It’s all very well to start bandying around predictions about what the next big thing in the world of technology will be in the year 2008, but you have to take some of it with a pinch of salt. Our very own software Nostradamus Nick has already put his cards on the table by outlining his top breakthrough apps for this year and hailing the dawn of Web 3.0. Far be it for me to disagree with the man but I’ve witnessed too many bold predictions fizzle into nothing in my time. Hell, I thought I’d be travelling to work by rocket pack by now.
The truth is that for every prophecy that comes to fruition, there are dozens more that never happen, and this goes for the tech world too. Even so-called experts can be wildly wrong. For instance, Bill Gates famously once predicted that Microsoft “would never make a 32-bit operating system” and Charlie Chaplin was adamant that cinema was “little more than a fad”. Likewise, countless tech chiefs and industry analysts have sung the praises of “revolutionary” software and hardware developments which were ultimately doomed to failure. Here are my top of the flops:
- Tablet PCs – Upon the release of the first tablet PCs a few years back many pundits were predicting the death of the notebook. Their proliferation is still slight however, largely because of their small size, high price mark and the fact that the screens are prone to damage.
- Internet appliances – Experts once thought that all our household appliances would be Internet-enabled by about now. The age of Net fridges, microwaves and sewing machines never happened though, probably because people didn’t think the benefits were worth the high cost prices of the devices.
- LAN Manager – Microsoft hoped that it would oust Novell’s Big Red and thus conquer the network world with its LAN Manager solution. Once again Bill Gates’ crystal ball must’ve steamed up on him because this bloated, unstable, and often unusable server software failed to take off. I wonder why.
- eBooks – OK, so there’s plenty of decent eBook software around for PCs, but the concept of buying an eBook reader and using it to read digital tomes never really took off. An idea that, on paper, sounded good but was ruined by the lack of a standardised eBook file format and unwieldy hardware.
- Internet currency – Remember Beenz or Flooz? Probably only just, yet these dot-flops of the late 90s once thought they had a licence to print money, and that their digital credits would one day be as widely-used as the Dollar or Euro. Web shoppers didn’t buy the idea of an Internet-only currency though.
- Microsoft Bob – Intended to put a user-friendly interface on top of Windows 3.1 and Win 95, bespectacled helper Bob was a resounding failure. Even Microsoft’s Steve Balmer was forced to admit it was a project the firm had undertaken “where we decided that we have not succeeded and let’s stop”.
- Push technology – Upon its launch in 1996, PointCast promised a revolution in way news content is delivered to desktop PCs without any user interaction. The hype soon died down as people became inundated with info they didn’t want, because the software lacked the filtering capabilities of RSS.
- OS/2 – Developed by Microsoft and IBM and released in 1987, OS/2 looked all set to conquer the personal computing world. However, after the two firms’ relationship fell apart and Microsoft released Windows 3.0 three years later, the writing was on the wall for OS/2.
- Virtual Reality – There was a time when virtual Reality was cool and we were all dreaming of a world where we could teleport to anywhere we wanted. Aside from in The Lawnmower Man and on Jamiroquai records, VR never really existed though. Huh, quite ironic if you think about it.
- WebTV – Sorry Microsoft, I’m not deliberately picking on you, but if you must keep hailing all this hare-brained new technology you need a reality check. Despite going almost nowhere with the technology since its launch in 1995, MS still continues to flog the dead horse it now calls MSN TV.