Numbers 16 to 20
16. Comet Systems Comet Cursor (1997)
Thank Comet Cursor for introducing spyware to an ungrateful nation. This simple program had one purpose: to change your mouse cursor into Bart Simpson, Dilbert, or one of thousands of other cutesy icons while you were visiting certain Web sites. But Comet had other habits that were not so cute.
For example, it assigned your computer a unique ID and phoned home whenever you visited a Comet-friendly Web site. When you visited certain sites, it could install itself into Internet Explorer without your knowledge or explicit consent. And it was bundled with RealPlayer 7 (yet another reason to loathe RealPlayer). Some versions would hijack IE's search assistant or cause the browser to crash.
Though Comet's founders insisted that the program was not spyware, thousands of users disagreed. Comet Systems was bought by pay-per-click ad company FindWhat in 2004; earlier this year, Comet's cursor software scurried down a mouse hole, never to be seen again.
Editor's note: After publication of this article, we heard from a founder of Comet Systems who took issue with our characterization of Comet Cursor's behavior. In response we have amended the description of how Comet Cursor got installed on PCs. See PC World's Techlog for more information.
17. Apple Macintosh Portable (1989)
Some buildings are portable, if you have access to a Freightliner. Stonehenge is a portable sun dial, if you have enough people on hand to get things rolling. And in 1989, Apple offered a "portable" Macintosh--a 4-inch-thick, 16-pound beast that severely strained the definition of "laptop"--and the aching backs of its porters.
Huge lead-acid batteries contributed to its weight and bulk; the batteries were especially important because Portable wouldn't run on AC power. Some computers are affordable, too; the Portable met that description only if you had $6500 of extra cash on hand.
18. IBM Deskstar 75GXP (2000)
Fast, big, and highly unreliable, this 75GB hard drive was quickly dubbed the "Deathstar" for its habit of suddenly failing and taking all of your data with it.
About a year after IBM released the Deskstar, users filed a class action suit, alleging that IBM had misled customers about its reliability. IBM denied all liability, but last June it agreed to pay $100 to Deskstar owners whose drives and data had departed their desks and gone on to a celestial reward. Well before that, IBM had washed its hands of the Deathstar, selling its hard drive division to Hitachi in 2002.
19. OQO Model 1 (2004)
The 14-ounce OQO Model 1 billed itself as the "world's smallest Windows XP computer"--and that was a big part of its problem. You needed a magnifying glass to read icons or text on its 5-by-3-inch screen, and the hide-away keypad was too tiny to accommodate even two adult fingers.
The Model 1 also ran hot to the touch, and at $1900+ it could easily burn a hole in your wallet. Good things often come in small packages, but not this time.
20. DigitalConvergence CueCat (2000)
Appearing at the tail end of the dot com craze, the CueCat was supposed to make it easier for magazine and newspaper readers to find advertisers' Web sites (because apparently it was too challenging to type www.pepsi.com into your browser).
The company behind the device, DigitalConvergence, mailed hundreds of thousands of these cat-shaped bar-code scanners to subscribers of magazines and newspapers. Readers were supposed to connect the device to a computer, install some software, scan the barcodes inside the ads, and be whiskered away to advertisers' websites. Another "benefit": The company used the device to gather personally identifiable information about its users.
The CueCat's maker was permanently declawed in 2001, but not before it may have accidentally exposed its user database to hackers.