Reading this piece on OSNews about Apple's bad business decisions, made me think about all the other examples of snatching failure out of the jaws of success that I have seen over the years.
The OSNews article is a bit contradictory on places, but still worth a read - check out the comments though, as people have posted corrections to parts of the story there, like Jobs' role in the company.
Anyway, here are some examples of astonishingly incompetent tech ventures that I can think of, in no particular order. Feel free to agree/disagree and add your own.
NeXT: Starting with The iJobs, he left Apple to found NeXT, which made beautiful UNIX workstations, the legacy of which is apparent in today's Mac OS X. They were expensive, didn't have enough developer support, and bombed in the end.
Be and BeOS: Going on to Jean-Louis Gassée, also ex-Apple, he thought he could do better than his former employers. Catchy name, a multi-threaded OS that performed well and great design notwithstanding, Be went down the toilet. A real pity that, because the Intel version of BeOS was one of the nicest operating systems I've used.
UNIX: Multi-tasking, networking, the whole Internet in fact: these are the legacies of UNIX. It's a robust operating system that ended up totally hamstrung by vicious legal battles over licensing rights, and of course, the lack of a modern GUI. It is survived by clones like Linux and the *BSDs.
Atari and Commodore: Who owned the home computing market in the past? Not Apple, nor the IBM PC clone makers. Instead, it was Atari and Commodore. Their computers had sound, great graphics, video, 3D games and more well before anyone else but neither company was able to develop its product beyond the original concepts.
Novell: Once upon a time, one network OS ruled the market - NetWare. But, Novell didn't see the Microsoft and Internet juggernauts coming, and is now flogging a rebranded Linux distribution instead. Whoopsie!
Microsoft: DOS5.x, MSAV, Bob, Windows ME, Cairo, WinFS, Vector Markup Language are just some of Microsoft's slipups. We can probably add Internet Explorer to this list, at least version 6. Microsoft has survived them all though, which is no mean feat.
Motorola: First with a raft of features that Intel didn't have until late in the game, like 32-bit processing and clock-doubling and also blessed with a flat memory addressing model rather than a convoluted segmented one, Motorola had some great CPUs. Then, it developed the PowerPC range which never kept up with Intel in terms of performance and now Motorola based computers are rarer than hen's teeth.
Intel: You're the greatest processor maker in the world, having trounced Motorola and later, AMD. What do you do? You bring out the hot and inefficient Netburst architecture in the Pentium 4 range, and watch as AMD eats your lunch, profits drop and redundancies grow. Intel was lucky to have the Israeli mobile processor developers save its hide.
AMD: Before Athlon, AMD was way behind Intel thanks to the slow performing K5 and K6 processors and poor motherboards. Had the Athlon not happened, it's a safe bet there wouldn't have been an AMD today.
Telecom: The First Media/First TV hybrid fibre/coax network could've offered performance far better than ADSL, but Telecom lost the plot and ditched it. That failure is nothing in comparison to Telecom buying AAPT in Australia, and wasting over $2 billion trying to figure out how to survive in a competitive market. Luckily for Telecom, it's been able to milk the protected monopoly in NZ to offset the massive losses in Australia.
Vodafone: Remember how General Packet Radio System or GPRS was supposed to provide 144kbit/s, dizzying speeds at a time when analogue modem connections were the norm? Or even 172kbit/s with all eight time slots firing? Didn't quite work out that way for Vodafone, unfortunately. GPRS in practice is not only slower than analogue modems, but also eye-wateringly expensive to use. It was certainly not the wireless broadband that the Fletcher Telecommunications inquiry thought it would be, having bought into the GSM marketing shpiel without actually trying out GPRS.