What it was: Once upon a time–starting in 1979, to be exact–there was a software company called The Santa Cruz Operation, or SCO. It sold various versions of the UNIX operating system. And as far as I can remember, it was both successful and uncontroversial.
What it became: In 2001, SCO sold most of itself to Linux company Caldera, which switched its focus to Unix and took the SCO name. In 2003, the new SCO declared that Linux violated UNIX copyrights, and began suing everybody in sight–such IBM (eventually for $5 billion), Novell, AutoZone, and DaimlerChrysler. The dispute remains mired in the courts and hasn’t accomplished much except to earn SCO the permanent loathing of the entire Linux community. (It certainly doesn’t seem to have made the company more successful.) I can’t think of many brands whose reputations have cratered in the way this one’s has–it’s a little as if Ritz did something to deserve the enmity of cracker lovers everywhere.
What it was: The company whose Navigator Web browser did more than any other single product to introduce the world to the Web. Need I say more?
What it became: AOL’s $4.2 billion 1998 acquisition of Netscape was an eerie and depressing repeat of its CompuServe buyout from the prior year: It bought a distinguished technology company, neglected it, then slapped its name on other, only vaguely-related stuff. Navigator was never the same under AOL’s ownership and was officially abandoned in 2007; over the last decade, AOL has applied the Netscape name to a low-rent portal, a cheapo dial-up ISP, and a short-lived imitation of Digg. Today’s Netscape.com is merely AOL.com with the Netscape logo as wallpaper. I can’t imagine why anyone would go there on purpose.
What it was: The company founded by legendary technologist-entrepreneur Edwin Land in 1937. Its instant cameras, such as the SX-70, are among the most ingenious, engaging gadgets of all time. (When I was at PC World, we published a story that ranked the SX-70 as the eighth greatest gadget and the earlier Swinger as the 43rd.)
What it became: Signs that Polaroid was slipping date to the 1970s–the failure of its Polavision instant movie camera eventually led to the ouster of Edwin Land himself. In the 1990s, digital photography rendered the Polaroid camera utterly obsolete. The company went bankrupt, then reemerged as a licensing shell that permitted the once glorious brand to be used for imported goods that had nothing to do with its heritage, such as portable DVD players. In the meantime, it stopped making instant cameras and phased out film production. Then it went bankrupt again, and was sold once more.
Looking at the undistinguished, generic digital cameras and TV sets now offered under the Polaroid name makes me melancholy. At least the name is also used on PoGo cameras and printers, which use interesting printing technology developed by former Polaroid engineers. But if Polaroid can fall this far, no name is sacred. Apple and Google, take heed–and give thought to where you might wind up come 2060 or so if you aren’t careful.
This story, "12 Tainted Tech Brands That Have Lost Their Way" was originally published by Technologizer.