In March 2007 , when PC World developed its list of the 10 worst PCs of all time, the top two slots caught my eye because we actually used both of them at work. Well, “used” is a strong term. Perhaps I should say that I witnessed these machines, as they spent the majority of their productive lives in a Microsoft employee’s office.
The Mattel-branded Barbie PC ranked as second-worst in PC World’s list. This computer was a vast improvement over those cheap computers in a boring color. Instead, it was a cheap computer in a boring color that you could dress up with pink stickers applied to the case, the monitor, the speakers—you get the idea. It also came with Barbie-themed software pre-installed.
We acquired one of as a test machine, and the poor tester who was stuck with this computer at least had the sense of humor to dive in with mock enthusiasm, applying all the enclosed stickers and decorations to ensure that the computer was installed “as designed.” It was set on a table in clear view from the hallway and anybody who walked past and spotted the bright pink computing disaster was welcome to come on in and play with it.
The Barbie PC served as an ongoing source of amusement. Whenever the machine encountered problems and developers needed to visit the office to debug the machine, you could always count on a double-take or a shout of “cool!” once they realized what kind of computer they had to work on. I’m told that one summer the college interns installed a copy of the Datacenter Edition of Windows Server® on the Barbie PC, just to be twisted.
Top honors—or perhaps more accurately bottom honors—went to the Packard Bell PC. Ah, the memories. Just one example of how well this computer was designed: the out-of-the-box configuration had every single expansion slot filled. Perhaps they thought, “Our computer is so perfect, you’ll never need to upgrade it!”
Back in the days of the Windows® 95 project, a senior executive bought one as his home machine and regularly installed the latest build of Windows 95 on it as part of the dogfooding effort. As you might expect, it ran into all sorts of problems and had to be brought in frequently to be debugged.