My worst tech purchase ever

I’ve made some pretty dumb buying decisions over the years, but none worse than this underpowered, unloved, overpriced and overhyped computer.

As you can see from my profile picture above, I’ve been around the tech industry for a while now. And while I’ve surely learned a thing or two over the years, much of that wisdom has come at a heavy price.  

I’ve spent years following dead-end technologies down rabbit holes, getting up to speed on promising new software that never came close to living up to its hype, and jumping on board publications that were just about to give up the ghost. 

But lately I took some time to think about the absolutely worst tech product I ever bought with my own hard-earned dineros. And as it turned out, it was pretty much a no-brainer to settle on the winner (or loser, I guess, depending on how you look at it) as well as two runners-up. 

I will identify these emblems of awfulness in a moment, but first let’s look at what exactly makes a product the worst purchase ever. To me, it’s a combination of poor performance, limited usability, bad design, short lifespan, inflated pricing, and perhaps most important, widespread public scorn. Products that came and went without a ripple don’t qualify. 

On the plus side, all three of my choices date to the previous millennium, so maybe things are getting better and fewer totally dreadful products are making into common usage. You be the judge: 

Second runner-up: Iomega Zip Drive 

Back in the day, the early 1990s, say, finding a good way to store your computer files was a bit of a problem. Floppy disks were common, and floppy drives were widely available, but the darn things simply didn’t hold enough data to do the job. If you had lots of files, you’d end up with stacks and stacks of floppies, making it very difficult to find the file you wanted. Many “superfloppy” removable solutions were introduced, but the one I sank my precious dollars into was Iomega’s Zip Drive. One removable Zip disk, about size of a 3.5-in. floppy on steroids, held a whopping 100 MB when first introduced, which was actually a pretty big amount for the time. 

But, alas, the disks were butt slow, and the $200 drives and $20 disks were pretty darned spendy. Worse, though, the things never really caught on, so most people could read their Zip disks only on their own Zip drive, making them useless for any kind of file sharing or transfer. 

The big blow, of course, was the arrival of USB Flash drives and optical disks, especially rewritable CD-ROMs and DVD, that held much more easily retrievable data on relatively cheap media that you could access almost anywhere. I still have my Zip drive and a handful of Zip disks, but they’ve been sitting in a drawer for years, and I have absolutely no idea what might be on them. 

First runner-up: Microsoft Windows ME 

Surprisingly, I didn’t hate this piece of software all that much, but almost everyone else did—for pretty good reasons. I’m talking about Microsoft Windows ME, which was universally derided as the worst version of Windows ever, at least until Windows 8 came out. 

The 2000 successor to the highly successful Windows 98, Windows ME was derided for many reasons, including a lack of stability and its odd mash-up of two different strains of  Windows. But the showstopper was that it simply didn’t work with many DOS-based utilities and drivers of the time. Another casualty of companies dumbing down products for the home market, Windows ME lasted only about a year before being supplanted by the incredibly popular Windows XP. 

While everything worked well enough on my Windows ME computer, my friends and colleagues made brutal fun of me over ME for years. I still haven’t quite gotten over it. 

And the winner is… IBM's PC Jr.

But Windows Me and Bernoulli Zip drive are but blips compared to what is by far my worst tech buy of all time, IBM’s pathetic little PC Junior.

Here’s the thing, I knew the Junior was a loser when I bought it. I knew IBM had intentionally crippled this “home” model so it wouldn’t cannibalize sales of the “real” IBM PC. I knew the Jr had a pokey (even for its time) 8088 chip. I knew it couldn’t easily be expanded. I knew it was full of non-standard interfaces so you had to use its own rinky-dink peripherals. I knew it wouldn’t run many PC programs. 

Worst of all, I knew the “peanut” (yes, that was its official nickname, and I bought one anyway!) was seriously overpriced at $1,300, but it was still cheaper than a standard IBM PC at the time. And I figured that since I waited until after the initial hype wore off (yes, there was a lot of initial hype) IBM ditched the Jr’s original Chiclet keyboard (infrared wireless, which could be disrupted by ambient lighting!) and prices came down, I thought I was getting in at just the right time. And I liked the rudimentary color graphics and better sound—or at least I thought I would. 

Alas, the PC Junior was quickly branded one of the biggest flops in tech history, rivaling the Edsel and New Coke. IBM killed it in mid-1985. I can’t even remember what I did with mine after I finally bought the bullet and replaced it with an actually useful computer. But I never got over the remorse of not saving money with a Commodore 64 or ponying up a few dollars more for an Apple II. 

I’d love to hear what the worst technology device you’ve ever bought might be—especially if your clunkers are newer than mine! Feel free to share on Twitter: @TheFreditor and #WorstTechEver — if I get enough responses, I may do a follow-up post sharing the most interesting ones. For instance, who will own up to actually buying a Blackberry Playbook?

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