I suppose that by definition any attempt to list the 10 Biggest Computer Flops of all time is probably doomed to failure. The very fact that something can be remembered means that it made an impact - the real failures are probably the ones that we can't remember. Even given that problem, this is an odd list. The author tries to explain what he means, but leaves me even more confused:
What do all of these stories have in common? Yes they were all mistakes (at the time), but almost all of them paved the way for some of the largest success's in computing history. Sometimes for the same company, sometimes for other companies. The lesson here is persistence, determination, and perseverance.
Well, first of all I think it's just wrong to say that many of these were "mistakes at the time", and even the ones that were mis-conceived were not neccessarily "flops". Surely a flop is something that was expected to be a huge hit but didn't live up to expectations, rather than applying hindsight and saying that they might have been much bigger. Anyway, here's the list:
- The Xerox Alto
- NeXT computer
- IBM PCjr
- Apple Newton
- Apple 3
- Apple Lisa
- Microsoft Windows ME
- Microsoft Bob
- IBM OS/2
- Gary Kildall's CP/M
I don't think the Xerox Alto belongs on the list at all. I suppose it's possible to imagine that Xerox could have carried on developing the idea and sold millions of them, but that was never their intention. Instead it was a highly innovative product that demonstrated what could be done, and a precursor of the modern personal computer, and not a flop at all.
I suppose CP/M is in this list because it could have been chosen as the operating system for the IBM PC. However, the deal was never done (there seem to be conflicting accounts as to the exact reason) and Bill Gates managed to do a deal for them to use MS-DOS instead. Who knows what might have happened if IBM PCs had run CP/M, but the fact is that CP/M was not a flop - in fact, it was highly successful.
OS/2 is interesting, because it was originally a joint venture between IBM and Microsoft. When the latter decided to focus on Windows NT, IBM carried on and there was a time when it seemed possible that OS/2 might become a serious rival to Windows, but it was not to be. It's probably fair to say that this was a flop because IBM had high hopes for OS/2 but ultimately had to give up on it (and eventually got out of the personal computer business altogether).
Windows ME wasn't so much of a flop as a dud. If it had killed off Windows then it could certainly be regarded as a flop, but instead it was nothing more than a minor setback. Around that time there were a whole series of different versions of Windows (98, 98SE, ME & 2000), and I guess that ME was only ever going to be a step on the way to Windows 2000/XP. The sensible thing to do was probably to stay on Windows 98 until Windows 2000 came along, and I don't think Microsoft cared too much which version you purchased. So, I'm afraid that it doesn't deserve to be on this list even if it was rubbish.
To be honest, I can't even remember Microsoft Bob. It was certainly a failure, but I think that the word "flop" implies that it was supposed to be a big success but it bombed, rather than just being an idea that didn't work out. Anyway, didn't Microsoft later use a similar concept for the extremely annoying Office Assistant ("It looks as though you are writing a letter. Would you like some help?". Er, no thanks).
As for Apple, I thought the whole point of the company in its early years was its heroic failures - great ideas that never quite worked. Somehow it survived, and then started getting things right. You could probably pick any number of their products and label them flops, but I'm sure that some people would argue that they were actually wonderful.
One genuine flop I can remember from a long time ago was a personal computer called the Camputers Lynx. It was much hyped as a superior alternative to the Sinclair machines that were popular at the time, and it did have a good keyboard, but it was over-priced, with a weird version of Basic and very little commercial software available. Now that's what I call a real flop. Yes, I'm afraid I bought one.