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vaporwareIn Texas, they call it “all hat, no cattle.” In Silicon Valley, they call it vaporware, and the first use of the term was 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—or, 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.

Infamous examples

One of the most famous early cases of vaporware is that of Ovation Technologies, which announced in 1983 that 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.

The gaming world’s most 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.

Tech Time Warp is a weekly feature that looks back at interesting moments and milestones in tech history.

Photo: Peter Koslowsky/

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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