The ones that got away

Even Microsoft gets it wrong on occasion. Some of the company's past attempts to spread its platform dominance have turned out to be colossal flops.

Mike Ricciuti Staff writer, CNET News
Mike Ricciuti joined CNET in 1996. He is now CNET News' Boston-based executive editor and east coast bureau chief, serving as department editor for business technology and software covered by CNET News, Reviews, and Download.com. E-mail Mike.
Mike Ricciuti
3 min read

Even Microsoft gets it wrong on occasion. Some of the company's past attempts to spread its platform dominance by extending Windows APIs into new areas have turned out to be colossal flops. Some disappeared in a cloud of vaporware; others died due to lack of industry backing or the emergence of superior technologies. Here's a rundown of some notable failures.

Tech area MS tech & purpose Why it flopped Comments
Business electronics Microsoft at Work. Attempt to spread Windows platform to fax machines, copiers, and other office equipment 70 hardware makers initially signed up to support it, but interest waned as resource requirements grew "By establishing the underlying fax 'plumbing' within Windows and the general office environment, Microsoft at Work has the potential to drive consistency and standardization." --Microsoft press release
Wireless devices/cell phone operating system Windows CE-based OS for smart phones, portable devices Nokia, Ericsson, and Motorola shunned CE in favor of Psion's EPOC 32 operating system Of EPOC 32 vs. Windows CE: "What you're finally seeing is a rational approach to extracting information in the handheld device, without...taking this massive desktop operating system and shoving it piece by piece into a small form factor."--Mike McGuire, analyst, Gartner Group
Web component technology ActiveX. Envisioned as a component architecture for widespread use on the Internet, largely tied to Windows. Microsoft tried to establish it as a Web standard Largely out-marketed by Java, then displaced within Microsoft in favor of dynamic HTML, ActiveX lives on as component technology used by developers "We are now formalizing the standardization of ActiveX because on the Internet, it is critical that customers can rely on cross-platform, vendor-neutral standards."--Paul Maritz, Microsoft vice president of platforms
Home electronics and PC operating system MSX. According to reports from the mid-1980s, MSX was Microsoft's ill-conceived plan to build a standard operating environment for home PCs and entertainment systems Never received industry backing and was based on 8-bit technology reminiscent of the 1970s, just as 16-bit technology was taking off. Several Japanese PC makers--Sony, Hitachi, JVC, Canon, and Yamaha--as well as Phillips of the Netherlands--attempted, and failed, to break into the U.S. market with MSX-equipped machines "The MSX is a standard for the home computer just as VHS and Betamax are standards for videocassette recorders. The standard links microprocessor, sound, and video chips into a unified system, which means that computer programs written for one MSX computer can run on all MSX computers. In effect, the MSX standard turns a home computer into a generic item."--Washington Post, January 9, 1985
Virtual reality, Web graphics Chromeffects, intended to compete with the virtual reality markup language, yesterday's hot technology. Microsoft hoped to tie new graphics- intensive Web development to Windows Shelved by Microsoft in early November, Chromeffects now appears to be ready to make a comeback, but in a piecemeal form scattered among the company's operating systems. Interest in VRML, meanwhile appears to have waned. "We've had tremendous enthusiasm for Chromeffects from the hardware vendor community." --Microsoft's president, Steve Ballmer, in a keynote speech.
"I don't think you're going to be seeing a mad rush for it."--Ballmer, later in the same speech

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