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News Editor

10 IT brand names that just won’t die

Aug 07, 20066 mins

Here’s a dirty little secret from the inner sanctum of the journalism business: Sometimes we start with a headline – say, “10 IT brand names that just won’t die,” or “Five dirty little secrets from journalism’s inner sanctum” – and then write the story to fit the preconceived notion.

Oh, spare me your tsk-tsks; you know you read this kind of stuff all the time.

So, without apology, the promised Hardy 10:

10. Prodigy. Founded in 1984, Prodigy was dubbed the first consumer ISP so as to distinguish it from the geeks over at CompuServe, which is still around as an ISP. The company previously known as Prodigy, now defunct, passed hands several times before going public in 1999 and being bought by SBC-now-AT&T three years later. While AT&T no longer markets the Prodigy offerings, there remain Prodigy users in the United States . . . and Prodigy is still the No. 1 ISP in Mexico. (Here is an old Prodigy logon screen.)

9. WordPerfect. The first word in word-processing long before anyone had heard of Word, the brand has weathered not only Microsoft’s march to world domination but a co-licensing agreement with Borland Software in 1993, the acquisition of WordPerfect Corp. by Novell in 1994 and subsequent sale to Corel two years later. While probably not on your workplace desktop today, WordPerfect has survived more than 20 years and the Corel WordPerfect Office suite remains alive and . . . well, alive.

8. Lotus Notes. When IBM bought Lotus Development in 1995, the howling heard out of Cambridge, Mass., couldn’t have been any louder had the Red Sox sold Fenway Park to George Steinbrenner. Certainly this spelled the end of Lotus and Ray Ozzie’s baby, Lotus Notes. Well, half right. Lotus the company no longer exists in any meaningful sense, but Lotus Notes remains Lotus Notes. Upon the 15th anniversary of the product’s launch, here’s what Ozzie told me about his expectations for its continued longevity: “IBM has a history of never forcing its customers through tremendous changes; there are S/360s out there that are still cranking along, and I’m sure you’d find a few PROFS systems that are still out there. So I don’t see that they would do something so reckless as to stop something [like Notes]. I just don’t think that’s in the cards.” But what if he could make it happen now from his office in Redmond? Tempting?

7. ThinkPad. Speaking of IBM, Lenovo couldn’t wash its hands of the Big Blue residue quickly enough after acquiring its PC division early last year, so you might have thought that would spell curtains for the ThinkPad brand, too. Think again. The ThinkPad’s been a laptop status symbol here and abroad since being introduced in 1992 at Comdex . . . and Lenovo, being no dummies, introduced their own models earlier this year. The brand will be around as long as IBM.

6. Compaq. The company is no more, obviously. Its acquisition by HP in 2002 is pretty much universally considered to have been a bust. Carly Fiorina, the CEO who engineered the deal, has been booted onto the rubber-chicken circuit. But you can still buy Compaq Presario notebooks and desktops on HP’s Web site. Don’t dawdle, though.

5. Clariion. EMC bought its Clariion technology from Data General in 1999 and despite the presence of that annoying extra “i” it remains the name of EMC’s midrange storage. What’s up with the superfluous vowel? Legend holds that it started with Data General’s Aviion, “a scrambled version of ‘Nova ii,’ the Nova being one of Data General’s most successful products,” according to Wikipedia. “However, other accounts suggest the term ‘avion’ was one executive’s favorite, which was then modified” and continued with Clariion. Whatever, the brand liives.

4. Netscape. Marc Andreessen would be rolling over in his grave if not for two simple facts: he is very much alive, and he’s hip-deep in his own social-networking playground for developers called Ning. Nevertheless, it’s disconcerting to see the Netscape brand – once synonymous with the World Wide Web – relegated to the me-too-ism of taking on Digg for supremacy among would-be online news editors. Now, I love all of you Diggers to death (note the “Digg it” links we carry everywhere), but I’m rooting for Netscape to grab a slice of the pie here if for no other reason but that Netscape’s (newest) head honcho Jason Calacanis has acknowledged that news editors deserve to be paid. (See: my wife, three kids and mortgage).

3. Linksys. Founded in 1988, Linksys was a household name before being bought in 2003 by Cisco, which typically absorbs acquisitions of this ilk like the beach sucks up a pail of seawater. Not this time. Linksys lives on as a division of Cisco, with a distinctive small-company online presence, because, well, they’ve got some pretty smart cookies over at Cisco who recognize an invaluable brand when they buy one. (Here’s a Linksys fact for you: As of last year, it employed 399 people. . . . I’d venture that Cisco has more janitors.)

2. Norton. As in Norton AntiVirus, Internet Security, Personal Firewall, SystemWorks and so on. For the love of Peter Norton, this man sold Peter Norton Computing to Symantec in 1990 and hasn’t written any code this century, yet his name still adorns the shrink-wrapped boxes that contain among the most popular lines of security products. At least they stopped putting his mug on the boxes five years ago. Norton is so far removed from the products that bear his name that Symantec’s public relations department could offer me no help in finding the man (an endeavor in which I failed). However, I did find this notation on Symantec’s legal notices page: “Peter Norton, Peter Norton’s stylized signature, and Peter Norton’s crossed-arm pose are U.S. registered trademarks of Peter Norton.” Aw, he still cares.

1. AT&T. It’s been 130 years since Alexander Graham Bell uttered those immortal words: “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you to help me monopolize telecommunications.” Not three antitrust go-arounds with the government – 1913, 1956 and 1982 – not disastrous forays into cable television and out of wireless, and not even the ignominy of being acquired by a one-time “baby” for what amounted to a pittance could put a period on the history of the AT&T brand. Now that’s a will to live.