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80,259 News Articles

10 technology upgrades that went badly wrong

When bad things happen to good products

PC Advisor brings you 10 major upgrades that went awry, the consumer revolts they prompted, and how the products involved recovered - or didn't.

3. Polaris Packrat 5.0 (1993)

The product: Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, if you used a PC to stay organized, there's a good chance that you used Polaris Software's PackRat, a popular and powerful personal information manager (PIM) that was the first such product to run in Windows (scroll to page 76).

The bad things:
When PackRat 5.0 shipped, InfoWorld noticed some bugs ("we crashed") but still pronounced it a winner in the magazine's roundup of PIMs (scroll to pages 72-73). PackRat customers, however, were less tolerant. Many deemed the application unusable, and members on the company's CompuServe forums seethed with anger ("your senior managers are crooks").

Polaris's president claimed that only 20 to 30 unhappy campers were responsible for the online hatefest. But ultimately the company was forced to admit that it had shipped a product that wasn't ready for prime time.

The aftermath: Polaris moved remarkably slowly to patch up PackRat's holes, and the company's once-loyal customer base proved unforgiving. The software's market share fell from 27 percent in 1993 to less than 10 percent in 1994. Mass layoffs ensued, a merger with telephony company Octus fell through, and Polaris and PackRat faded into obscurity - except as a sobering object lesson for the rest of the software industry.

4. Microsoft Word 6.0 for Mac (1994)

The product: Microsoft and Apple may be the tech world's most inveterate archrivals, but that hasn't stopped Microsoft from being a major developer of applications for Apple's computers.

It released Word for Mac in 1985 - two years after the first version of the word processor appeared for Microsoft's own MS-DOS - and it sells an updated version of the application to this day as part of Microsoft Office 2008.

The bad things:
Word 5.0 for Mac, which shipped in 1991, had been a well-reviewed hit. But for the next major upgrade, Microsoft decided to focus on creating a Mac version of Word that matched the features of Word for Windows.

So it abandoned all the work it had done on the previous Mac edition in favor of a version that was based on Word for Windows. The result? Word 6.0 felt like a bloated, buggy invader from the Windows world - even the keyboard shortcuts had changed. Mac fans went berserk, and version 6.01 didn't do much to calm them down (scroll to page 29).

The aftermath:
Microsoft learned a lesson. Word 98, version 6.0's successor, was a strong enough app that Macworld named it and the rest of Office 98 as its Software Product of the Year. "[For] the first time in a long time," the magazine enthused, "Microsoft seems to actually understand what the elegance of the Macintosh is all about."

The company also split Mac development off into its own group, the Mac Business Unit, shielding it from the unhealthy, Windows-centric influence of the rest of the Office team.

NEXT: the Starfish Sidekick 99 and Netscape 6 >>

  1. DOS 4.0 and Ashton-Tate dBase IV
  2. Polaris Packrat 5.0 and Microsoft Word 6.0 for Mac
  3. The Starfish Sidekick 99 and Netscape 6
  4. Intuit TurboTax 2002 and the PalmOne Treo 650
  5. Hotmail and iMovie '08

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