Posey's Tips & Tricks

The Best and Worst Obscure Microsoft Products I've Used

While some were absolute duds, Microsoft was ahead of the curve on a few of its lesser known products.

As someone who has been writing about Microsoft products since the '90s, I have tried out pretty much anything to have come out of Redmond in the last two decades. Maybe I haven't used every product, but I have certainly evaluated a lot of them. That being the case, I thought that it might be fun to take a break from the more serious blog posts and talk about some of the best and worst, obscure Microsoft products that I have ever used.

Microsoft Bob
OK, this one is probably predictable, and maybe it isn't quite as obscure as some of the other products on my list, but I just can't write an article like this without talking about Microsoft Bob. Microsoft Bob has the dubious distinction of being widely acknowledged as the worst product that Microsoft has ever made. It wasn't Microsoft's worst product because it was unstable (that distinction goes to Windows ME), but rather because of the software's overall concept.

Microsoft Bob was designed to make Windows easier to use. Rather than requiring users to use the normal navigation tools, Microsoft Bob presented visuals of the inside of a house. Each room in the house included things that the user could click on to access different functions. For example, clicking on the paper and pen opens a word processor. If you would like to see Microsoft Bob in action, here's a good YouTube video.

Microsoft Barney
Before anyone sends me any rude e-mails, let me just say up front that I am not a Barney fan. However, back in the '90s, my niece was a huge Barney fan, so I just had to get the Microsoft Barney for her to play with when she came for a visit.

Microsoft Barney was way ahead of its time. It was basically a stuffed animal that was jam packed with sensors, motors, etc. The doll was able to verbally interact with children based on the input received by its sensors. For example, Barney might say, "cover my eyes to play peek-a-boo" or "take my hand to play a game." My niece absolutely loved it. I think the thing that impressed me most was Barney's longevity. Many years after my niece outgrew Barney, I gave it to my brother for his kids to play with. Barney is still functioning, even today. There is a YouTube video of Microsoft Barney here.

Windows ME
As previously mentioned, Windows ME was, in my opinion, the worst version of Windows ever created. Windows ME was the follow up to Windows 98. Unfortunately, Windows ME was plagued with stability problems (at least I never could keep it working). Apparently, I wasn't the only one. For a good laugh, check out this video about Windows ME. Because of Windows ME's reputation, most people seem to have skipped Windows ME and went from Windows 98 to Windows XP instead.

Microsoft Cordless Phone System
The Microsoft Cordless Phone System was definitely one of Microsoft's more obscure product releases. I'm not talking about Windows Phone, but rather a 900 MHz cordless phone made by Microsoft.

The Microsoft Cordless Phone System was awesome. For one thing, it could verbally announce callers based on caller ID information. That isn't a big deal today, but such functionality was unheard of back in the '90s. Another great feature was that the software that was included with the phone would compile a call log on your computer, and it was possible to play different greetings based on who was calling. At the time, I was getting bombarded by a ridiculous number of calls from telemarketers each day. Using the Microsoft Cordless Phone System's call logs, I created a list of every number that telemarketers had ever called me from. I then configured the phone to compare the caller ID information for inbound calls against my list. If a call was found to be from a telemarketer, the software would answer the phone, play a "no soliciting" message, and then hang up.

One last thing that I loved about the Microsoft Cordless Phone System was that with a little bit of tweaking, it was possible to check your e-mail over the phone. I could, for example, call my house while I was at work, and get the phone to verbally read e-mail to me. Again, this isn't a big deal today, but it was groundbreaking back then. You can see the Microsoft Cordless Phone System in action here.

Side Winder Precision 2
One last product that I want to mention is the Microsoft Side Winder Precision 2 flight stick. The thing that made this flight stick so great was that it was specifically designed to work with Microsoft Flight Simulator (there was even a force feedback model available). In fact, the Side Winder Precision 2 worked so well that I still use it today. Although my flight stick is at least 15 years old, it works as well as it did on the day I got it. You can see the Side Winder Precision 2 here.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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