Microsoft's Most Glorious Failures

Sometimes Microsoft fails because the product simply stinks (paging Microsoft Bob), but these flops were mostly good ideas that fell victim to bad timing or poor execution.

Microsoft's Most Glorious Failures

Critics are fond of saying that Microsoft lacks an inventive or innovative spirit, but history begs to differ. The past two decades are littered with experimental Microsoft technologies and products that tried hard to push people toward new ways of using a computer. The company has attempted to bring the world numerous devices for viewing digital content on televisions, ambitious plans for a Web-wide single-sign-on feature, and independent displays.

Microsoft's problem is often not that it's stuck in rewind; rather, many of its products have failed spectacularly because they were either ahead of their time or poorly executed. In fact, many of these flops proved to be predecessors to several of the popular gadgets we use today. Let's take a look at some of Microsoft's most glorious failures.

TV Photo Viewer

Date of release: Circa 2001

What it was: A floppy disk drive that displayed image files on your television

Price: $159

Why it failed: By the time the TV Photo Viewer made an appearance, not only was the floppy disk old news, but displaying images directly on your TV from your digital camera was a simple trick that required only a few inexpensive wires.

Fate: Discontinued

Successors: Digital cameras, TVs, and set-top boxes with SD Card or USB slots; Apple TV; Internet-connected TVs; Flickr, Picasa, and Snapfish

Tablet PCs

Date of release: 2002

What it was: Tablet PCs were clamshell laptops that could transform into one-panel slate computers running Windows. You could write on the screen and interact with the OS using a stylus.

Price: $2000 to $2500

Why it failed: A year after Microsoft launched Windows XP Tablet Edition, the device had still not taken off. People just never gravitated toward Tablet PCs, despite Bill Gates's prediction that tablets would be the most popular PCs in America by 2007. The high price also may have contributed to the Tablet PC's failure.

Fate: The Windows Tablet PC still exists, and HP is planning on producing a Windows 7 one-panel slate aimed at business users. But the iPad has effectively proved that the Windows Tablet PC was a failure among everyday users.

Successors: iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab

Speech Recognition in Windows XP

Date of release: 2001 to 2003

Price: Varied

What it was: A speech-to-text function

Why it failed: This feature was available only via optional downloads such as XP Plus. Speech recognition in Windows wasn't very good at the time, and was limited to just a few applications, such as Microsoft Office and Windows Media Player.

Fate: Speech recognition is still around in Windows 7, and is getting pretty good reviews. But the function has been far more successful--not to mention more useful--on modern smartphones.

Successors: Google smartphone apps; Android OS, Apple iOS; Dragon Dictation

Windows Live Spaces

Date of release: 2005

What it was: An online blogging platform

Price: Free

Why it failed: First launched as MSN Spaces, Windows Live Spaces wasn't as user-friendly or flexible as other blogging and sharing platforms.

Fate: Live Spaces blogs migrated to the WordPress platform in September 2010.

Successors: WordPress, Movable Type, Blogger; Facebook, Twitter; Flickr


Date of release: Circa 1995

What it was: Passport was the first attempt at a single-sign-on (and virtual wallet) feature for the Web. Passport was supposed to let you sign up for Websites without having to enter all of your information each time. Passport could also store your billing address and credit card information.

Why it failed: The service basically freaked people out. Privacy watchdogs derided it, and many people criticized it for its poor technical infrastructure and security problems.

Fate: Passport is now rebranded as Windows Live ID, but is no longer a single sign-on for the Web. It is, however, an OpenID provider.

Successors: Facebook, Google, OpenID, Twitter, Amazon

Mira Smart Displays

Date of release: 2002

Price: $1000 to $1500

What it was: A portable computer display that connected to a PC via Wi-Fi

Why it failed: The display was expensive and had limited capabilities (for example, no video streaming).

Fate: Discontinued in 2004

Successors: We haven't really seen a successor yet--but does anyone doubt that it's only a matter of time before multifunction devices such as the iPad offer Mira-like features?


Date of release: 2000

Price: $400

What it was: A DVR that could also access e-mail

Why it failed: Another Microsoft attempt to gain a foothold in the living room, Ultimate TV had a clunky interface and failed to attract partnerships from cable providers.

Fate: Discontinued in 2003

Successors: TiVo, no-name DVRs from cable providers; DirectTV

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