posted by David Adams on Fri 4th Dec 2009 17:16 UTC
IconThis 24/7 Wall Street article displays three common media ailments: hyperbole, a love for top ten lists, and an obsession with December predictions for the coming year (which off course OSNews is obviously also falling victim to), and there are some predictable losers on this list (Blockbuster Video, anyone?). I thought it would be an interesting topic for OSNews because three of the companies/brands are quite familiar to us: Palm, Motorola, and Sun Microsystems.

I think that avid followers of tech business could have predicted the continued declining fortunes, if not outright extinction, of all of these companies for several years now. Palm and Mororola are both notorious for having squandered this entire decade and seen their product go from exciting and relevant to unremarkable or even nonexistent, displaying epic failures in product vision and operational management.

Sun is a different case. Though its fortunes turned drastically for the worse about ten years ago when all the dot coms stopped spending all their funny money on datacenters, and recent technological trends such as the rise of Linux and cloud computing have conspired to make Sun's job harder, it's been a fundamentally sound business with good products. But now with the impending Oracle buyout, it's likely to be radically changed, if not completely absorbed, and if the buyout is blocked by regulators, it may be mortally wounded by the disruption the failed buyout causes. In any case, even if the buyout offer never happened, the reason that Sun was on the market in the first place has a lot to do with the prospects of expensive proprietary servers and commercial UNIX moving forward. And even though Sun was doing interesting things with MySQL and OpenSolaris and Linux, these weren't big moneymakers, and it's always easier for an upstart to unseat the reigning champ in the tech world than it is for the champ to disrupt a profitable business in order to remain relevant in a hypothetical future.

Despite the fact that I've been down on Palm and Motorola for years now, I was surprised to confront them on this list because of the surprising success of their two latest products, the Pre and the Droid. But in both cases, the success of an upstart, niche product may not be enough to counteract the kind of downward momentum both companies have accumulated, and particularly in the case of Motorola, just can't make a dent in the declining fortunes from the rest of their operating divisions. So perhaps the Pre and the Droid will live on and flourish, but will do so under the umbrella of a drastically diminished parent, or perhaps more likely, in the hands of an acquiring firm.

I won't shed any tears for Blockbuser Video, though. I've been a Netflix user since 2000, and never looked back. I've been into a Blockbuster exactly once since then, and it was a traumatic experience. I briefly tried their Netflix-like service on a free trial and was stunned at how poorly executed the user experience was. Blockbuster was on top of the world and utterly failed to take advantage of technological innovations or anticipate changes in the marketplace. I never even liked them in their good days, since they rose to power by putting smaller, cheaper video stores out of business, and I'm sure I'm not the only person that's been glad to see them get their long-delayed comeuppance.

Kodak is a sadder story. I think they recognized the world's move to digital, and have consistently tried to straddle the two worlds and make quality products for both. It would never have made sense for them to abandon the film and chemical world too early, but they never had any advantage other than brand recognition to give them a leg up in the digital world. In many ways, their dominance of the film market probably worked against them in digital, since they were not perceived as relevant, and while it was easy for Nikon and Canon to translate their dominance and make the jump, Kodak's strength wasn't lenses and machinery, which largely remained, but chemistry, which was yesterday's news.

OSNews has always been a place where fans of technologies from the scrapheap have always been welcome. We still pine for the Amiga, the BeBox, the NeXT, the Newton, and reminisce fondly about products from Commodore, Atari, Digital, Sinclair, Compaq, SGI, and other firms that have faded out, been swallowed up, or imploded spectacularly. It's also been a place where readers have expressed sincere hope that today's winners will be tomorrow's has-beens, and hopes are oft aired that Microsoft, Oracle, Google, Facebook, or whoever happens to be at the top at the time will soon be knocked from their perch.

So who in the OSNews orbit will see decline in 2010? Novell? Microsoft? AOL? Yahoo? Will the Amiga fans finally give up for good? Will any commercial UNIX see any gains in relevance? Will the increasingly intense competition in the smartphone space continue to happen at Nokia's expense? Will IE keep losing marketshare? Which formerly-popular Linux distros will fade? And is one year just too short of a period to track these kinds of declines, which usually play out over a decade or more? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

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