Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/12/22/worst_of_2008/

Jaw droppers of 2008 - what they'd rather you forgot

From Del-Boy to Ellison's package

By Gavin Clarke

Posted in Software, 22nd December 2008 17:53 GMT

Optimism drives the IT industry and - in particular - Silicon Valley, a place where people look to the future and try to forget the painful past.

Here, then, is The Register's list of the worst, most cringe-worthy and jaw-dropping moments from the last 12 months that people would probably prefer to forget about. Nine wags of the finger plus - because it wasn't all bad this year - one tip of the hat, for balance.

Social network attacks own customers

Customer service has yet to hit Web 2.0, where you have to answer your own technical questions, wading through forums or sending emails to people in "support" who never reply. "Maverick" social networking site Faceparty went a step further, though, by rounding on users who dared to expect it deliver on its promises - in this case, free tools. Faceparty threatened to terminate accounts of "every single twat who moaned about their friggin' free cool tools". "Listen this is our HOBBY, not our business," Faceparty said, helpfully reminding everyone it's a "free fucking site" and not to expect anything.

The Web 2.0 cheerleader who turned on the mob

Last year, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg earned contempt. This year, it was contempt-by-association for author and former BusinessWeek hack Sarah Lacy during a Q&A with Zuckerberg at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival that saw Lacy bomb, overstate her own importance, and turn on the audience. Lacy set a new low in the staged Q&A format with a series of soft-ball questions to promote Brand Lacy, and that had Zuckerberg blushing and the SXSW audience shouting their own questions. First Lacy got defensive, shooting back on Twitter: "Seriously screw all you guys. I did my best to ask a range of things". Then she turned to self-pity: "Try doing what I do for a living... It's not that easy" followed by regained confidence that it wasn't really her, it was everyone else who was wrong. "I get this constantly: guess what I'm still employed.. my Amazon rank is higher than ever.. it's the price of being high profile."

Microsoft blames Apple for Windows Vista "lies"

After a year and a half of negative publicity Microsoft decided it was time to mount the great Windows Vista fight back. Brad Brooks, corporate vice president of Windows consumer products, bullishly evangelized partners at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference saying there's nothing wrong with Windows Vista and everything bad you've heard is a lie propagated by Apple. Evoking the tear-jerking story of his daughter to just tell the truth, Brooks told partners evil little Apple had pulled a Jedi mind trick on the whole industry and customers by convincing them to buy and support Macs when, overwhelmingly, they were actually sticking with Windows XP. Four months later, the truth came out and Microsoft admitted that - yes - there'd been real issues with Windows Vista, problems it is fixing in the successor Windows 7. It was the classic Microsoft tactic of throwing the older version under the bus to evangelize the new.

Yahoo!'s Yang regrets his Microsoft rejection

The problem with opportunity is you need to recognize the knocking sound it makes on your door. Yahoo!'s chief executive Jerry Yang didn't, and turned down Microsoft's generous offer for his company of $33 a share in June. Pity Jerry, then, that the market tanked three months later pulling down Yahoo!'s share price to less than half what Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer had offered. Yang isn't the only man that history will record should have zigged when he zagged when making a tough decision, and he won't be the last. Rather than stand by his decision, though, Yang in November made an unconvincing attempt to lure Microsoft back to the table, saying it would be in that company's interests. With the markets crashing, M&A funds drying up, and Ballmer thanking his lucky stars for not going down as the CEO who bought a grossly overpriced dot-com asset, that ship's sailed.

Ellison's package and an "eye-opening" license hike

Oracle's chief executive Larry Ellison notched up a $72m package in 2008, 12 times higher than the median pay of his technology peers. Ellison proposed, and was granted by Oracle, a 38 per cent raise, making him the second best-paid chief executive officer of any U.S. public company. The package came to light as users of BEA Systems brought into the Oracle family through this year's $8.5bn acquisition, were welcomed with a 47 per cent hike in their licensing fees. Eric Savitz, an individual used to the machinations of corporate America reporting for TechTrader Daily, blushingly called this an "eye-opening development".

"Visionary" Michael Dell turns Dell-Boy Trotter

In an industry like IT, if you are billed as a "visionary" before you get up to talk you'd better have something good to offer. Step up Michael Dell, introduced as a "visionary" by Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com - a Dell customer - at Dreamforce in San Francisco. Dell was introduced in the same breath as Benioff recalled the appearance of Colin Powell at a previous Dreamforce event, and who Benioff also called a visionary. You might remember Powell: a four-star general who served as secretary of state under George W Bush. After opening with the intriguing premise of investing in, rather than cutting spending on, IT during a down economy Dell coupled his thesis to the need to buy. Buy what? You guessed it: Dell equipment. Dell proceeded to invoke the spirit of another great Dell - Dell-Boy Trotter - by wheeling out all manner of goodies to close the sale. The pitch came as Dell pressured workers into taking unpaid leave, to cut costs. No wonder people streamed out of the visionary's keynote.

Lost emails for "information company" Oracle

Oracle sells databases, collaboration software, archiving and data recovery tools in addition to software that can help you control who has access to your information and emails, and that can also police access. More than anyone else, Oracle can stand by its claim that it is the information company. Ironic, then, that Oracle has destroyed or failed to preserve emails belonging to its chief executive Larry Ellison in a class-action lawsuit against his company, according to a US judge. The judge also said Oracle had failed to produce tapes and transcripts from interviews that a journalist had conducted with Ellison in 2001 and 2002 for a biography about its boss. The judge said Oracle should have figured out a way to comply with an order to produce the information. The class-action case claimed Ellison and other executives had made false statements about the company's financial condition as well as the functionality of its Oracle 11i suite of business management software.

Sun declares for Obama - after polls close

2008 will be remembered as the year America elected its first African-American president - Barack Obama. Sun became the first tech vendor to try and bask in the reflected glory of Obama's victory shortly after the polls closed. "On behalf of Sun Microsystems, I would like to offer my sincerest congratulations to President elect Barack Obama. What an extraordinary accomplishment," Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz blogged. Not content with having nailed his colors to the mast after the polls closed, and with all certainty of a McCain-Palin White House gone, Schwartz made the pitch for Sun. "I would also like to extend my congratulations to his web team for having chosen MySQL as the platform behind their election web site, BarackObama.com."

Microsoft's contorted "support IE 8" argument

From the Ministry of Spurious Arguments came this from one Microsoft evangelist, about why you should be building add-ons for the next version of Internet Explorer: it's such a difficult feat of engineering that none of your competitors are doing it, so you'll be one of the first. And, the barrier to entry is so high, rivals are unlikely to bother, leaving you with a potentially big market share. Never mind that IE's market share is dropping while Mozilla and Firefox are growing, or that IE 8 is already delayed. Oh, also, don't worry that Microsoft faces a fundamental problem in making IE 8 simple enough for non-web-savvy users to handle, while convincing major web sites - such as the BBC and CNN - to actually support it.

Ellison rains on the cloud

Bizarrely, our tip of the hat goes to America's second-best paid corporate executive - Larry Ellison who punctured the hot air on this year's biggest buzz-phrase: cloud computing. As with web services, service oriented architectures (SOAs), and Web 2.0 before it, "cloud" became abused by marketing drones, start ups, and middle-aged vendors desperate to sound relevant. "Cloud is complete gibberish," Ellison told his OpenWorld 2008 conference, noting - correctly - the phrase is being used to describe everything from Gmail to Salesforce.com's customer relationship management and platform. "What the hell is cloud computing? I don't understand what we'd do differently in light of cloud computing other than change the wording on some of our ads," Ellison said. "When is this idiocy going to stop?" Amen.®