SLIDESHOW

10 Companies We Love to Hate

When it comes to the Hall of Fame of companies to hate, these tech firms top the list.

10 Companies We Love to Hate

Some companies just have it coming. Perhaps their products seem second-rate, or maybe you had a horrendous customer service experience, or possibly you’re just annoyed with them on a philosophical level. Whatever the reason, many of these companies make products we depend on, and for some inexplicable reason we can’t stop using them.

Of course, on some deeper level we know that these companies aren’t 100 percent bad. We just hate them when things go south, and for several reasons (legitimate or not) the hate has stuck. Think of these firms as punching bags for our techno-angst. Just as some politicians deserve the darts flung their way, the following tech firms have all earned bull’s-eyes on their backs.

Here are the 10 that rank high on the Loathe-O-Meter.

(Illustration: IDGNS)

Classmates.com

If an electronic junk mail Hall of Fame ever comes into being, Classmates.com will have its own wing. No matter what those thousands of e-mail alerts from Classmates.com have claimed over the years, your former classmates are not trying to contact you. And if they were, they’d probably try Facebook or Google rather than a Web site with a reputation for shady marketing and poor customer service.

Despite numerous consumer complaints over the past decade or so, apparently Classmates.com is still up to its old tricks, such as making it nearly impossible for users to cancel their memberships, including "free trial" deals. Without a doubt, Classmates.com is the unpopular kid in school.

The Cable Company

Few businesses end up more on the receiving end of consumer ire than the cable company, the government-sanctioned monopoly that brings television, phone, and Internet to homes at ever-increasing prices. Go on, name a provider. Comcast? Crappy customer service. Time Warner Cable? A driving force in the move toward usage-based pricing for broadband. Charter Communications? It once partnered with an ad vendor that reportedly spied on customers, and its users have reported really bad service too.

There’s a ray of hope, though. A new wave of competitors, namely Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse, are slowly expanding nationwide. They’re bringing much-needed competition that will force the cable guys to offer better bundles and service--or, at least, let’s hope that's what will happen.

Update: Comcast just topped MSN Money’s Customer Service Hall of Shame.

AOL

The former King of Dial-Up, which once claimed a staggering 34 million Internet subscribers, is a shell of its former bad self. Following its recent dumping by ex-partner Time Warner, AOL must now go it alone as a Web portal, fighting for ad dollars with the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo.

Given AOL’s fall from grace, is it worth our ire? Sure, if you’re the type who holds a grudge. AOL subscribers endured years of lousy customer service, abysmal software, and shady billing practices. And in the 1990s, AOL mailed out millions of unwanted free-trial floppies and CD-ROMs that are still piled up in the nation’s landfills today. Call us haters, but AOL still sucks.

Best Buy

Big-box electronics retailers seem to be a magnet for hate, and Best Buy is no exception. No one can argue that if you’re a geek, wandering Best Buy's aisles is close to experiencing nirvana. Just don’t count on a positive, transformative customer service experience. Best Buy has earned a poor reputation over the years for pushing some unnecessary services on customers, appropriating files from customers' PCs when repairing them, allegedly engaging in bait-and-switch pricing, and apparently selling virus-infected digital picture frames. Shall we continue?

I’ll be the first to admit that Best Buy isn't a horrible place. But its blunders may have sealed the deal for some people, who took their Best Buy angst to hilarious new heights.

Microsoft

Where to begin? Microsoft’s rap sheet is long, dating back to the pre-Internet era with the company's monopolistic MS-DOS licensing practices. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and Microsoft hasn’t lost its power to enrage. Its misdeeds include the disaster known as Windows Vista, Internet Explorer 6 with its numerous security holes, and the ill-conceived Windows Genuine Advantage antipiracy technology that had problems telling a real copy of Windows from a fake.

But wait, there’s more. The infamous Blue Screen of Death has long perplexed Windows users with cryptic nonanswers as to why their PCs just crashed. Microsoft has been a sworn enemy of open-source software, too (although that may be changing), and the antitrust brouhaha with European authorities seems endless. That’s a whole lotta ugly, and we haven’t even mentioned Windows Me. Okay, we just did.

AT&T

Today’s AT&T may be a very different beast from the monolithic Ma Bell of decades past, but it’s still a tech leviathan that manages to infuriate and confound its customers. Its most recent misdeed was its failure to support two vital features of the iPhone 3GS--namely, MMS and tethering--at the time of the handset’s launch. Not surprisingly, AT&T’s sluggish response earned the wrath of the Apple faithful.

Then there’s the matter of AT&T's 3G network, which has had its problems handling the throng of iPhone and 3G-equipped notebook users. While AT&T is upgrading its network to faster HSPA 7.2 technology, most users won’t see a speed boost until next year at the earliest. It’s a safe bet that a second U.S. iPhone carrier (hint: Verizon Wireless) would force AT&T to pick up its game.

Apple

This is more of a love/hate relationship. Everybody--excluding perhaps the most rabid of Microsoft groupies--loves Apple’s genius. After all, the Macintosh, the iPod, and the iPhone each redefined their respective categories. And even detractors must admire the marketing brilliance that somehow persuades Apple cultists to believe that even lousy products (like the Pippin game console, the “hockey puck” mouse, and Macintosh TV) are insanely great.

But Apple has a dark side, too. First, it’s too secretive. The company’s silence about future products isn’t a big deal (except to nosy journalists), but as a publicly traded company it should have been forthcoming about Steve Jobs’s medical issues. Second, Apple’s lax attitude toward Mac security needs improvement. Third, Mac users may be a tad smug and self-assured, one study says. Okay, Apple fans, let the flames begin.

Ticketmaster

Fans of live entertainment have good reason to loathe Ticketmaster, if you ask me. The ticketing service, with little to no competition in its field, charges usurious fees for event tickets that you can buy and print out via the Web. Example: A ticket to an English Beat concert near Los Angeles costs $20. But Ticketmaster tacks on a $7 “convenience charge” and a $2.50 “building facility charge.” Total cost: $29.50, a nearly 50 percent increase over the face value! Oh, it also charges an optional $2.50 fee for you to print the ticket on your printer.

In the pre-Internet era, when Ticketmaster needed staff, offices, and equipment to print and distribute tickets, such fees may have been warranted. (Okay, they were a rip-off then, too, but I’m trying to be fair.)

More bad news: Ticketmaster plans to merge with Live Nation, the biggest concert promoter in the United States. Critics fear that the merger will make matters worse for ticket buyers. They’re probably right.

On the bright side, dissatisfaction with Ticketmaster may be spurring the economy. Take a look at the fashion sold at this site (see dog above).

Sprint Nextel

The past year wasn’t pretty for Sprint, which lost 4 million or so wireless subscribers and suffered a huge financial loss. Its 2005 merger with Nextel was rocky and led to cruddy customer service; certainly not helping matters were reports that Sprint support reps were more interested in ending users’ calls quickly than in actually resolving problems.

But things are improving. The wireless carrier seems to be doing a better job of pleasing its customers, and the hot new Palm Pre smartphone is available exclusively on the Sprint network through the end of 2009.

CompUSA and Circuit City

We hope that CompUSA and Circuit City do better under the new management of Systemax, the company that will keep both brands, and some CompUSA stores, alive. All indications are that Systemax is already turning things around.

Unfortunately both brands come with a lot of baggage. Circuit City gained a reputation for shabby service. CompUSA developed a similar rep. Numerous posts in the PC World Forums griped about CompUSA’s poorly trained sales staff, who knew little about the products they were selling.

So will tech buyers lose the hate and learn to love the new CompUSA and Circuit City? That probably depends on whether the bad old days are really gone for good.

For related stories, see:

Just Cancel the @#%$* Account!

10 Things We Hate About ISPs and Cable and Phone Companies

10 Things We Hate About Apple

10 Things We Hate About Microsoft