The biggest Microsoft failures

One of the largest computer multinationals ever, Microsoft is known all over the world, thanks in large part to the huge success of its Windows operating system that greets millions of PC users every morning. Founded in 1975 by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the company has had its ups and downs through the years, but with a profit to date of over 18 billion, you'd have to say that there have been slightly more ups.

And as with any success story (which isn't yours) rather than rejoice in other's glory, it's often more fun to look at all the moments it hasn't all gone to plan. So let's all try to bolster our lagging self esteem, and forget our own inadequacies for a few minutes, as we look at Microsoft's biggest failures.


The very recent flop of the Microsoft Kin, although perhaps not a huge surprise, was quite a kick in the teeth for the Redmond-based giant. Its sales ended rather abruptly with the handset being taken off the shelves after just 3 months (from May to July 2010). The Kin didn't even make it to Europe.

This decision to axe quite so quickly could have been down to Microsoft wanting to concentrate on the then imminent Windows Phone 7, but this theory is being kind to a handset that clearly did not appeal to its target market - hip teens and twenty-somethings.

It's not all together clear what caused the failure of the Kin, but a mixture of delays due to prevarication over the OS used, and subsequent lack of the important budget pricing by the agreed carrier, meant that this wasn't one of Microsoft's finest hours.



BOB 1.0 (Yes, that was the only version)

No, BOB didn't fail due it's really bad name - although it probably helped (a good, solid name if you're a homo sapiens, but not so great for a piece of software)  - no, the name was a symptom of a wider issue - a poor concept executed poorly.

Released in 1995, the BOB user interface aimed to offer a non-technical option for those new to the whole computing thing.

The clever folk at Microsoft made a mistake a lot of clever people make, which is to think that everyone else is stupid; the only possible explanation for the development of this condescending/patronising UI. Yes, people at the time wanted something easy to use and effective - that's nothing new - however BOB was better suited to infant school children rather than adults.

Now discontinued, its demise came quickly as it never got updated from v1.0.

BOB, no-one likes you and wherever you are, stay there and don't come back.




Okay, time for a bit of a classic fail. You know it, you love it, it's everyone's least favourite OS - well, one of them at least - Vista.

Released onto the masses in January 2007, Microsoft hoped Vista would be a hit as it aimed to be a highly secure, and speedy OS. As it turned out, it didn't appear to be any more secure than previous OSes, and it also suffered with compatibility and performance issues - older PCs struggled under its a weight - making Vista slow and unwieldy.

Uptake was subsequently slow, and those who did take the plunge were thanked with crashes and general instability from the OS. Even with the Service Pack updates, which made things a little more bearable, Vista never managed to shift the egg from its face. A pretty poor show all round. Thankfully Windows 7 looks to be a big improvement.



Windows Mobile 6.5

In fairness, this could turn into a rant about Windows Mobile in general, an OS which Microsoft shoe-horned in from the early Pocket PC device to fit with smartphones. This, in part, is why it's always struggled - it wasn't designed from the ground up to work with mobiles.

6.5 was particularly bad because apart from some rudimentary additions like a new homescreen, a poor attempt at moving away from the stylus and tweaking its Internet Explorer browser, it gave very little else that was new.

Poor reviews from the tech industry, along with the knowledge that it was just a stopgap before Windows Phone 7, didn't help endear it to the public at large. Fortunately, the festivities of WP7 have rather swept the whole mess under the carpet.



Zune Player

The Zune player is a bit of a strange one, as on paper, and for that matter in reality, it is a pretty competent all round PMP. However, for some reason Microsoft has completely failed to capitalise on what for many is a decent device, ending in poor sales and struggling market share.

Launched in late 2006, Microsoft clearly had hopes that it would be a competitor to the iPod; research group NPD stated in 2009 that it had a depressing 2 per cent share of the PMP market - very much in the shadow of the iPod's 70 per cent.

Despite this Microsoft continues to update the device, with the most recent edition, the Zune HD, continuing to be sold in the states - the music player has never had a UK launch.

Now, with the advent of Windows Phone 7 and its Zune software integration on dedicated handsets, the Zune player looks to be pointless.



Bonus - Clippit

This is a bonus, as to be fair we could have included Clippit in our roundup of Microsoft's BOB - as similar tech was used to guide people through the glaringly obvious tasks. It was born into Microsoft Office versions 97 to 2003, and after poor feedback Microsoft turned the default to off, whereby it was taken out completely by the time Office 2007 came along.

                                            image credit: chan4chan images

The failure of this feature in Microsoft Office was possibly not so much down to the fact it was entirely unhelpful, as we're sure it could well have guided a few people through tasks not yet known. However, the one thing you can't deny is that Clippit, or Clippy as he was dubbed, was bloody annoying.

It is possible that Clippy has been blamed for more causes of office rage then any other contributing factor, and subsequently Clippit is a failure for the simple reason that nobody likes being told what to do by a paperclip - especially a smarmy virtual one.

In the interest of fairness we'll be following up this story with a roundup up of what we believe to be Microsoft's biggest successes. In the mean time you can also read:

Six greatest Google successes
Five greatest Google failures
Five greatest Apple successes
Five greatest Apple failures