10 embarrassing moments in tech

Bill Gates at CES 2005
Bill Gates at CES 2005

Technology is sometimes a complex concept, such that it can lead to some embarrassing moments.

Whether it's an infamous presentation that went awry, a product that shipped long before it should, or just a goofy marketing gaffe, these low points in tech serve as a good reminder: make sure your stuff works.

1. Hot Coffee
Grand Theft Auto is not exactly a delightful kid-rated platform jumper. It's more like a violent shooter made for bored teenagers. Yet, when Take Two Interactive developers snuck in a secret sex mode -- called Hot Coffee - they caught the ire of the ESRB and had to do a major recall and re-branding.

2. Osborne 1 laptop
Here's a lesson for the marketing folks: when you release the first laptop ever made, don't immediately announce that you have the successor in the works. The Osborne 1 was killed by marketing, and ever since Apple has had a strict policy never to eat their own offspring for lunch.

3. Windows Vista
This might be first time an entire operating system has been listed as an embarrassing moment, but Vista qualifies - not for the fact that sales have been disappointing, because when you include an OS on a computer by default it is bound to be a big seller. But consumer perceptions are ultra-low. So low, in fact, that Microsoft faked people into thinking their new OS was not Vista to get them to like it.

4. Bill Gates at CES 2005
The golden boy of tech is not always on his game. At CES 2005, Bill Gates had trouble getting the remote to work with Windows Media Center. (Remember that technology? it is now more like an Easter egg that people find in Windows Vista Ultimate - and a far cry from a simple DVR.) What makes this gaffe memorable is that "co-host" Conan O'Brien kept making fun of him.

5. Monkey Boy dance
We're not just picking on Microsoft - okay, maybe we are. In 2001, Steve Ballmer did his famous monkey dance at an employee event. Since then, the media has alluded to his emotive behaviour and journalists like Fake Steve Jobs (who is now Real Dan Lyons) have called him Monkey Boy. Too bad because - in some ways - Ballmer was just trying to get people fired up.

6. EMC career day gaffe
Last year, EMC held a career day on Second Life. Polly Pearson, a vice president, participated - virtually - in the event, where EMC handed out trinkets and held mock interviews. Here's Pearson's own description of what happened next: "When it came time for my mock interview, I sat down behind a virtual desk and noticed that I was still wearing a hardhat with a miner-like light beam shining directly in the face of my interviewer. I thought, 'My goodness, you can't wear a hat during an interview,' so I right clicked on a menu that would allow me to remove my hat. My hat was removed all right. So were all my clothes! I sat there like a naked mannequin with my team circled around laughing."

7. BlackBerry Storm
Maybe it's too early, what with Verizon still hyping the BlackBerry Storm in commercials during American football matches in the US, but the Storm is a dud. A powerful device that supports music and video, has a 3 megapixel camera, and runs fast on Qualcomm 528 Mhz processor - but a BlackBerry is all about typing, and doing so on the Storm's clickable screen is woefully difficult. Critics have soundly panned the device, and we officially recommend that you try before buying.

8. Gizmodo banned from CES
Gizmodo thought it would be funny to roam around CES 2008 and randomly power down HDTVs, using something called a TV-B-Gone. Oh, those pranksters! Apparently, a staffer has been banned from future events, and quite a few readers posted harsh criticisms. Sometimes, pranks backfire on you.

9. Anything Jerry Yang does
The current but soon former CEO of Yahoo! has had his share of gaffes over the years, including a recent letter to employees explaining how some of them would be fired. You'd think a tech company would know that anything you transmit electronically can be re-transmitted widely on the web. Under Yang's leadership, the company stalled a Microsoft buy-out and sunk its stock price. Ouch.

10. Green computing Initiatives
Here's one that might gets us all riled up. "Green computing" is more of a concept than a reality for most companies. Google has led the charge by offering a handful of hybrids that employees can rent and installing solar panels on its roof. But many of the major initiatives in green computing are meant to bolster sales and raise your environmental cred, but often languish as a lame iconic gesture rather than real change. Microsoft is one exception: it has been building LEED-certified data centers.


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John Brandon

John Brandon has covered gadgets and cars for the past 12 years having published over 12,000 articles and tested nearly 8,000 products. He's nothing if not prolific. Before starting his writing career, he led an Information Design practice at a large consumer electronics retailer in the US. His hobbies include deep sea exploration, complaining about the weather, and engineering a vast multiverse conspiracy.