The 15 Biggest Tech Disappointments of 2007

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From on-demand video services that were overly demanding, to underwhelming operating-system updates, 2007 was full of disappointments. We surveyed the landscape and polled some old friends to come up with the 15 products, companies, and industries that left the most sour taste in our mouths. From last to first, here's our list of the year's biggest losers. Read 'em and weep.

#15. Box Unpopuli: Amazon Unbox

Amazon's Unbox interface is cluttered.
Yes, entertainment on demand is the new black. But Amazon's video delivery service left us mostly blue. The interface is cluttered and ugly--lacking both the simplicity and sophistication of the Apple iTunes Store or NetFlix's Watch Instantly. The selection is weird, and searching is cumbersome. For example, you can rent ($3.99) or buy ($14.99) a digital copy of Ocean's 13, but a search for "Ocean's 11" turns up an ancient concert video from the old prog-rock group Yes. You can send Unbox movies to your TiVo, but you have to wait for them to fully download before you can watch them--or 2 to 4 hours for a standard-length movie over a cable modem connection. Not exactly what we'd call 'on demand'.

When Unbox debuted in late 2006, we were willing to cut it some slack. After all, we're talking about Amazon, the guys who put the e in e-commerce. We thought by now they'd have figured out how on-demand video is supposed to work. We were wrong.

#14. Screwed up to the Max: Municipal WiMax

The dream of city-wide WiMax networks for wireless Internet access remains just that--a dream.
It sounded like a great idea: big cities would offer wide-area wireless Internet access as part of their infrastructure, the same as roads, traffic lights, and sewers. A cheap, fast Net connection anywhere within city limits, 24/7. What's not to love?

Then public and private WiMax ventures started dropping like flies. Sprint and Clearwire called off their plans to build a nationwide WiMax network, after Sprint CEO Gary "bet the company on WiMax" Forsee got canned last October. Earlier this year EarthLink bailed on its offer to foot the bill for a Wi-Fi network in San Francisco. Similar city-funded projects have bought the farm in Chicago; Milwaukee; and Anchorage, Alaska. Even Silicon Valley--arguably the most Net-centric community this side of Mars--has had a hard time getting its WiMax plans off the ground. The big reason? Cost. Unwiring the whole valley would cost an estimated $200 million, or $133K a square mile. SV geeks can always park their cars near the Googleplex in Mountain View, whose wireless network covers 12 square miles. As for the rest of us, well, we can hope and pray that the search titans win the FCC auction for the 700-MHz wireless spectrum next January, and then decide to open their network to the world. Does Google have to do everything?

#13. Web 2 Woe: Social Networks

Memo to Badoo, Bebo, Catster, Dogster, Facebook, Faceparty, Flickr, Flixster, Hi5, Hyves, Imbee, Imeem, MySpace, Mixi, Pizco, Pownce, Takkle, Twitter, Virb, Vox, Xanga, Xing, Zoomr ... and the 3,245,687 other social networks clamoring for our limited attention spans: We got it. Making connections between friends is cool. Sharing photos and videos, even cooler. But it's all so... 2006. Haven't you got anything new to show us?

Here's a safe bet: Two years from now, 90 percent of these networks will be gone and their founders will be back working at Starbucks. I'll have a double mocha frappucino, please.

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