As always around this time of year, I like to look back with a Grinch-like smile at the dumbest moves made during the past year in the world of tech. As always, the competition in 2011 was intense. Here are 10 companies that deserve a big lump of coal in their stockings.
HP. Where is the world's No. 1 computer maker headed? I haven't a clue -- and neither, apparently, does HP. Trying to figure out HP's direction in 2011 was like following a blind man through a house of mirrors. It hired Léo Apotheker as CEO, who decided to kill HP's PC biz and focus on services for the enterprise, only to fire him after 11 months. It launched a long-awaited tablet based on the Palm's WebOS, then killed it a month later. Now with the electorally challenged Meg Whitman holding the reins, HP is back in the PC biz and may re-enter tablets as well. She needs to decide who and what HP is before the rest of us stop caring.
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RIM. Remember the BlackBerry? You soon won't. The troubled smartphone maker is sinking fast, thanks in part to a dual CEO team that has two heads too many. Can you say "acquisition bait"? I knew that you could.
HBGary Federal. The little-known company was looking to make a big splash at the RSA security conference last February by pulling the mask off "Anonymous" -- or, at least, one of the key Anonymii. But the splash turned into a splat, as not only did CEO Aaron Barr finger the wrong guy as ringleader, he got his clock handed to him by the real Anonymousers, who broke into his company servers and exposed Barr's personal data -- and his company's ineptitude.
Sony. After taking a hard line against PlayStation 3 jailbreakers George "Geohot" Hotz and fail0verflow, Sony got thoroughly spanked by hackers who took down the PlayStation Network and the Sony Online Entertainment offline for a week, spilling the data on more than 100 million customers. Sony then pointed the finger at Anonymous for the attacks, instead of accepting responsibility for its own pitiful security lapses.
AOL-HuffCrunch. I knew when AOL bought TechCrunch in Sept. 2010 it was only matter of time before the sparks began to fly. When AOL added the Huffington Post to its stable of news/rumor sites last February -- and put L'Arianna in charge of Mr. Crunchy, Michael Arrington -- that was like dumping gasoline on lit embers. After Arrington and AOL jefe Tim Armstrong launched a venture fund to invest in some of the companies TechCrunch was (ahem) writing about, the blaze grew into a conflagration that's still burning. Nearly everyone who was on board at TC then has left for greener (hopefully less ethically challenged) pastures. Still, AOL-HuffCrunch is the gift that keeps on giving.