From disappointing operating-system updates and social-networking scandals to high-definition wars and PC security nightmares, 2007 was full of disappointments.
We’ve looked at all of the big software stories from the past 12 months to come up with the 10 products, companies, and industries that left the most sour taste in our mouths. From last to first, here's our list of the year's biggest losers. Read 'em and weep.
10. Web 2 woe
Memo to Badoo, Bebo, Catster, Dogster, Facebook, Faceparty, Flickr, Flixster, Hi5, Hyves, Imbee, Imeem, MySpace, Mixi, Pizco, Pownce, Takkle, Twitter, Virb, Vox, Xanga, Xing, Zoomr ... and the 3,245,687 other social networks clamouring for our limited attention spans: we got it. Making connections between friends is cool. Sharing photos and videos, even cooler. But it's all so... 2006. Haven't you got anything new to show us?
Here's a safe bet: Two years from now, 90 percent of these networks will be gone and their founders will be back working at Starbucks. I'll have a double mocha frappucino, please.
9. Internet security - an oxymoron?
In 2007, the words 'Internet security' joined the ever-growing list of self-cancelling phrases, alongside 'business intelligence', 'Congressional ethics', and 'Microsoft Works'. This year, bot herders proved they could harness enough zombie PCs to take down an entire country's infrastructure for a month. Estonia eventually recovered, but our notion of Net invulnerability hasn't.
According to McAfee's Virtual Criminology Report, some 120 governments are actively engaged in web espionage and cyber assaults. Meanwhile, private criminals used the Storm worm to create a botnet for hire containing millions of zombies - enough to take down a major network. And while the FBI's Operation Bot Roast nailed a handful of domestic bot herders, that leaves several thousand more to go, most of them living beyond the Feds' reach. Three-quarters of cyber attacks in 2007 originated outside the US, according to Symantec's most recent Internet Security Threat Report.
As with global warming, there's plenty of blame to go around - for everybody from developers of insecure software to home users who blithely log on without inoculating their PCs. Let's hope they get more of a clue in 2008.
8. Microsoft Zune
Microsoft got a chance to do things right with its 'iPod Killer' in 2007. And Zune 2.0 was certainly an improvement - offering 80GB of storage instead of 30GB, wireless syncing, improved touch controls, and a choice of Nano-like 8GB players in a variety of bright colours (Pepto-Bismol pink, anyone?). But Microsoft failed to lose the Zune's proprietary DRM scheme or remove all its restrictions on wireless music sharing (you can share songs with other nearby Zune users, but they can only listen to them three times before the songs go poof). So it's probably just as well the device is still not available in the UK.
We're not the only ones disappointed in the Zune. According to the NPD Group, Microsoft still lags behind Sandisk and Creative Labs in market share for portable media players. And for every Zune Microsoft sells, Apple sells 30 iPods. Remember: you can't kill an iPod if you can't get close to it.
7. Office 2007's needless overhaul
Many of us spent a decade learning how to use Microsoft Office. So now that we finally have it all down, Microsoft changes almost everything about the interface in 2007, and not for the better.
Instead of simple-if-prosaic toolbars, Office 2007 serves up a jumble of confusing icons known as the 'Ribbon'.
Robert Luhn, editor-in-chief of DrBicuspid.com, says the new version was a stumble backwards. "Scrambled interface, incompatibility with old macros, but hey, I do get in-context spell checking," he says. "Is that worth the upgrade? Me thinks not."
Overall, we liked the added support for XML and online collaboration tools when we reviewed Office 2007. But the Ribbon takes some getting used to.
6. Leopard fails to change Mac OS X's spots
Maybe we just got spoiled by the iPod and iPhone, but the glow came off Steve Job's halo after this feline fleabag debuted. Within days of its release last October, Mac users reported dozens of problems with the new OS, some more serious than others.
Among the many: wireless connections that slowly petered away, administrative logins that mysteriously disappeared, and a disturbing tendency to nuke data when moving it between two drives if the connection is interrupted.
Worse, a security bug that was fixed in OS 10.4 in March 2006 resurfaced in Leopard, according to Symantec. The Apple Mail vulnerability allows malicious attachments to execute code. German security researchers discovered that Leopard came with its firewall turned off, leaving users vulnerable to attack. Adding insult to injury, some upgraders even reported a Windows-like Blue Screen of Death when upgrading from previous Mac OSs.
In mid-November, Apple released an update to Leopard that fixed some of the bugs, including the firewall glitch. Repairing Apple's reputation, however, may take slightly longer.
5. Apple heavy-handed iPhone tactics
Yes, we know. Sliced bread only wishes it were as great as the iPhone. And aside from minor flaws like a tiny touch keyboard and lack of Flash support, the phone itself is pretty terrific.
But tying it to one network operator – O2 in the UK, for example – upset many users. Worse, US users who did try to open their iPhones to other carriers or third-party applications found themselves owners of iBricks when Apple tweaked the firmware to lock them out.
Memo to Apple: it's time to treat iPhones for what they really are - pocket computers with phone functions built in - and open them up the world. Just a thought.
4. In a sorry state: Yahoo
We can't say we really expected much out of Yahoo in 2007. Giving CEO Terry Semel the boot was probably a good thing - especially after his $230m compensation package came to light. Installing the original Yahoo, Jerry Yang, as head honcho also seems like a smooth move, even if the company seems permanently stuck in the number two position behind Google.
Yet there's one area where Yahoo can lay claim to being number one: creating political prisoners. At least three times over the past five years, information supplied by Yahoo to the Bejiing government has led to the incarceration of Chinese dissidents.
This year, Yahoo executives admitted they'd lied to Congress when they claimed not to know why the Chinese demanded their subscriber data. Yang and general counsel Michael Callahan were forced to deliver a humbling public apology in front of a Congressional committee. Shortly thereafter, the company settled a suit brought by two of the dissidents' families.
Not so smooth.
3. Facebook Beacon’s anti-social network
We have to give props to Facebook for stealing the social-networking spotlight from MySpace this year. But once it got up on stage, Facebook laid an egg. For example, opening up the Facebook platform to third-party developers was inspired. Now, six months later, those viral-to-the-point-of-influenza Facebook apps are mostly just irritating. (For the 27th time: No, I do not want to spam everyone in my network with another movie quiz, thank you. Now go away.)
The introduction of Facebook's Beacon advertising programme was more than disappointing - it was disturbing. Suddenly, anything you purchased on Amazon, Overstock, Fandango or three dozen other sites would be broadcast to your Facebook friends. Worse, even when you were logged out, Facebook still gathered the information, though the company says it didn't use the data.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologised and offered subscribers easier ways to opt out of Beacon, but the damage was already done, says Richard Laermer, principal at RLM PR in New York and author of Punk Marketing.
"The idea behind Beacon is fascinating, but the fact that it was being done for subscribers by someone else was less than cool," he says. "It's like me fishing in your trash can for your store receipts (you haven't spotted me yet?) and then telling other people what you've bought. Not illegal, but oh so creepy."
How much damage has Beacon done to Facebook's rep? "Their PR value just went down about 40 percent," he adds.
2. High-def format war rumbles on
February 2007: Sony declares its Blu-ray the winner of the hi-def format wars.
April 2007: Toshiba announces its HD DVD player is the first to sell more than 100,000 units.
July 2007: Blockbuster Video says it will carry only Blu-ray discs in more than 1400 of its retail outlets.
August 2007: Paramount and DreamWorks announce exclusive support for the HD DVD format.
September 2007: God help us, a third HD format has emerged: HD VMD (Versatile Multilayer Disc).
Did we learn nothing from VHS vs. Betamax, CD-R vs. CD-RW, DVD-A vs. SACD, and so on down the line? At least the warring DVD camps worked out a compromise in the mid-90s that allowed everyone to profit from the new movie format (though it took them a while). Not so in HD land, where a take-no-prisoners attitude on both sides has left consumers cold. It will be a snowy day in Video Hell before we'll put our money down on either format.
1. No wow: Windows Vista
Five years in the making and this is the best Microsoft could do? It's not that Vista is awful. The integrated security and parental controls are nice, and the Aero interface is as whizzy as it gets. Searching and wireless networking are much faster and easier than under XP.
It's just that Vista isn't all that good. Many of the innovations the operating system was supposed to bring - like more efficient file and communications systems - got tossed overboard as Microsoft struggled to get the OS out the door, some three years after it was first promised. Despite its hefty hardware requirements, Vista is slower than XP.
When it debuted last January, incompatibilities were rampant - in part because hardware and software makers didn't feel any urgency to revamp their products to work with the new OS. The user account controls that were supposed to make users feel safer just made them feel irritated. And at £325 for Windows Vista Ultimate, we couldn't help feeling more than a little gouged.
No wonder so many users are clinging to XP like shipwrecked sailors to a life raft, while others who made the upgrade are switching back.
We have no doubt Vista will come to dominate the PC landscape, if only because it will become increasingly hard to buy a new machine that doesn't have it pre-installed. And that's disappointing in its own right.