10 Tech Turkeys For 2010

Google Earns Millions Of New Enemies Over Street View Flap

Google sees itself as a bastion of all things progressive and righteous, but the company has spent much of this year embroiled in controversy over its Google Street View cars and data gathering practices. Google in May acknowledged that its Street View cars had inadvertently gathered "some" personal user data during its accidental collection of data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks, but in October revealed that this data included people's e-mails and passwords.

This, naturally, is a major no-no, and several European governments launched investigations to figure out if Google should be fined for its privacy transgressions. Stateside, the Federal Trade Commission recently concluded its own investigation of Street View without finding any wrongdoing, but a Federal Communications Commission probe is ongoing.

Google has apologized profusely and vowed to change its Street View data collection practices, but the whole issue has become a lasting black eye for the search firm. Street View cars have long been the target of scorn in many countries, but at this point Google may have to equip them with protective glass to keep privacy advocates from dispensing vigilante justice.

Microsoft Kin Flops, Badly

Microsoft in 2008 spent $500 million to acquire Danger, a promising startup that designed the T-Mobile Sidekick. It was a bold move for a company that found itself falling behind in the mobile market, but the eventual fruits of that deal -- Microsoft's Kin One and Kin Two devices -- weren't appealing to customers, and Microsoft discontinued production in July, just two months after launch.

Kin was Microsoft's first stab at mobile hardware, and its cloud-based content storage and synchronization remains a viable feature, but other than that, it's tough to find any silver linings in the Danger acquisition. Microsoft has since brought Windows Phone 7 to market, and the OS is opening some eyes, but that's not likely to change Kin's legacy as one of the most high profile product flameouts in the software giant's history.

HP Slate's Sloth-Like Progression To Market

At CES 2010, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed off, if rather briefly, three prototype HP tablet devices running Windows 7. There was no mention of when these tablets -- which Ballmer described as "slates" -- would arrive, but the message that Microsoft and HP intended to compete in this space was clearly sent at a time when everyone was waiting for Apple's iPad to arrive.

Of course, that was before HP bought Palm for $1.2 billion and embarked on its own separate, non-Microsoft affiliated tablet direction with webOS. HP is still working on webOS tablets, but HP and Microsoft's transparent attempt at CES to deflect attention away from Apple is actually pretty funny when you look back on how things have transpired.

HP in October HP finally launched its Windows 7-powered HP Slate 500. But the device, which is originally consumer-focused but is now aimed at business users, comes with a very unrealistic $800 price tag. Worse, the Slate 500 is now backordered due to what HP describes as "extraordinary demand," which may or may not be an example of the back-patting that typical ensues when a company doesn't accurately anticipate demand for a product.

McAfee Downplays Its Antivirus Update Chernobyl

In April, McAfee issued a faulty antivirus update that flagged Windows XP Service Pack 3 as malware and sent tens of thousands of customers' PCs into an endless reboot loop. McAfee initially tried to downplay the severity of the issue, claiming it affected just 0.5 percent of its enterprise customers. But after customers didn't go for that explanation, McAfee quickly revised that to "small percentage" and offered an apology that had been missing in its first statement on the matter.

Later, McAfee got creative and enlisted the aid of channel partners to assist with customer remediation. It takes a special brand of resourcefulness to spin a technical disaster as a channel win, and McAfee deserves credit for pulling it off.

What customers didn't like, though, was the initial attempt at deflect attention from an issue that was clearly affecting a significant number of customers. Will security vendors ever learn to just fess up when they screw up?

Cisco's Lack Of Communication On Supply Chain Issues

Many Cisco partners believe the company did a poor job communicating the extent of the supply chain crisis that has wreaked havoc on the channel for much of this year. VARs understand that many of the factors were beyond Cisco's control, such as component shortages from Asian suppliers and the wildly unpredictable IT spending environment. Still, many expected better communication from a company that historically been very channel friendly.

"Here’s the bottom line: They took a situation that was largely not their fault and made it a hell of a lot worse by not being forthcoming,’ a national Cisco Gold partner told CRN in mid-July. "People needed answers. People needed something. For one of the most important technology companies in the world, with one of the broadest and most important channel programs, that’s simply unacceptable."


Facebook Tracks Dirt On Kitchen Floor Of Privacy

A series of well-publicized privacy blunders has put Facebook in the crosshairs of public scorn for much of this year, and the fact that Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg has been drifting toward Scott McNealy territory by claiming online privacy is no longer the "social norm" hasn't helped matters.

Facebook users were apoplectic with anger when the social networking site rolled out its "Instant Personalization" feature in April. Facebook subsequently overhauled its privacy settings and proffered an olive branch to the enraged, torch-wielding masses. Facebook has also added technical measures to the site designed to plug privacy loopholes. But this hasn't quelled the criticisms against the company, which continues to be viewed through the lens of Zuckerberg's now-infamous characterization of users who willingly allow Facebook to use their personal data.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Swings At iPad, Misses

Samsung's first entry to the tablet market is an attractively designed device that includes some features the iPad lacks, but it's also got a bunch of major flaws that will almost certainly prevent it from taking any significant market share from Apple.

First off, the Galaxy Tab is expensive -- $600 without a data plan and $400 with a two year contract through the various carriers that sell it. Battery life is also unimpressive, which is surprising since the Galaxy Tab has a 7-inch screen. In contrast, the iPad is priced starting at $499, has a 9.7 inch screen and features battery life that people have been drooling over.

Samsung's tablet also can't be charged via USB, but requires an AC adaptor. Android Marketplace also can't hold a candle to Apple's App Store in terms of the breadth and quantity of mobile apps on offer. None of these are deal-breakers on their own, but the Galaxy Tab will have to get a lot better in its second iteration in order to present a real challenge to the iPad.

Apple's Arrogance Through 'AntennaGate'

Apple's response to the antenna issues that hit iPhone 4 users soon after the device's launch was a case study in crotchety customer service. When iPhone 4 owners started complaining about dropped calls and degraded connectivity while gripping their devices a certain way, Apple's response was, essentially: 'Well, don't grip it that way, geniuses!'

Apple then claimed that other mobile devices suffer from the same issue, known as attenuation, but that generated a predictable angry response from Apple's competitors. Apple also said a protective case would solve the problem, but then dug in its heels and refused to provide them free of charge.

Only when Apple's shares started dropping and Consumer Reports withdrew its recommendation of the iPhone 4 did Apple grudgingly start responding to customers without haughty contempt. The iPhone 4 has arguably the most stunning aesthetic of any Apple product to date, but the company's reaction to AntennaGate was just as stunning in its arrogance.

Verizon Overcharges Customers For Phantom Data Usage

A two-year Federal Communications Commission investigation into Verizon Wireless' data billing practices ended in October when Verizon agreed to refund $52 million to 15 million subscribers that were erroneously charged for data they didn’t use. Verizon also agreed to pay about $25 million in fines to the U.S. Treasury.

Hey, every company makes mistakes now and then, but considering the nickel-and-dime nature of wireless carriers' business models, customers have a right to be enraged when they’re not getting what they paid for. What's more, when customers try to argue billing issues with large companies they often end up on interminable phone calls with mind-numbing piped in elevator music.

Of course, $77 million isn't going to break Verizon, but the PR hit the carrier endured from this case will leave a lasting mark.

Oracle Develops Addiction To Controversy

Oracle has spent much of the year entangled in drama of its own creation. Since acquiring Sun Microsystems in January, Oracle has pulled the plug on OpenSolaris and sued Google for infringing on its Java patents in Android. However, these were business decisions and no one could fault Oracle for playing to win, particularly since Oracle has managed to turn Sun's hardware operations into a profitable business.

Oracle's mention as a tech turkey has more to do with its petulant and public squabbling with HP, which has now extended into cloak-and-dagger territory. Oracle tried to drag former SAP CEO and incoming HP CEP Leo Apotheker into court to testify in a trade secrets case, and when it was unable to find him, reportedly hired private detectives to track him down. Hey, Larry, obsessed much?

Oracle-HP has been an interesting media storyline, but VARs have been watching and waiting for the sniping to subside, although it shows no signs of doing so. The bottom line: This sort of tumult isn't good for business.