Over the years, Redmond has launched several useful products. But not all of them are as useful as we would like them to be. Some gave them more trouble than the others. Microsoft had no choice but to let them go.
In today’s article, we’re going to take a look back and see what we can dig up from Microsoft’s graveyard.
No, not the Pyramids. Don’t be silly. Till date, we’re not clear on what Cairo actually is. Sometimes it was called a next generation operating system and other times, a collection of technologies. After missing the deadlines half-a-dozen times, Bill Gates in a futile attempt to cover up, said “Cairo is a futuristic system. It’s something we’re working on.” But us Windows fans know better than to go by official statements.
Nevertheless, Microsoft was over ambitious and underestimated the complexity of the project and it never saw the day of light. Several modules of Cairo are still being worked upon and seeing their way in the newer versions of Windows, including the much touted Content Indexing system. But several other features like OFS or WinFS, as we’ve started to call it since Vista, are still being worked on.
Some people see Cairo as a smartly crafted business strategy to boost up the sales of their other products. But I merely find it a poorly executed business plan.
Bob was a interface program developed for 95 and NT. It was a separate graphical shell, overriding the Start menu interface, with the intent of simplifying the navigational experience for beginners. The interface was modeled as the inside of a house with different rooms. Each room can contain icons(shortcuts) that represent real applications. It include an Office suite, a calendar and a mail client. I even had a talking dog or popularly known as “Assistants”, to help you navigate through your virtual home.
It was an incredibly ambitious idea. But, the cartoons got too friendly and irritating at times, drawing heavy criticisms. MS realized this soon enough and stopped making any further developments after the original. But the cartoon assistants continued to live till Office 2003, but it was eventually discontinued.
Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition
While the entire world was frenzied about the Y2K virus, Microsoft was preparing to rattle its customers with a bomb of its own- Windows Millennium Edition or ME. ME is by far the worst operating system ever made (Oh! Yes, even worse than Symbian), on any platform. It used the MS-DOS core, and somehow it was more slower and more unstable than Win 95. And surprisingly, many DOS applications failed miserably as well.
If you’re are an avid Vista hater, I’d suggest you to take a look at ME. It kept crashing like crazy and barking out error at every turn. The only reprieve was the system restore feature but it was ridiculously messed up and even restored viruses and Trojans back to its safe house.
I know you’re wondering why Microsoft even came up with this terrible name — trust me they had a reason. Both Windows 98 and Windows 2000 were taken for their other projects. They had no other option but to choose a cheesy title and drown to death.
In short, ME was a colossal disaster, period. It was decommissioned within a year and was followed by our all time favorite, XP.
PhotoDraw is a vector graphics and raster imaging tool for Microsoft Office suite. It was a fully fledged image editor that was often compared to Fireworks. It had a lot of clip arts and additional fonts. But over time, MS realized that people were using it for basic image editing than vector graphics. Soon enough they discontinued PhotoDraw for Picture and Fax Viewer.
It was one of those tools that should have been treated with more respect. Had Microsoft hanged on to it for a while, it’d have become a serious competitor for Adobe.
People have a strange misconception that only Apple and Google are working on innovative products(Thank you Google Glass!) but the truth is quite contrary.
MS has tried out several projects, well ahead of its time. Auto PC is just one of them. Driven by the huge success of their Palm PC, MS set out to revolutionize in-car entertainment and productivity with AutoPC. With voice-recognition commands, inbuilt GPS, traffic updates, and MP3 support, it was aiming high.
But most of the technology was really advanced for even today and it was not able to deliver on its promise. And the four digit price tag wasn’t making things any better either. MS abandoned the project midway and never looked back. Today, most of these have become standard features for a car and I can only wonder how things would’ve shaped up had Microsoft clung on to the idea.
IE6 was launched with XP, in the later half of 2001, with the intent of improving the security and stability of the platform. Ironically, it made things worse and was dubbed as the most insecure browser ever.
On the brighter side, MS added some little DHTML enhancements, DOM support, fault collection, automatic resizing, improved CSS support with many new properties. They even managed to fix their annoying box model problem which made it impossible for the developers to develop websites for IE.
It’s impossible to write-off IE6 as a complete disaster. In 2004, four years since its release, IE6 dominated the world with 90% of the browser share, eradicating Netscape. Even today around 10% (half of that population are my relatives, seriously) of the world is still using IE6 forcing Microsoft to pull the plug.
What made IE6 the most hated browser in the world? If it’s hated so much, why are people still using it? Well, there is no one answer to this question. Taking forever to provide hot fixes did make things worse. Another thing is it took Microsoft a good five years to come up with the next version of their browser which made things worse while Mozilla managed to release four versions in between. And with the absence of any forceful ‘update in place’ like Firefox/ Chrome, the game was long lost.
Microsoft has announced that all support to IE6 will cease to exist from April 8, 2014, marking an end of an era.
XP – Tablet Edition
Microsoft was all set to regain its lost glory when it launched XP for tablets, ushering a new era in computing. In many respects, it can be considered a precursor to the iPad. But it turned out to be a complete disaster with poor performance and battery life. They imagined things will get better when hardware improves but the day never came.
When MS was sulking behind, Steve Jobs stole the thunder with his beautifully crafted iPad. Had Microsoft stayed on the race for some more time, they perhaps could have rode the tablet wave but the lack of decision making had done them away.
SoapBox was a YouTube clone, by MSN, to share user generated videos, launched in 2006. It was a moderate success with approximately 250 million visitors a month during its peak, still 5 times less than what YouTube used to get at the time. Microsoft realized that there was no point in competing with a much superior rival and decided to pull the plug in 2009.
SoapBox’s failure was attributed to Microsoft’s poor strategy. The decision to brand SoapBox as a MSN product rather than a Live product backfired, and it didn’t offer anything special to be able to compete with YouTube.
Zune HD was a precursor to the current line of Windows phones. Most of the UI elements of WP7 were borrowed from Zune HD. It was an effective alternative to the iPod touch. With an OLED screen and a multitouch interface, it was rated one of the best products of 2009. But those scores were not reflected in the sales figures as Zune was missing one crucial element- the Apple logo.
Toward the fall of 2009 Microsoft, decided to decommission all Zune players, and move all the best elements of Zune to Windows Phone 7. Though I’m a big fan of Zune, I’d have to agree with Microsoft on this — the Zune was going nowhere. Apple had comfortably conquered the MP3 player market long back and looked immune to anything else. It was high time that they took things to the next level and they did just that.
Redmond was working on this secret project for a while before they dropped it. Surprisingly, no one knew about it until Techie Buzz stumbled upon a patent filed by Microsoft for a new media device. The device is pretty similar to the new iPod Nano. Considering that the patent was filed in 2009, it’s really surprising how both the companies were working on a similar idea at the same time.
Reasons for axing the Zune Nano are still unclear as there was no official word about it. My guess is Microsoft thought perhaps smartphones can replace your media players and it didn’t want to make a device competing with its phone. But this was too good an idea to miss.
Microsoft revisited the tablet market with Courier. Courier is the most innovative device, er, prototype that I’ve seen in the last few years. It had a 7-inch dual screen with multi-touch capability, mainly designed for reading and writing. Courier was envisioned to be a content-creation device rather than a PC replacement and was proposed to run on Windows CE 6.
In many ways, Courier was better than the original iPad. But the biggest problem was that it lacked email capabilities. J.Allard, the tech guru behind Xbox, was mooting that Courier is not a PC replacement and users can use a smartphone to check their emails. Plus from a company which makes billions of dollars every year from its Microsoft Exchange, this was a terrible mistake, resulting in Courier’s head eventually resigning and the project being shelved.
It was a great concept that’d have given Kindle, a run for its money at the very least. Microsoft blundered in decommissioning Courier development, favoring Windows 8. Though the unification strategy makes perfect sense, considering the success of Windows Phone 7, I still feel Microsoft has lost a huge opportunity here. Had Bill tried to convince his peers to keep company interests ahead of personal interests, we’d have had another strong competitor in the foray.
Over the years, MS has made some stupid moves, but this one is the king of all, at any level. MS had decided to work on Windows Phones and made a few hard decisions like cutting off Zune. But mid-way through, they had a change in heart and started working on a new set of mobile phones- Kin. Kin was designed with a single intent in mind: attract teenagers. The device was all set to be doomed from the start. It had half-baked social networking integration, and lacked YouTube support. Plus the pricing plans were too steep and were competing with with the likes of iPhone.
Within 48 days of its inception, Microsoft decided to pull the plug and call it quits. Now that their plan B had failed, they had rolled up the team and started focusing on WP7 full-time.
So that’s about all the missteps and mindbogglingly stupid things that Microsoft has done over the decades. Anything I’ve missed? Let us know in the comments and thank you so much for reading!