The 10 Most Controversial Companies Of 2014

Making Headlines For the Wrong Reasons

Enterprise technology isn't exactly a hotbed for controversy, except when companies do things to invite scorn, scrutiny and ridicule from the general public. All those things happened to tech vendors in 2014, and while it wasn't always their fault, they received some serious comeuppance as a result.

There are some tech vendors that just can't stay out of the headlines, whether it's for alleged unethical business practices, negligence, or just downright clumsiness. CRN here presents our picks for the 10 most controversial companies of 2014.

10. HP Autonomy

HP probably wishes there was such a thing as a mulligan in enterprise technology M&A, because its $11 billion acquisition of autonomy in 2011 has become the disaster that keeps on giving.

Former Autonomy CFO Sushovan Hussain filed suit against HP in August, alleging that HP engaged in "gross mismanagement" and "fraudulent conduct" when it attributed its $8 billion-plus write-down from the deal to mistakes made by former Autonomy executives.

Later, HP accused Autonomy channel partner Microtech of drawing up a fake $11.5 million sale of Autonomy software to the Vatican Library.

In October, HP CEO Meg Whitman told CRN the vendor made a mistake in acquiring Autonomy. "I think if you look back on it, everyone thinks that was probably not the right thing to do," she said in an understatement.

9. Apple

Apple caught heat in May when iPhone customer Adrienne Moore sued the vendor for allegedly tweaking its text messaging system to block texts sent from Android smartphones. Later, Apple said this was just a bug and issued a workaround.

But that didn't stop many industry watchers from interpreting the matter as a case of Apple throwing its weight around to dissuade iPhone customers from switching to Android devices from rival Samsung.

8. EMC

EMC found itself involved in a number of different issues that grabbed attention in the tech industry, not least of which was its hush-hush talks with HP about a potential blockbuster merger of the two companies that eventually fizzled out.

Then, of course, there is the matter of EMC's leadership succession plans. CEO Joe Tucci's contract is up in 2015 and neither he nor the vendor has given any indication of whether he'll be staying on.

[Related: The 10 Most Controversial Companies Of 2015]

Factor in the never-ending pressure from activist shareholders who want EMC to spin off VMware, and Cisco pulling out of the VCE joint venture that EMC now owns most of, and you've got a company facing some serious questions going into the New Year.

7. Oracle

Oracle is a perennial member of this list simply because of the bombastic comments of Larry Ellison, but this year the controversy took on a different flavor. In October, Ellison stepped down after a 37-year run as Oracle's CEO, handing the reins to co-CEOs Safra Catz and Mark Hurd.

But Ellison is staying on as CTO, and many industry watchers believe the whole announcement was just a ploy to show shareholders that Oracle -- which hasn't had a great fiscal run of late and is facing numerous competitive challenges -- has a real leadership succession plan.

Lately, Oracle has taken to referring to itself as a cloud giant, which is a matter of some debate in the cloud computing market, even as the company touted the growth its cloud business is seeing during its most recent financial results call.

6. Rackspace

Rackspace spent much of the year looking for a buyer, and it seemed as though the once high flying cloud vendor was primed for a major change of course. But despite a large number of rumored suitors, a deal never materialized.

So Rackspace took itself off the market and starting making some interesting partnerships.

Rackspace teamed up with Google in October to provide support for its cloud apps. In December, Rackspace dealt a blow to Intel's rule of the server chip market by supporting IBM's OpenPower processor technology. Rackspace is also joining the OpenPower Foundation, an ecosystem of vendors building on IBM's Power8 processor.

5. Google

Google Glass is a great idea, but the behavior of some early users has some industry watchers questioning whether the pioneering wearable computer will ever catch on with mainstream consumers. Already, there are signs that interest in Google Glass is waning, and several executives involved with its development have left the company in recent months.

Meanwhile, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Google has become a target for protesters who feel the private shuttle buses it uses to whisk employees through the area's traffic choked highways are a visible some of the income inequality issue.

4. RSA

The RSA security conference in February was a contentious affair, with protests, speaker boycotts and general irritation among the security researchers in attendance over the vendor's alleged ties with the National Security Agency.

RSA Executive Chairman Art Coviello told attendees at the company's annual security conference that that RSA has long had close ties to the intelligence community and hasn't tried to cover this up.

Later, security researchers found a second link to NSA surveillance and RSA Security encryption, which made it easier for the agency to spy on protected communications.

3. VCE

VCE, the joint venture between EMC, VMware and Cisco, saw its five year run come to an end in October when EMC bought out most of Cisco's share and absorbed VCE into its federation of vendors. VCE executives immediately crowed about it being the most successful enterprise joint venture ever, and they had a point.

However, tensions between EMC and Cisco, and their effect on VCE, have been the enterprise technology's worst kept secret for some time now.

Nonetheless, executives from all the vendors involved insisted, right up until the end, that everything was hunky dory and that VCE was basically just a big kumbaya party. Obviously, it wasn't.

2. Microsoft

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has made lots of bold, shrewd and calculated moves since taking the helm in February, but he also caused a firestorm in October by suggesting that women shouldn't ask for raises.

At the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Phoenix, Nadella said women should instead have confidence in the system that their hard work will be rewarded. He equated such restraint to a "superpower" that will help women build "karma" with their superiors, thereby ensuring they'll eventually get raises down the road.

Many women (and men) across the Twitterverse slammed it as one of the most astonishingly tone-deaf comments a CEO has made in a long, long time -- maybe ever. While Nadella later apologized and retracted his comments, their impact continues to resonate.

1. Sony Pictures

A hacktivist group calling itself "Guardians Of Peace" broke into email and database servers of Sony Pictures in early December. Since then, the breach has become a sort of mini Wikileaks, with a steady stream of revelations that continue to do lots of damage to the company's brand.

Attackers made off with unreleased movies and movie scripts, corporate emails and data -- including personally identifiable information such as Social Security numbers, as well as other sensitive information. And while it's not clear tactics the attackers used, solution providers told CRN they suspect Sony Pictures didn't do enough to secure its network and files.