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Here's our list of 14 once-elite tech companies that fell off their pedestals due to unforeseen circumstances, arrogance, ineptitude, or all of the above.
How the Mighty Have Fallen
It's lonely at the top, and it can also be brief. Throughout tech's rich history, many a company was king only to slip down the slippery slope to mediocrity or worse. Some might still get up, but for others a comeback just ain't in the cards.
RIM (now BlackBerry)
RIM invented the "smart" phone with its BlackBerry line and for years it was coined "CrackBerry." But the past three years have been rough on the company as it got pummeled by the popularity of Android and the iPhone. Revenue and market share have taken a hard hit, and many have written off the Canadian company. But BlackBerry is on the hunt for a big bounce-back this year with a new OS (BlackBerry 10) and new phones (the Z10 and Q10).
AOL has a legacy as the first Internet service and instant messaging provider. Things seemed good in 2000 (but really started to go bad) when it merged with Time Warner. Year by year, AOL lost credibility. It was set free by Time Warner in 2009, and has been in rebuilding mode. It now has TechCrunch, the Huffington Post and Engadget under ownership as it reinvents itself as a digital media company. So AOL has not fallen through the floor, but can it ever get back to its early heyday?
At the turn of the century, Yahoo was an Internet powerhouse for news, search, email and advertising. But it was knocked down by the Internet bubble burst and in subsequent years has always been two steps behind Google. Mismanagement of Web assets and a revolving door of CEOs have accelerated the company's fall from grace. Former Googleite Marissa Mayer is the latest CEO assigned with figuring out what to do with Yahoo.
Sun is a once-legendary company with roots that go back to the early '80s. It invented Java after all! But after being a driving force in business computing up until the dot-com bubble in 2000, Sun stumbled badly after the burst and could never find its footing. Companies stopped buying Sun's high-end servers and between 2001 and its acquisition by Oracle in 2009, Sun was constantly besieged by revenue losses, layoffs and stock losses.
The peer-to-peer file sharing service started a revolution in 1999 by allowing users to download songs over the Internet for free. But like most revolutions, it was fleeting. Napster died young in 2001 after a court-ordered shutdown for copyright infringement. The Napster brand was soon acquired and reopened as a legitimate online music store, unfortunately placing it in competition with iTunes, which Napster helped spawn. Though it will never again reach the dizzying heights of 2000, Napster was the rarest of things: a true trailblazer.
It would be too much to ask that Microsoft remain the juggernaut it was in the '90s. But the company has slowly but surely lost relevance, at least as a consumer brand. In the PC-dominated past, Microsoft was The One, but now it is one of many as the world shifts to using non-Windows mobile devices for work and play. Windows 8 and Windows Phone have not taken Microsoft to the next level as planned. But the company will always stay in the game. Its pockets and determination both run very deep.
A popular PC-maker of the '90s and early 2000s, Dell has had its head in the sand over the past five years as laptops and desktops stopped growing. Like other PC makers, Dell was blindsided by the popularity of the iPhone, iPad and Android-based smartphones and tablets. It has tried and failed to release successful smartphones and tablets. Now CEO Michael Dell is in an uphill battle to take the company private as it tries to extend beyond PCs to big data and cloud computing. But Dell's best days are likely over.
Between 2004 and 2007, MySpace was a dominant social networking site for people, companies and musicians and one of the most visited sites in the U.S. But in early 2008, Facebook took over social media and proved quicker to innovate. Since being purchased by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. in 2005 MySpace had become just another Murdoch property. MySpace traffic plummeted and users migrated to Facebook. The company was sold in 2011 and is now owned by Specific Media and Justin Timberlake. Dubbed "New MySpace" the more music-oriented site is hungry for a comeback.
Lest you forgot, Nokia was the world's largest vendor of mobile phones from 1998 to 2012. But over the past five years Nokia has been on the decline due to the iPhone and smartphones running Android. In late 2007, Nokia's share price was $40 -- now it sits at around $4. An exclusive deal with Microsoft in 2011 to run the Windows Phone OS on nearly all Nokia phones (and kill off aging Symbian) has not led to any mobile market share gains for either company.
Another '90s hero gone to seed, Iowa-based Gateway once cranked out quality and affordable Windows PCs for the masses (remember those cow-spotted boxes?) and for a while had a successful chain of retail stores across the U.S. But the dot-com bust hit Gateway hard. It tried unsuccessfully to expand with aggressively-priced TVs, cameras and routers and was hampered by poor customer service. A limping Gateway was nabbed by Acer in 2007 for $710 million. For some perspective, in 1997 Compaq bid $7 billion for the company.
Remember "Go get it!"? Lycos will probably forever be known as the popular search engine that got killed off by Google. But in 1999 it was the world's most visited online destination. During the Internet bubble the company was sold to Terra Networks and things started to go downhill. After getting hammered by Google, Lycos moved away from search and sold off many of its assets in 2005-2006 to reinvent itself as a portal for games, email, news and Web publishing tools. It didn't go so well. Lycos still exists but only in the shadows.
These days, HP finds itself in the same drifting boat as fellow PC stalwart Dell. It fell behind the move to mobile and is scrambling to adjust its business model. But HP's recent CEO turnover and stock plunge feels more calamitous because of HP's deep history as an upstart formed in a garage in the 1940s that became the shining star of Silicon Valley. New CEO Meg Whitman seems to have gotten HP back on the rails and with its broad portfolio of products and recent acquisitions, it can't stay down forever.
In the early days of the Internet, Netscape Navigator was the only browser that mattered, with a 90 percent usage share. But it got steamrolled by Microsoft's Internet Explorer in the first browser war in the late '90s -- largely because Microsoft shrewdly integrated IE into every copy of Windows. Netscape didn't stand a chance. But this fall from grace enjoys the sweet taste of redemption. Before Netscape was acquired by AOL in 1998 it handed its open-source code off to non-profit Mozilla Foundation., which used the code to create Firefox, the popular browser used by millions today.
Before the smartphone or tablet, there was the PDA (personal digital assistant), and PalmPilot was the king. All-in-one smartphones led by RIM's BlackBerry killed the PDA in the early 2000's. However, Palm adapted and over the years released fine smartphones like the Palm Treo, the Centro, and the Pre. It also developed a mobile OS, called WebOS, in 2009 and released it on the Palm Pre. But the Pre's sales were lackluster and it turned out to be Palm's last product. The company was bought by HP in 2010 and the Palm brand and WebOS have both been discontinued.
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