Don't believe the hype: The 21 biggest IT flops

Overhyped 'Next Big Things' of the technology business

E-books

E-book readers started being sold about 10 years ago and are still being developed. The most recent entrant into the market is the Sony Reader. But they're still a flop.

The idea is attractive because, theoretically, e-book technology allows you to load many books and periodicals on a reasonably small handheld device, making it easier to travel with lots of reading matter. Also, e-books are easily searchable, another huge advantage over paper books.

However, e-books are much in need of standardization. Specifically, the number of potential formats for e-books remains huge -- the Wikipedia entry for e-books lists more than 20 formats. It's not pleasant to contemplate buying an e-reader and then finding out that a book or periodical you want is available only in an incompatible format.

Furthermore, the devices themselves just aren't good enough yet. Some folks find them unwieldy; others say they're difficult to use. And for many people, there's just no replacing the old-fashioned, reassuring feel of paper.

IBM PCjr

Like the Apple Newton, IBM's PCjr was ahead of its time. Unlike Newton, PCjr was poorly designed.

Released to great fanfare in 1984 with at least two magazines devoted to it, IBM hoped PCjr would catch on as a relatively inexpensive version of its IBM PC for homes and schools. In those days, the Apple II and console devices like the Commodore 64 dominated those still-small markets.

The PCjr was both expensive and unpleasant to use. Its infamous chiclet keyboard was wireless, but the raised keys -- kind of like BlackBerry keys that overdosed on growth hormone -- were uncomfortable to use for basic tasks like touch-typing. And, in another burst of dubious inspiration, PCjr didn't come with a hard drive. Instead, programs were contained on cartridges that you plugged into the front of the device.

IBM pulled the PCjr from the market in 1985. The company targeted the home and educational markets again a few years later with the PS/1, which met a similar fate as PCjr.

Internet currency

Remember Flooz and Beenz? These two Internet bubble vendors arguably deserved to die simply because of their goofy names. They provided online currency, which many dot-com proponents in the late '90s considered the secret sauce that would lead to the wild success of e-commerce.

The idea was to create an "Internet currency" that was not legal tender in any particular country but could be used to purchase items on the Web. Both vendors generated a lot of hype, but Flooz's commercials featuring Whoopi Goldberg received the most attention.

Unfortunately, consumers inexplicably preferred to use real money and credit cards. And Flooz faced a battery of consumer complaints before its demise in 2001. Before they expired, Beenz and Flooz agreed to work together, proving once again that in the warped universe of techno-hype, one plus one can equal zero.

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David Haskin

Computerworld
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