We all know people who are long on ideas and short on execution. In the software world, one might say these people create “vaporware.” Let’s get into this week’s Tech Time Warp.
This term was first used in a Feb. 3, 1986, Time Magazine article by Philip Elmer-DeWitt about the delayed release of Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Vaporware is tech industry lingo for software that’s announced long before it’s released—and, in some cases, announced and never released, whether as a marketing ploy or because the developing company simply runs out of cash. The U.S. Justice Department has suggested that major tech companies—including IBM and Microsoft—make vaporware announcements about products far from release in order to unfairly control market share. (In his article, Elmer-Dewitt described Windows as giving an IBM computer “the look and feel of an Apple Macintosh,” which seems ironic today. In the long run, it’s hard to characterize Windows as vaporware.)
The story of Ovation Technologies presents an early example of vaporware. The company announced in 1983 it was developing integrated software with word processing, spreadsheet, data management and communications capabilities. Ovation even presented a demo of its product at trade shows. The problem was that the software didn’t actually exist—this vaporware was an elaborate ruse to raise capital to develop the product. Before enough money was raised, Ovation went bankrupt.
Another famous example of vaporware is the game Duke Nukem, which appeared on Wired Magazine’s Vaporware Awards list for a record 12 years. The first-person shooter game was ultimately and anticlimactically released in 2011. Turns out ridiculing Duke Nukem as vaporware was more fun than actually playing the game. “Released Tuesday for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, Duke Nukem Forever doesn’t live up to the years of hype,” Wired proclaimed.
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