18. Oracle Raw Iron. What's the best OS for your database server? Should you run it on Windows? Linux? AIX? Something else? Back in 1998, Oracle's answer was none of the above! Instead, Larry Ellison promised an "appliance" version of Oracle 8i, called Raw Iron, that ran atop the bare server hardware. No longer would Oracle customers need to worry about a separate support contract with an OS vendor: Oracle would handle the whole show.
Behind the scenes, prototype Raw Iron boxes ran a custom version of Sun Solaris, but it didn't matter. Customers had seen through Larry's hand-waving, anyway. When nobody bit, the project was quietly shelved -- just a few years before the market for network appliances took off.
17. B-to-b e-commerce. As the dot-com craze waned in the early 2000s, venture capitalists clung to a last-ditch idea: If all those startup e-commerce companies weren't striking gold with the consumer public, maybe they could ply their wares to other, more established companies instead? They called it b-to-b e-commerce, and a generation of would-be digital disintermediators was born.
The problem was that few of their potential customers were interested in cutting out the middlemen -- not if it meant trading them for an unproven online startup with a tiny sales force and no real experience in inventory management. In the end, though, the b-to-b players did deliver some excellent deals -- when their assets were offered up at auction.
16. Apple Newton. It's no iPhone, but by some measures the Newton still beats the pants off any PDA since. Rabid fans wax nostalgic about the Newton OS, and breathy rumors of a new Apple PDA remain a staple of Macworld Expos. Alas, the Newton never had a chance. Introduced in 1993, the Newton MessagePads were bulky, with lousy battery life. While Palm and Microsoft's PDA partners were building devices that could actually fit in your pocket, Apple answered with a full-sized keyboard and a clunky clamshell for the Newton eMate 300 in 1997, then threw in the towel as its losses mounted.
It's a shame. With some software tweaks to suit business users, the iPhone and the iPod Touch could get Apple back in the game. But given the bad taste left by Newton, who'd be brave enough to suggest it to Steve now? (Besides us.)
15. Palm OS Cobalt. The only thing worse than giving up on a viable market is to win it totally, then run it into the ground. What else can be said about Palm? Its devices were revolutionary, its competition from Microsoft laughable. Then came years of mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs, and rebranding. All the while, the products stagnated. When Palm finally delivered its Cobalt OS in 2004, the purported successor to the aging Palm OS failed to win any licensees.
Now, Palm is resorting to a Hail Mary: The next Palm OS, we're told, will be based on Linux. But when it might appear is anyone's guess, and by then it won't matter. We'll all be too used to this year's Treos, running Windows Mobile.