Talk about an idea that was way before its time. Qube (not to be confused with The Qube, a Sun server appliance) was launched in 1977 by Warner Communications as an attempt to give the company a leg up in the early cable TV wars. The system used a set-top box and remote control to give viewers features like interactive television and pay-per-view feature movies. (For details, see Ken Freed's "When Cable Went Qubist".) Launched to great fanfare in Columbus, Ohio, Qube spread to a handful of other cities. It was popular among many users, but it couldn't overcome other Warner mistakes and met its demise in the early '90s.
Over the years, Bill Gates (among others) has repeatedly predicted that speech recognition will be a major form of input, but it hasn't happened yet. Part of the problem is that, even with 99 percent accuracy, there are still a lot of errors to correct. Plus, many of us use computers in public places where speech recognition would be clumsy, embarrassing or downright rude. Still, the technology continues to improve, and it is being used in niche markets such as in medicine. Maybe someday it'll make it to the rest of us.
This flop is still around, and Microsoft remains its primary proponent. In simple terms, it consists of a set-top box that connects your TV to the Internet. WebTV Networks was founded in 1995, and Bill Gates was enamored enough with the concept to buy the company a few years later -- it's now called MSN TV. Among the reasons this idea never caught on was that set-top boxes don't have much intelligence, and the Web looks wretched on standard low-definition televisions. Undaunted, Microsoft continues to plug away.
Contributing editor David Haskin was once was an executive for a start-up offering highly publicized search engine technology. Unfortunately for him, the company folded several years before the Internet -- and search engine technology -- became popular.