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80,258 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.

5. Starfish Sidekick 99 (1998)

The product: No relation to the T-Mobile smartphones - which have problems of their own - Sidekick was an early PIM. Debuting in 1983 as the first blockbuster product developed by 1980s software wunderkind Borland International, it later traveled with Borland founder Philippe Kahn to his new company, Starfish Software.

The bad things: By the late 1990s, many PC users were ticked off over bloatware - software that bulged with nonessential features and gobbled up excessive disk space. Kahn responded with the appealing-sounding concept of "slimware." But Sidekick 99 wasn't just slim; it was positively emaciated.

Aside from some new PDA synching features, almost all of its changes involved removing features. Though the program was a trim 6MB in size, it had lost the earlier Sidekick's phone dialer, many of its importing and exporting features, its ability to output HTML calendars, and even its spelling checker. No wonder the predecessor, Sidekick 98, felt like the upgrade.

The aftermath: Six weeks before Sidekick 99 shipped, Kahn sold Starfish to Motorola, which said it would use the new acquisition's mobile-synching technologies to "create a new generation of wireless devices that exchange information with each other as well as with a wide array of information sources, including PCs, the internet and wireless service providers."

Instead, it didn't do much of anything with Starfish. And poor Sidekick got lost in the shuffle: the dumbed-down Sidekick 99 was the sad final version of a venerable PC mainstay.

6. Netscape 6 (2000)

The product: Before the rise of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator was the king of browsers and had introduced most of the computing public to the World Wide Web. And once Microsoft began pouring resources into IE, Navigator stood as its fiercest, most formidable competitor.

The bad things: Somewhere along the way, Netscape got so distracted by side issues - such as its enterprise software efforts and its purchase in 1998 by AOL - that it forgot to pay attention to its namesake browser. Engineers worked on Netscape 6 (which dropped the "Navigator" from its name) for a ridiculous 32 months before releasing it in November 2000.

The first version of the browser built on the open-source Mozilla code base, Netscape 6 looked attractive and loaded pages quickly, but it was plagued by bugs and slow load times, prompting even long-time Navigator loyalists to abandon ship. Netscape eventually polished up the browser, but it was too late: By then, Internet Explorer's market share surpassed 90 percent.

The aftermath: Netscape 6 eventually bequeathed its flagship status to Netscape 7, which in turn gave way to Netscape 8. In 2007, AOL released Netscape Navigator 9 - yes, the "Navigator" returned - but announced later that year that it was killing the browser.

Still, the story of Netscape has a happy ending, in a roundabout way. The hugely popular Firefox is based on a modern version of the same open-source Mozilla code that powered the underwhelming Netscape 6.

NEXT: Intuit TurboTax 2002 and the PalmOne Treo 650 >>

  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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