The news that Commerce One (NASDAQ:CMRC) is gasping for breath shocked me a bit. No, not that the company is failing and anticipates a wind down of operations and a potential Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing -- frankly I never understood its business, nor really cared to. What shocked me about Commerce One is that I realized that I had completely forgotten that it existed.

This is a company that in 1999 had a market capitalization approaching $20 billion. Its success, and that of its industry, seemed assured. The biggest question on people's minds was whether it would dominate business-to-business e-commerce (B2B) or whether rival Ariba (NASDAQ:ARBA) would gain that distinction. B2B was happening, it was coming, it was real. It was going to be a $1 trillion business by 2005!!! The hype was total. Business 2.0 had a cover story on the competition, calling it a "no-holds-barred death match" between the two companies. Well, we have the answer as to which one would survive the battle: Commerce One lost. Trouble is, Ariba didn't win. It's sort of like the old discussions of which Hollywood hunk was America's next big star: Erik Estrada or Adrian Zmed. Zmed may have had more staying power, but he could still probably eat completely unmolested by fans in your average Olive Garden.

And just so you think I'm not just picking on Business 2.0, We have our own B2B albatross here, comparing, once again, Ariba vs. Commerce One. I'm not sure why "none of the above" didn't occur to more people.

The point isn't to hash over the failures of the B2B companies to capture the trillions in revenue that was their birthright. Rather, the imminent doom of Commerce One sent me on a bit of a trip of nostalgia. What other lions of the 1990s had I banished from my memory banks? Plenty of them.

Danny Bonaduce
One company that jumped off the page right away was computing solutions company Akamai (NASDAQ:AKAM). I call Akamai a "Danny Bonaduce" company because while it may have dropped off of my radar screen, the company, like Mr. Bonaduce, has actually had a bit of a renaissance. Akamai's revenues over the last three years have remained fairly stable, at about $160 million. This year, for the first time ever, Akamai has been able to turn in slight profits and has generated some positive cash flows. Not nearly enough to warrant its $1.7 billion market capitalization, mind you, but nonetheless, congratulations on the talk show, Mr. Bonaduce.

Richard Roundtree
Not even a reprisal performance as "Uncle John" in Shaft 2000 brought Mr. Roundtree back into the public's consciousness for more than a blink of an eye. In the same way, Iomega (NYSE:IOM), a company with which the Fool's history is indelibly linked, faded from its heights of the 1990s only to reappear every once in a blue moon. Iomega's Zip drives lost their edge when the double whammy of cratering computer memory prices and the rise of the recordable CD and DVD meant the obsolescence of its floppy-based format disks. So, what does Iomega do now? It's joined those it couldn't beat: Iomega competes in the incredibly cutthroat CD-R and DVD-R drive markets, along with other markets, like USB mini drives. Iomega is planning yet another comeback with its removable hard-disk storage system. Maybe they've got another winner in them, but I wouldn't expect anyone to ever look at Iomega once more and call 'em a "bad mother..."

"You shut your mouth."

Dana Plato
. Dead. Next question.

Kurt Cobain
Lernout & Hauspie
. Rock star dead, with extreme prejudice. Next question.

Mr. Mister
Usually "Mr." names are pretty cool. There may not be a cooler sports nickname ever than Reggie Jackson's "Mr. October," for example. This band, on the other hand, made music so bad and so ubiquitous that I'm pretty sure they caused more than one brain hemorrhage during their heyday. "Broken Wings" was nearly enough to cause me to want to drive into a bridge abutment. Just so, Manugistics (NASDAQ:MANU), which competed with I2 (Pink Sheets: ITWO.PK), and more important, SAP (NYSE:SAP), not only had the status of being a minor star, it also was a company that attracted criticism for its accounting, including capitalizing its software development costs. The company has lost 95% of its share value, though it has avoided the fate many short-sellers who were attracted to the company predicted of it. They might have been better off shorting VerticalNet (NASDAQ:VERT), a more total casualty from the bubble.

Harold Miner
Remember Harold Miner? When he came out of Southern Cal, people labeled him "Baby Jordan," so reminiscent was his game of Michael Jordan's. "Baby Kent Benson" is a little more like it. Miner was a good player, he was just overhyped, and it ruined his confidence. Hmmmmmm. That sort of reminds me of, which became QXL Ricardo (Pink Sheets: QXLRF.PK). This European online bidding service was supposed to be the "next eBay." In April 2000, an SG Cowen analyst called it just that, and QXL responded by quadrupling the next day, only to close with a mere double. QXL is a fine little company, but it will never, ever be eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY).

The Lambada
There is another company the mention of which is fraught with a little bit of freight for The Motley Fool. I hadn't thought about it for several years until the other day: Celera (NYSE:CRA). When the Fool bought Celera in December 1999, I remember thinking that while its pursuit of mapping the human genome seemed unbelievably cool, I couldn't figure out what the business would be. This I labeled not as a failing of the company, but as my own failure: I couldn't conceive of it because I wasn't knowledgeable enough about the business. It is well documented that Celera proceeded on the strength of extraordinary excitement about the potential for genetic therapies for diseases to vault past $13 billion in market capitalization. The trouble was that my ignorance of what the company would do to generate long-term revenues was matched by its own inability to come up with much of a plan. The death by a thousand cuts commenced, and Celera returned from whence it came -- into obscurity, though with some additional battle scars for its efforts.

So, like the late, (much less lamented) Lambada, they danced this way and that, first offering to sell their raw findings to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, and then later announcing that they were going to go into the therapeutic development business themselves. Unfortunately, the one word that most certainly does not go with therapy development is "fast." Celera's out there, plugging along, trying to get a win before the cash runs out.

I don't have much to say about any of these companies -- as I noted, they're here specifically because I had completely lost track of them. If there is a lesson, it is that there is no such thing as an "obvious winner" that can't get derailed in a big way. Each of these companies compete in industries that have grown to be quite substantial in scope, and yet they have each to some degree fallen off the table and into obscurity.

In what may be the most unkind cut of all, I spoke not too long ago with management of CCBN, a company that offers a subscription service to, among other things, company conference calls. The Thomson Corporation (NYSE:TOC) recently acquired CCBN. The CCBN executive told me that their transcription service is based on voice-recognition software called Dragon. The company that once owned this? Bankrupted and disgraced Lernout & Hauspie. They couldn't win for losing.

It may be a surprise to many that Bill Mann owns none of the companies mentioned in this article. For a complete list of his holdings, please consult his profile. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.