Love stinks: The worst mergers in the history of the technology industry

Love stinks: The worst mergers in the history of the technology industry

Summary: Valentine's Day is here again, and love is in the air. Couples flirting, courting, forming relationships. Sometimes those relationships result in marriage. Marriages occur in the tech world, too. Corporate mergers can result in the two parts being stronger than the whole, or they can end in utter disaster.


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  • HP & Autonomy

    In addition to the scuttling of the TouchPad and the WebOS/Palm division at HP, Leo Apotheker's very short term as HP Chairman and CEO will be always known for the company's $11.1 billion acquisition of Autonomy, a European maker of unstructured data analytics software.

    At the time the purchase occured many industry observers were keen on figuring out what HP would do with the technology after the acquisition, and well over a year later HP has still not effectively communicated how it fits in to its overall enterprise software strategy.

    But the real bombshell came in 2012 when the company announced that after an internal investigation, HP had discovered there were severe accounting improprieties at Autonomy during its acquisition and would have to write down almost a $9 billion loss, sending the company's stock into a tailspin.

    This alone probably makes the Autonomy purchase by HP the most infamous and wasteful cash spend for a software assset of all time.



  • Facebook & Instagram

    While not anywhere near on the "WTF" scale as Zynga's or HP's acquisition blunders in the last year, the $1B acquisition of the photo sharing service Instagram by Facebook is still somewhat questionable and it remains to be seen if the merger ends up being a successful one.

    On the surface it seems that Facebook entering the photo sharing space was a good idea, but whether they needed to spend a billion dollars to do something they probably could have coded in-house for far, far less money and gotten probably instantaneous market share on is another matter entirely.

    Ten months after the acquisition, Instagram is still an independent app download from the main Facebook app on both the iOS and Android platform, and the sharing of the photos on user timelines is anything but seamless, so the integration of the company's assets have been questionable.

    But code integration isn't the worst of this merger's problems. Facebook has recently cut off the use of Instagram's "cards" API to Twitter, which has enraged many of Instagram's core user base that actively uses both services. Kerfuffles (and about-faces) over Instagram's terms of service and photo usage rights by Facebook haven't helped the company's image either.

  • Apple & Lala

    With most of the company mergers listed in this piece, although many of them turned out horribly, you can at least say that the intentions of the company doing the acquisition had the objective of actually integrating the assets of the company being acquired and making money with it.

    I mean, this is usually why you acquire another company, right?

    Apple bought music streaming service back in December of 2009 for about $80M. If you recall, Lala was doing some innovative things around pricing and service offierings in the music streaming business, and our own Ed Bott picked it as his favorite among iTunes alternatives in his article written in April of 2009.

    Well, Lala was being so innovative that it scared the hell out of Apple, so the company simply decided to throw its money at the upstart just to take it off the market and to kill the product and service.

    No further development, no integration into iTunes, nada. 

    While the financial impact of Lala's death is far smaller than any of the mergers and acquisitions listed in this rogue's gallery, it is by far the worst and most malicious case of corporate merger infanticide I have ever seen to date.

Topics: Software, Enterprise Software, Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility, Networking, Software Development


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • RE: Love stinks: The worst mergers in the history of the technology industry

    ZDNet first post bug . . .
    • Dear ZDNET editors


      It's sucks. I have to load an entire new page just to see the next image. The scroll triggered by the arrows don't make sense.

      It looks like a relic from the 90s
  • RE: Love stinks: The worst mergers in the history of the technology industry

    "The litigation debacle went on for years, chronicled in gory detail on sites such as Groklaw."

    Indeed, I think Groklaw pretty much started because of this debacle. Frankly, SCO's biggest blunder was this lawsuit. It's not worth bankrupting the company over a lawsuit.

    "The Many Marriages of Palm"

    Yeah, who knows what Palm was doing in its last years. Before it finally merged with HP, it went from a great company to one that released new products once in a blue moon.

    Thankfully, by the time they went under smartphones became popular, and I moved myself to my iPod touch, and later iPhone. Today's smart phones have all of the PIM features the old Palm devices had.

    And alas, HP was unable to save the already floundering Palm.

    "Oracle & Sun"

    Guess we'll find out. I was never so much interested in Sun's hardware as their software, and Java is still being actively developed.

    "Total subscribers of AOL went from an estimated 30 million at the height of its popularity to less than just over 5 million in 2007, with no significant quarterly growth since 2002."

    Dunno if that was the result of the merger so much as it was the result of broadband and the internet. AOL was a walled garden stuck in dialup.

    "Hewlett Packard & Compaq & Digital Equipment Corporation"

    Compaqs, oh I remember those - BSOD city. They crashed all the time.

    "Nortel & Bay"

    "After numerous efforts to restructure the company and financial mismanagement scandals over a period of about ten years, the company filed for Chapter 11 in January of 2009, and its various businesses were eventually liquidated."

    And one of my relatives lost his job :(. He worked for Nortel.
    • Bad Mergers....Nortel and Bay...

      Yeah, I worked for Nortel for 12 years......I think the problem there was too much focus on Marketing and not enough on engineering..........there was a time when they had no sales and marketing but after all the smart designers and engineers left adding more sales and marketing people was a giant can't market what you don't have.

      That and the whole company was run by bean counters and clerks.

      It had its moment in the sun as a much welcomed alternative to the AT&T / Pac Bell monopoly but then crashed and burned with the loss of outstanding engineering and design people.
      Gary Amstutz
    • Re: AOL was a walled garden stuck in dialup.

      The completely peculiar and inexplicable thing was, while every other ISP adopted PPP as the standard dialup protocol, allowing any off-the-shelf OS to connect without custom software, AOL insisted on its own special proprietary client. While this didn't seem to put off customers in dialup days, maybe the fact that AOL allowed itself to be left behind by the move to broadband was simply because it could not create an equally proprietary broadband connection client.
    • Proliant vs Netserver

      Give me a Compaq any day over an HP. That is why they rebranded the compaq stuff and got rid of most of the HP line
      Turd Furgeson
    • Origins of Groklaw

      It did indeed begin as a commentary on SCO v IBM. It branched out from there, but that was the focus as long as the SCO cases were active.
      John L. Ries
  • I would agree with your assesment on many of mergers you have mentioned

    except for the KIN.

    [i]But the negative experience with the Kin still taints its reputation not only with consumers but also with critical wireless carriers such as Verizon, who as of yet has refused to commit to selling more than one model of Windows Phone or an LTE version which puts it on par with its arsenal of Android devices[/i]

    The vast majority of consumers have never heard of the KIN, so how can one have negative opinion of something that they have no knowledge of?

    As for Verizon, there are issues on many levels, one is theirs, and Google's heavy investment into Android, as an early counter to the iPhone, something they passed on, so one can argue they do not make the best decisions when given the chance.

    I feel the lack of a push on Verizon's end in reference to WP7 is an effort to "not upset the boat" in relations to Google at the moment.
    Tim Cook
    • RE: Love stinks: The worst mergers in the history of the technology industry

      @Mister Spock <br>The problem is that Verizon mandated data plan on what is essentially NOT a smartphone.<br><br>KIN would have done well to compete with feature phones.
    • Peoples' memories are only as long as their current contract

      Are tech people already measuring their lives in numbers of mobile phone contracts?
  • Is this the rational behind spending billions on dated technology?

    You mention companies like Novel and Borland or their assets being acquired by other companies - spending huge dollar amounts to do so.

    Is it because of patent portfolios that acquiring companies purchase these outdated technologies or businesses?
    • RE: Love stinks: The worst mergers in the history of the technology industry

      @kenosha77a Patents and legacy maintenance business.
  • RE: Love stinks: The worst mergers in the history of the technology industry

    My(Murdock)Space a perfect example of how not to do it. <br>Take a new technology, totally misunderstand what it is about, destroy the customer base by enforcing change without analyzing the likely effects, etc., etc. <br>One for the classroom of Business 101.
    • RE: Love stinks: The worst mergers in the history of the technology industry


      Well of course, Mr Murdoch was not used to "customers" creating their "own news". His model was that his empire created it, and the "customers" consumed it. Duh. Bad move Murdoch. Perhaps he should have got the company to bribe the police a bit more... Oh wait, that wouldn't have worked on MySpace either.
    • MySpace was already on its way out...

      when Murdock purchased it, which is what made that purchase even weirder. Prodigy, Geocities, Myspace, and now Facebook... That's the progression so far. Facebook's replacement is next, just hard to say what it is, or what it will be...
      • Replacing Facebook?...

        riiiight. Keep us posted on how that goes ;)
        Robert Fishwick
    • sounds

      Like a certain MS
  • Too early to pass judgment on Oracle's acquisition of Sun

    It's far too early to say whether Oracle's acquisition of Sun was good or bad. If the alternative for Sun was insolvency, then Sun shareholders probably came out ahead. The same may be true of Sun employees, not all of whom were laid off. Of course, we'll never know for certain what would have happened to Sun if Oracle hadn't acquired it.<br><br>From the Oracle side, if the Java litigation is successful, Sun will have turned out to be rather a bargain for Oracle shareholders, no matter how badly the hardware business does. It will also serve as a warning to other firms that trying to use someone else's IP without paying for it can actually cost more in the long run than than paying for it up front. This is good for Oracle, the IT sector generally and all industries that rely on IP protection. It will be bad for Google, of course, but it was Google management's choice to gamble on not paying Sun for the Java IP Google allegedly used anyway.
    • ummm, the Java code used was Open Sourced anyway.

      No money to be made, just a license. Oracle's suing mainly over the terms of a free license not being observed, and Oracle LOST on almost all counts. The Judge on the lawsuit, has written extensively on the decision mainly in Google's favor that almost precludes appeal, unless Oracle is nuts.

      Sun would have been better off being acquired by IBM, which uses Java extensively in its projects, is a large Open Source company, as well as having the Symphony fork of OpenOffice. Essentially, IBM makes serious money on Java, while Sun didn't comprehend how to do that.
      • No it would not have been.

        As an employee of Sun at the time, I can tell you that Oracle did not swoop in and out bid IBM, the deal with IBM had already fallen through. And the general attitude of the employees was that we were thankful that it did. The overlap in product lines between Sun and IBM was nearly 100%. The only thing we knew they wanted was Java, everything else was subject to immediate cancellation. Oracle, on the other hand had very little overlap with Sun. We knew they wanted Java as well, but there was very little that we could be sure would be cancelled.

        As far as how it all worked out, it is indeed too soon to tell. Much was canceled because it either didn't make money or didn't fit the Oracle corporate strategy. Other areas declined because they were destined to decline and Oracle couldn't stop it just as Sun had been unable to. But many areas have flourished and are on the rise.