Microsoft is one of the most valuable companies in the world. What started with DOS and Windows operating systems has multiplied into a company working in games, robotics, agriculture, augmented reality, and more. (You can chase a lot of new ideas when you employ 180,000 people.)
But inevitably, Microsoft killed countless products on its way to global dominance. You can see a long list of these products on the Killed by Microsoft website. It’s a sequel to Killed by Google, done in exactly the same style (its creator, Fabiano Riccardi, built the original project by Cory Ogden). These “Killed by” sites are a funny but informative way to browse products that time has forgotten, each dead product is decorated with their own tombstones and a link to Wikipedia to learn more.
Truth be told, Killed by Microsoft doesn’t feature every product the company has installed since its founding in 1975. The most notable recent absence is Tay, the racist AI who went berserk on Twitter in 2016. The list is shorter than it may be. Especially since it does not include many stops Versions of Windows have been released over the years (not even the flip flora that was the design language of Windows 8 Metro, an overhaul that was so hated that it forced Microsoft to bring back the famous Start button). And you won’t see many Xbox in the list or iterations of the AR HoloLens.
That said, the list contains 70 products that Microsoft has discontinued since 1992, which saves you plenty of strolls down memory lane—while providing plenty of stops that your memory might not have completely missed. And while some of these terminals are worth the boring, many paint Microsoft as a company ahead of its time.
Take the video chat (1996 to 1999). This was basically another part of desktop text chat software, such as the popular AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) of the era. But instead of just using words, Comic Chat actually turned the script into comic book panels. Not only did it put words into speech bubbles; Her characters had postures and facial expressions that add emotion to your words (you can make your character laugh by typing “LOL,” for example).
Comic Chat may not have AIM without seats, which was the biggest messenger of that era. But you can see how many ideas have been run after more than a decade. Today, the folks at Bitmoji act out your words on Snapchat (Bitmoji itself originally started as a customizable online comic book), and Apple’s memoji mascots are full-motion animated avatars of iMessages.
Another early product is the Kinect, a body-tracking camera designed for the Xbox that can listen for voice commands. We wrote a lengthy retrospective of the Kinect when it was retired in 2017, and while it didn’t appeal to the gaming market as Microsoft wanted, we can see how its core technologies actually worked their way into the iPhone (the front camera tracks your face to those aforementioned memojis!), Together with Microsoft’s HoloLens headset. Not to mention the countless experiments creators and researchers conducted with Kinect devices during the 2000s.
But if you’re really reading between the lines, the list highlights Microsoft’s weakest bond over the past 20 years: the mobile phone. Microsoft’s errors in mobile technology began with the well-designed Zune (2006 to 2015). This was a competitor to Microsoft’s iPod that featured a squishy body and a great print interface that still feels modern to this day. But it arrived five years after the first iPod, which made it too little too late.
You will also see many failed smartphones. The Microsoft Lumia (technically a Nokia phone Microsoft renamed after the company’s acquisition) was launched in 2011. Its bright colors and chunky interface were a refreshing counterpoint to the iPhone, but it was discontinued in 2017 because Windows Mobile phones couldn’t find a footing presented in the market.
However, you won’t notice a bigger failure in gadget history than the Microsoft Kin, which launched in 2010. It was Microsoft’s attempt to build a QWERTY phone as fun as the Sidekick. But after just 48 days of dead sales, Microsoft pulled the phone despite its estimated $1 billion development costs. 503 units sold.
You’d think these mobile device crashes would be enough to kill not just a few Microsoft products but Microsoft as a company. However, while the company has never been able to beat Apple at its own game, Microsoft Office and its business-facing cloud services have allowed its fortunes to grow in equal measure. When Microsoft failed to attract consumers, it always found a way to win over IT managers.