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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.

7. Intuit TurboTax 2002 (2002)

The product: Taxes are unavoidably... taxing. But Intuit's TurboTax has long been the best-seller among applications designed to make paying the bill a little less arduous (for US-based users, at least).

The bad things: By its very definition, tax software tends to be something that people pay for and then use only once. In 2002, Intuit decided that too many folks were skipping the "pay for" part, so it hobbled TurboTax with a product-activation scheme designed to defeat piracy.

The security process required users to run a second program - one that prevented them from installing TurboTax on more than one computer and that sometimes failed to grant paying customers access to the software, period. The hassles prompted a class-action suit, and rival H&R Block ran ads touting the lack of copy protection its competing TaxCut software.

The aftermath: Despite the controversy, Intuit insisted that it was merely defending its intellectual-property rights, and refused to back down. But only for awhile: in May 2003, it announced that it was dumping product activation.

The company apologised to users for having inconvenienced them, but it also conceded that the anticopying technology hadn't generated increased sales as anticipated. TurboTax remains DRM-free to this day, though more and more users pay for the piracy-proof web-based version rather than for the boxed software.

8. PalmOne Treo 650 (2004)

The product: The Treo - the telephonic scion of the pioneering PalmPilot PDA - wasn't the first smartphone. It was, however, the first one that nailed the concept, starting with the Treo 180 in 2002 and continuing through a series of increasingly powerful and refined models manufactured by Handspring, and then PalmOne (which later reverted to its original name, Palm).

The bad things:
In 2004, the Treo 650 - successor to 2003's Treo 600 - added a higher-resolution screen, Bluetooth, a better camera, and a removable battery. The new device sold well and received good reviews. But it also presented users with an unappetizing platter of hassles.

For one thing, the new nonvolatile file system allocated space less efficiently than the previous file system had, leaving the phone with only 23MB of available memory - a fact that some purchasers discovered only when they learned that the data they tried to transfer from their Treo 600 wouldn't all fit in the new model.

Treo 650 owners wound up receiving free 128MB SD Cards by way of compensation, but many still complained of crashes. And some found that defective SIM trays on the 650 caused spontaneous rebooting.

The aftermath: Palm continued to sell Treos (including both Palm OS and Windows Mobile models), but the brand had lost most of its lustre. Today, Palm quietly offers one last Treo model, but it has bet the future of the company on the WebOS-equpped Palm Pre (review) and Palm Pixi (review). May they age more gracefully than the once-beloved Treo did.

NEXT: Hotmail and iMovie '08 >>

  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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