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12 tech firms that have lost their way

We loved these brands once, but not so much now

Google, Apple and even Microsoft are some of the most respected tech brands of the decade. However, sadly, no brand is guaranteed eternal health.

For example, while the two most powerful tech trademarks of the mid-1980s, Compaq and Lotus, are both still around, they're in a greatly diminished form.

The brands in this story haven't just lost a little of their lustre. Most were once among the most respected names in technology, but ran into financial hardship and got sold (often repeatedly) to new owners who were usually mostly interested in strip-mining whatever goodwill the brands retained with the public.

If you ever loved any of the names in this article - and chances are that you once had a high opinion of at least a few of them - prepare to feel glum.

12. Commodore

What it was: Jack Tramiel's groundbreaking computer company. In the 1970s and 1980s, it released one of the first PCs (the PET 2001), the best-selling PC of all time (the Commodore 64), and (after Tramiel left) one of the best PCs ever (the Amiga). But post-Tramiel management eventually ran the company into the ground. It went belly-up in 1994.

What it became: Commdore's golden age may have been a quarter-century ago, but the name remains recognisable enough that multiple companies have acquired it with giddy visions of using it to launch new product lines.

Germany's ESCOM and the Netherlands' Tulip both did so; both quickly gave up.

Most recently, a company called Commodore Gaming revived the nameplate yet again for a line of high-end Windows desktops, but its current site is almost entirely devoted to old Commodore 64 games which are now playable on the Wii.

Bottom line: The Commodore line of computers has now died at least four times. And yes, I did consider giving Commodore's still-extant Amiga brand its own slot on this list, but I'm too confused by its current status. Maybe you can explain it to me?

11. Heathkit

What it was: I'm too young to have ever built a Heathkit during their glory days, but I certainly remember wanting to put one together.

There was a time when there was no better way to establish your geek-cred than to assemble a Heathkit radio, TV, stereo system, or other piece of electronic gadgetry, and doing it yourself saved you money, too.

When the personal computer revolution came along, Heathkit became a significant manufacturer of early PCs, too, leading to its 1979 purchase by Zenith.

But increasingly sophisticated, miniaturised electronics made it tough to save money by assembling a kit rather than buying a ready-made item.

In 1992, Heathkit stopped selling kits.

What it became: Heathkit, which like many of the companies in this story has gone through repeated changes in ownership, is still around.

Its current name is Heathkit Educational Systems, and it sells training materials for the PC, telecommunications, and life sciences industries.

The vestigial 'kit' in its name serves as a reminder that it's quite literally not the Heathkit it used to be.

NEXT PAGE: Bell & Howell

  1. We loved these brands once, but not so much now
  2. Bell & Howell
  3. AT&T
  4. Napster
  5. Netscape


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