steel cable and toss them off the side of a boat. From stupid features and rude behavior to brain-dead design and poor corporate policies, these 20 products have truly annoyed us over the years, and some continue to do so.

1. AOL CDs (1993 to 2006)

As our #1 worst product of all time, America Online gave all of us plenty to be irked about over many, many years.

But the carpet bombing of free AOL discs was possibly the most annoying (and environmentally irresponsible) marketing campaign ever waged.

Estimates put the number of discs shipped between July 1993 and July 2006 at over 1 billion; we feel like we received that many ourselves.

2. Windows Me (2000)

For our money, Windows Me is the worst version of Windows ever released -- an absolute mess.

Shortly after its release a tidal wave of bug reports smashed into Redmond. Installation was difficult, hardware driver support was sketchy, and system crashes were routine.

As one PC World columnist said: "If you upgraded to Me from an older version of Windows, you might feel that the term Millennium refers to the length of time it will take to fix the glitches."

3. Apple iTunes, Microsoft Windows Media Player, Microsoft Zune, Napster (2003 to present)

The media players themselves are mostly fine, but their incompatible digital rights management (DRM) schemes drive us nuts. Despite Apple's recent decision to sell some DRM-free songs, most iTunes tunes still play only on iPods, a couple of Motorola phones, or a computer with iTunes software on it. (And the DRM-free songs cost 30 cents more.)

Windows Media files are worse -- now, two different, totally incompatible DRM file formats use the .wma file extension. So if you buy a WMA file from a service that uses Microsoft's PlaysForSure DRM (most notably Napster), it won't work with the Zune portable media player (which uses Microsoft's Zune DRM). Can't we all just get along?

Microsoft has said it will "soon" sell DRM-free music for the Zune. We'll see.

4. McAfee Internet Security, Symantec Norton Internet Security (1998 to present)

Security suites are supposed to be like personal bodyguards for your PC, quietly enforcing the rules and keeping you safe without drawing attention to themselves. Not these two.

Norton and McAfee are constantly prompting us to check our security settings, update our subscriptions, and/or buy more products. Given that most new PCs ship with one of these two packages preinstalled -- and their subscriptions typically expire after 90 days -- it's almost certain they'll nag you too. We have enough problems with our machines' security without also having to worry about our security software.

5. Real Networks (Progressive Networks) RealPlayer (1996 to 2004)

RealPlayer 'wins' its place on our list because it had a relentless pushiness about everything it did.

For example, in 1996 Progressive Networks (now called Real Networks) began offering RealPlayer in a $30 Plus version and a free version, but finding the download link for the free one was like playing "Where's Waldo" on the Real.com site. Once you tracked down and installed the free player, it declared itself your default media player for all file formats and began nagging you to pony up $30 for Plus.

Later versions installed themselves into your Windows system tray and popped up pointless (and annoying) "special offers" from Real advertisers. And, of course, Real's notorious attempts to assign unique ID numbers and track consumer media usage -- anonymously or otherwise -- did nothing to endear itself to us. Pay $30 for this pioneer of pushiness? Get real.

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Dan Tynan

PC World
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