Stupid Technology Tricks of the Year

Here is eWEEK Labs' annual list of the IT products, technologies and decisions that stood out for all the wrong reasons.

Apple Bricking

Apple showed some significant disregard for its users in 2007—specifically, for those users trying to break free from Apple's maniacal grip on its products and devices. iPhone firmware update 1.1.1 rendered any SIM-unlocked iPhones inoperable—an unsurprising development given the amount of money Apple stands to make for each AT&T contract for which iPhone users sign up.

—Andrew Garcia

Vista Part 1: Eye-Candy Madness

Microsoft opted to make Aero Glass, Windows Vista's hardware-accelerated graphics subsystem, the star of the operating system show. Bad idea. Not only has the eye candy failed to measure up to similar features in Mac OS X and Linux, but the stiff hardware requirements of this functionally superfluous feature have prompted OEMs and IT departments alike to keep Vista at arm's length.

—Jason Brooks

Vista Part 2: No BitLocker for You

On the other hand, there's Vista's BitLocker full-volume encryption, a feature that's not only infinitely more relevant than Aero Glass but also arguably better supported on existing hardware. However, Microsoft chose to use BitLocker as a lever to drive users toward Vista's more costly Enterprise and Ultimate SKUs, rather than afford this much-needed security feature the flagship status it deserved.

—Jason Brooks

Stealth Upgrades

Microsoft also caused a stir this summer when its practice of silently installing code on Windows PCs came to light. The Automatic Updates client engine will covertly update itself without notifying the end user, even if the user had configured the client not to install code without permission. Microsoft officials vaguely promised to re-examine this practice but then performed a stealth upgrade again a few weeks later. While nothing nefarious was ultimately going on, this unnecessary breach of trust unnerved many and serves only to weaken the efficacy of the Automatic Updates feature.

—Andrew Garcia

TJX Data Breach

In January, TJX announced that its systems had been hacked. According to TJX, more than 100 million debit and credit cards had been exposed to potential fraud—possibly during the course of several years. The profoundly disturbing fact that TJX stores were using easily cracked WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) to protect their wireless networks was almost beyond belief. With all the personally identifiable information that was potentially exposed, it will likely be years before the full impact of this breach is known.

—Cameron Sturdevant

Comcast Throttling

Some Comcast users discovered that their Internet connections weren't all that fast, especially when running certain applications. It turns out that Comcast is intentionally using technology to slow down services as diverse as BitTorrent and Lotus Notes over its networks. One side effect to this whole affair: Comcast has provided network-neutrality advocates with a perfect argument for their cause.

—Jim Rapoza

365 Main Backup Bump

Only a couple of months after eWEEK Labs analysts toured the massive backup power facilities of the 365 Main data center in San Francisco—the host to sites including Second Life, Craigslist, Yelp and LiveJournal—a July 24 power surge showed the center isn't invincible. Its flywheel-driven alternator—which connects to a large diesel motor and an electric motor—was felled by off-and-on power surges, causing many of the sites the center hosts to go down. If you can't count on your backup provider, what can you count on?

—Tiffany Maleshefski

Facebook Beacon

Social networks may be one of the biggest Web 2.0 stories, but most are still trying to figure out how to make money. Facebook thought it had a good plan when it launched Beacon, a service that tracked users on third-party sites and then sent those users' Facebook friends notices about products or services the users had bought or viewed. But Beacon turned into a PR nightmare as Facebook users complained about the privacy invasion.

—Jim Rapoza

DNS Plug-Pulling

In October, the General Services Administration had a bad case of overreaction when it took down—and then struggled to reinstate—the entire domain service when it was discovered that the tiny Transportation Authority of Marin Web site had been hacked and was linking to porn sites. Talk about using a sledgehammer when a fly swatter would have sufficed.

—Cameron Sturdevant

Skype Outage

In September, the entire Skype peer-to-peer IP telephony network shut down, forcing millions of users to stare forlornly at the spinning icon in their system tray or, you know, pick up a real phone. The apparent cause of the outage? A plurality of supernodes across the globe rebooted at about the same time due to a Microsoft Patch Tuesday update. This exposed a flaw in Skype's algorithms, leading to a shutdown of the network's authentication processes. It took more than two days to get the network back online.

—Andrew Garcia