Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article refers to the term as used in computer industry. For the company, see VaporWare (company).
Vaporware (or vapourware) is software or hardware which is announced by a developer well in advance of release, but which then fails to emerge, either with or without a protracted development cycle. The term implies deception, or at least a negligent degree of optimism; that is, it implies that the announcer knows that product development is in too early a stage to support responsible statements about its completion date, feature set, or even feasibility.
There is a similarity between vaporware and a species of hoax; both involve promoting a product or event which cannot later be produced. There have been a number of hoaxes in technological fields, wherein the hoaxter promises that proof of his offering will be forthcoming -- eventually. Examples include Clonaid, the Raelian company which promised proof of human cloning; or any number of perpetual motion machine "inventors". The distinction may be that in vaporware, the proponent truly does intend to produce the advertised product, while in hoax, he knows the product does not exist or cannot be produced.
Perhaps the very first example of vaporware in the field of computing was Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine of 1834-1837, which remained unfinished for lack of funds. The word vaporware itself was popularized in the trade press circa 1984, perhaps in response to Ovation Technologies ' Ovation, an integrated software package for DOS. Ovation was announced in 1983. Company management was widely lauded for their skill in securing venture financing, generating "buzz", and giving superb demonstrations showing a product that, had it existed, would have been greatly superior to Lotus 1-2-3. Unfortunately, they neglected to arrange for development of an actual product.
CIO magazinecredits Esther Dyson as having coined the word in 1984. Paul Andrews , however, states that "Although 'vaporware' was perhaps popularized by Esther, she credits Ann Winblad, who in turn heard it from Microsoft's Mark Ursino... but Stewart Alsop ...may have been the one to turn it into everyday lingo with his P.C. Letter list."
In some cases, vaporware may be the result of a trial balloon which "doesn't fly". Subsequently the project is quietly cancelled, sometimes before any actual development work is done.
In other cases, vaporware may be announced by companies in order to damage the development or marketability of more real products by competitors as a form of FUD; if the customer believes the hype, they may put off purchasing the real product to wait for its vaporous rival to mature.
Sometimes vaporware is the result of over-optimism on the part of a well-intending organization, and may actually materialize after a long waiting time (sometimes years). One example of this was the long-delayed Macintosh word processor FullWrite , announced by Ann Arbor Softworks in January 1987 for delivery in April, and actually delivered in late 1988. In the UK, Sir Clive Sinclair's Sinclair Research Ltd was quite notorious for its tardy product delivery cycle; various flat-screen displays, miniature televisions, the Sinclair QL business computer and C5 electric car, the advanced Loki and several other projects were either late, unfinished, or entirely fictitious.
Often vaporware that does materialize fails to live up to expectations. One example is the game Daikatana, which was announced in 1997 but did not ship until 2000. Many who had waited felt the gameplay was disappointingly uninteresting. Ultima IX, another example, was poor consolation for those who had waited since 1994, only to find the version released late in 1999 was very buggy and impossible to run on many common graphics cards.
Products that are released, but not available to customers because of production or other issues can also qualify as vaporware, one example being ATI Radeon X800 video cards, but not widely available to customers, even after the next version, X850 was (reportedly) released.
In other cases, vaporware never materializes because some other product fills its niche in the meantime, rendering it redundant or unmarketable. One example is Project Xanadu, a hypertext project started in 1960 whose intended role has been mostly filled by the World Wide Web; or the GNU Hurd, the free software kernel whose place in the free software world has been (by and large) filled by Linux. (The Hurd may yet be completed, but its original intended role as part of a complete GPL Unix system has been fulfilled.)
In addition to historical examples, there are many products whose ultimate fate is unknown, but which as of 2004 are considered vaporware. One such example is the computer game Duke Nukem Forever, which has been in development for over 7 years. The game won Wired News' Vaporware Awards in 2001 and 2002, got second place in 2000, and in 2003 was given the Lifetime Achievement Award for its perpetual vaporware status.
Also worth noting are the Indrema and Phantom video game consoles. The latter took Wired's top "award" in 2004. Microsoft's Longhorn OS, announced for 2004 and now called Longwait by wags, garnered third place. Wired noted that a supposedly key feature, the WinFS file system, has already been dropped from it, and quoting a reader as saying "If Microsoft keeps on pushing back the dates for Longhorn and removing features from it, they might as well just promise to bundle Duke Nukem Forever with the OS."
- These Are the Days to Remember, Howard Baldwin, CIO Magazine, December 15, 1999 - article crediting Ester Dyson for the term.
- message by Paul Andrews, where he says Dyson credits Ann Winblad, and that Stewart Alsop.
- Wired News' 2004 Vaporware Awards (2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997)
- Where Is Phantom?? - "The site for all Critics, Cynics, Detractors and Doubters", a site about the controversy over Infinium Labs's Phantom
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