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The year in tech: 2015's biggest fails, flops, and faux pas
By Ian Paul,
PC World, 22 December 2015.

The worst fails always start with good intentions. Maybe you want to improve the status of artists on streaming music services, find a DVD player solution for Windows 10 users, or create a great TV service for cord cutters.

But as the saying goes, the road to fail hell is paved with good intentions. This year’s leaders down the path of fail include Microsoft, Jay Z, Yahoo, Nvidia, AMD, and Reddit. Read on to see the disasters, flops, and fails that earned the distinction of the top fails of 2015.

1. Tidal


In March, rapper and producer Jay Z re-launched Tidal, a music service that would benefit the artists who make the actual music. It was meant to be an anti-Spotify, with high-quality music files and high-quality royalties. Several months later, Tidal is struggling.  The company has lost key personnel and is currently on its third CEO - who takes over in January 2016. The service did reach its millionth user in September, but that is tepid growth when Spotify alone claims 20 million paid subscribers.

2. Sling TV’s Failed Four


Sling TV came onto the scene in early 2015, promising to reinvent television for the age of streaming. Its first big test was in April during the NCAA men’s basketball final (the Final Four conclusion), where the service failed decisively. Many users complained of choppy video and connection errors. Sling was the only legal way for cord cutters to watch every March Madness game, which resulted in “extreme sign-ups and streaming” that pushed Sling’s capabilities well past their limits. A few months later, in August, Sling failed again when it couldn’t withstand the hordes demanding to stream the series premiere of Fear the Walking Dead.

3. Insanely great box office bomb


Millions of people love their iPhones and iPads, but apparently that doesn’t translate into a deep fascination with Apple’s co-founder and former visionary-in-chief Steve Jobs. The late Apple CEO was the subject of a major film, Steve Jobs, released in October with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and starring Michael Fassbender. Many people from Jobs’ life were critical of the movie, including his widow Laurene Powell Jobs and current Apple CEO Tim Cook. Ultimately, the film bombed at the box office, taking in just US$7.1 million during its first weekend nationwide - barely more than Jobs, an earlier movie about the Apple co-founder starring Ashton Kutcher.

4. Blocking the blockers


Web publishers have a serious problem to confront when it comes to browser-based ad blockers. A study published in August by Adobe and PageFair determined that in 2016 web publishers in the U.S. alone will lose around US$20.3 billion due to ad blockers. With this problem affecting publishers worldwide, German tabloid Bild decided in October that it would try blocking website access to anyone using an ad blocker. Then in November, Yahoo started testing a similar ad-blocking blocking feature on Yahoo Mail. With advertisers insisting on tracking users across the web in the name of advertising dollars, Bild and Yahoo are simply on the wrong side of history.

5. Oyster clams up


In 2015, the original Netflix of ebooks announced it would ride off into the sunset. After two years of trying to get customers to pay US$10 per month for an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of ebooks, Oyster announced in September that it would shut down. The company didn’t have much to say about why it was closing up shop, but it appears some key personnel from Oyster were hired by Google. It’s not clear if Google is planning its own Oyster-like service or if the team was just seen as a valuable addition to the company. Oyster will officially disappear in January 2016.

6. Windows 10’s DVD rip…off


Microsoft decided it would not support the aging Windows Media Center in Windows 10, leaving the new operating system without a solution for playing DVDs. The company promised anyone upgrading to Windows 10 would get a free application to view their discs. That app showed up in July as Windows DVD Player. This problematic piece of software became even more so when Microsoft decided to make it available in the Windows Store for US$15. That’s a ridiculous price when programs like VLC are free. Microsoft may need to charge something to cover the DVD licensing cost, but US$15? Come on.

7. Where are the add-ons?


Microsoft has a bad habit of keeping its users waiting for key functionality. Right now, Windows 10 users are waiting for Edge, the operating system’s new browser, to get extension functionality. Without the ability to customize your browser with extensions, Edge is a non-starter for many users. Microsoft was supposed to roll out extensions in late 2015, but has since pushed out the date until early 2016. Power users may get a sneak peek earlier than everyone else, however, as a recent leak suggests developers are about to get some hands-on time with Edge extensions.

8. When 4GB is really 3.5GB


Nvidia landed in hot water in early 2015 after gamers complained that the GeForce GTX 970 graphics card wasn’t living up to expectations. Some heavy-duty gamers complained that the card struggled if the system required more than 3.5GB of the card’s 4GB of VRAM.

It turned out the problems were very real, and the result of a design choice by Nvidia that the company neglected to spell out until months after the GTX 970 had been on the market. On top of that, some of the specifications of the card given to reviewers were wrong, resulting in early inaccurate information that further misled gamers.

The mess resulted in at least one attempt at a class action lawsuit. Meanwhile, retailers like Amazon and Newegg offered refunds for the GTX 970.

9. Fanning the flames


Nvidia wasn’t the only gaming company making big errors in 2015. AMD recently had a doozy after a software driver bug caused fan speeds to lock at 20 percent output on some graphics cards. It wasn’t long before users started complaining of fried cards and other malfunctions. AMD released a fix a few days later after the face of many a Radeon fan went crimson over the issue.

10. Life is short. Get Pwned.


Infidelity dating site Ashley Madison lost control of its user database, including names, addresses, and credit card numbers. A lot of that data found its way online in August after the hacking group behind the breach posted an 8GB data dump online. The web was awash in schadenfreude, as everyone discussed the scandals on social media. The media also went to town claiming that the overwhelming majority of Ashley Madison users were male, and discovering that notable people such as reality TV star Josh Duggar used the service.  Ultimately, this data dump proved that even supposedly discreet sites can’t guarantee your privacy in the age of the epic hack.

11. Windows 10 pusher

Image courtesy Josh Mayfield

Microsoft wants users to upgrade to Windows 10 so badly it’s been resorting to some pretty shady tactics. In October, Windows 7 and 8.1 users started seeing Windows 10 upgrade notices that appeared to be mandatory, and they didn’t have an obvious way to back out of them. Microsoft claimed these users had already opted in to the Windows 10 upgrade, but even so the company should have offered a way to back out. Then in December, Microsoft upped the ante on Windows 8.1 with a “Get Windows 10” offer that we described as straight out of the malware tactician’s handbook.

12. Cryptomining


There’s nothing worse than bundleware that is sneakily added to your PC when downloading a program you actually want. Take the uTorrent BitTorrent client, for example. The BitTorrent-owned program has always come with bundleware to help generate income for the company. But in March, BitTorrent did something really egregious by bundling cryptocurrency mining software with uTorrent. Cryptominers use your PC’s idle processing cycles to generate cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or Litecoin. The cryptomining software has since been removed from uTorrent and has been replaced with Ad Aware Web companion. This latest bundleware is better, but not by much: If you’re not careful, it makes Yahoo your browser’s default homepage and search engine, and then makes it very difficult to change those settings back.

13. Spotify vs. Minecraft


Every year a company or two lands in the hotseat for privacy polices and/or terms of service. This year was Spotify’s turn. In August, Spotify changed its privacy policy, stating that it wanted permission to peek at all kinds of data on your devices - including contacts, photos, and GPS readings. This did not sit well with many users, including Minecraft creator Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, who got into a heated Twitter exchange with Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek. It appears Spotify wanted all that data to deliver features and services that have yet to be released. Recognizing its snafu, the company apologized and rewrote its privacy policy in a more plain-language style.

14. Corporate street fights


Technology companies have a bad habit of becoming overly competitive to the point that their spats hurt the customers they claim to serve. Nominees for this year’s slap fight challenge includes Amazon, for banning Apple TV and Chromecast hardware. Amazon said those products don’t do a good enough job of supporting Amazon Prime Video. Never mind that the company has its own Fire TV and Fire TV Stick that compete with those products, this is about principle!

Our second nominees are the classic rivals Microsoft and Google. This year the pair got into a back-and-forth after Google announced a Windows 8.1 security hole two days before Microsoft was to release a patch for it. Google says it released the vulnerability in line with its 90-day time limit, but Microsoft says this was more about creating a ‘gotcha’ moment than sticking to security standards.

15. Reddit revolt


Personnel changes happen every day. But when those changes affect a well-known employee of a popular Internet company, that personnel change better be for the right reasons - or the people will have their revenge. Over the summer, Victoria Taylor, Reddit’s communications director and a major part of the popular Ask Me Anything (AMA) subreddit, received her walking papers. Upset over the firing, Reddit administrators and volunteer moderators protested by shutting down many popular subreddits, sending the site into chaos and forcing the company’s interim CEO Ellen Pao to resign amid the controversy.

Top image: The Hindenburg disaster. Credit: Gus Pasquarella/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: PC World. Edited.]

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