The U.S. Justice Department accused IBM of announcing its System/360 Model 91 computer (pictured) three years early intentionally to hurt sales of its competitor's computer.

Vaporware is a term in the computer industry that describes a product, typically computer hardware or software, that is announced to the general public but is never actually released nor officially canceled. Vaporware is also a term sometimes used to describe events that are announced or predicted, never officially cancelled, but never intended to happen. The term also generally applies to a product that is announced months or years before its release, and for which public development details are lacking. The word has been applied to a growing range of products including consumer, automobiles, and some stock trading practices. At times, vendors are criticized for intentionally producing vaporware in order to keep customers from switching to competitive products that offer more features.[1]

Publications widely accuse developers of announcing products early intentionally to gain advantage over others. Network World magazine called vaporware an "epidemic" in 1989, and blamed the press for not investigating whether developers' claims were true. Seven major companies issued a report in 1990 saying they felt vaporware had hurt the industry's credibility. The United States accused several companies of announcing vaporware early in violation of antitrust laws, but few have been found guilty. InfoWorld magazine wrote that the word is overused, and places an unfair stigma on developers.

"Vaporware" was coined by a Microsoft engineer in 1982 to describe the company's Xenix operating system, and first published by computer expert Esther Dyson in 1983. It became popular among writers in the industry as a way to describe products they felt took too long to be released. InfoWorld magazine editor Stewart Alsop helped popularize it by lampooning Bill Gates with a Golden Vaporware award for the late release of his company's first version of Windows in 1985. Vaporware first implied intentional fraud when it was applied to the Ovation office suite in 1983; the suite's demonstration was well-received by the press, but was later revealed to have never existed.



The first reported use of the word "vaporware" was in 1982 by an engineer at the computer software company Microsoft.[2] Ann Winblad, who was president of Open Systems Accounting Software, wanted to know if Microsoft planned to stop developing its Xenix operating system. Some of Open System's products depended on it. She went to Microsoft's offices, and asked two software engineers there, John Ulett and Mark Ursino, who confirmed that development of Xenix had stopped. "One of them told me, 'Basically, it's vaporware'," she later said. Winblad compared the word to the idea of "selling smoke", implying Microsoft was selling a product it would soon not support.[3]

Influential writer Esther Dyson (pictured here in 2008) popularized the term "vaporware" in her November 1983 issue of RELease 1.0

The word was told by Winblad to influential computer expert Esther Dyson,[3] and Dyson published it for the first time in her monthly printed newsletter RELease 1.0. In an article titled "Vaporware" in the November 1983 issue of RELease 1.0, Dyson defined the word as "good ideas incompletely implemented". She described three software products shown at the Computer Dealer's Exhibition in Las Vegas that year that were being advertised bombastically. In her words, demonstrations of the "purported revolutions, breakthroughs and new generations" shown at the exhibition did not meet those claims.[4][5]

After Dyson's article was published, the word became popular among writers in the then small personal computer software industry as a way to describe products they felt took too long to be released after their first announcement.[2] InfoWorld magazine editor Stewart Alsop helped popularize its use in this way by lampooning Bill Gates, then CEO of Microsoft, with a Golden Vaporware award for the 18-month late release of Microsoft's first version of Windows in 1985. Alsop presented it to Gates at a celebration for the release while the song "The Impossible Dream" played in the background.[6][7]

"Vaporware" took another meaning when it was used to describe a product that did not exist. A new company named Ovation Technologies announced their office suite Ovation in 1983.[8] The company invested in an advertising campaign that promoted Ovation as a "great innovation", and showed a demonstration of the program at computer trade shows.[2][9] The demonstration was well received by writers in the press, featured in a cover story for an industry magazine, and reportedly created anticipation among potential customers.[9] It was later revealed by executives that Ovation never existed. The fake demonstration was created in an attempt by the company to raise money to finish their product, but they could not. This was the first time the word "vaporware" was used to imply intentional fraud,[8] and is "widely considered the mother of all vaporware," according to Laurie Flynn of The New York Times.[2]

"Vaporware", sometimes synonymous with "vaportalk" in the 1980s,[3] has no single definition. It is generally used to describe a hardware or software product that has been announced by its developer, but that has not yet been released.[5][10] Use of the term has gradually become more inclusive in the last three decades. Newsweek magazine's Allan Sloan described the manipulation of stocks by Yahoo! and as "financial vaporware" in 1997.[11] Popular Science magazine uses a scale ranging from "vaporware" to "bet on it" to describe release dates of new consumer electronics.[12] Car manufacturer General Motors' plans to develop and sell an electric car were called vaporware by an advocacy group in 2008.[13]

Causes and use of "vaporware"

Late release

The term is like a scarlet letter hung around the neck of software developers. [...] Like any overused and abused word, vaporware has lost its meaning

—James Fawcette, "Press' Vaporgate", 1985

A product missing its announced release date, and the labeling of it as vaporware by the press, can be caused by its development taking longer than planned. Most software products are not released on time, according to researchers who studied the causes and effects of vaporware in 2001.[7] Software development is a complex process, and developers are often uncertain how long it will take to complete any given project.[7][14] Fixing errors in software, for example, can make up a significant portion of its development time,[7] and developers are motivated not to release software with errors because it could damage their reputation with customers.[7] Last-minute design changes are also common.[7] In 1986, the American National Standards Institute adopted SQL as the standard database manipulation language. Software company Ashton-Tate was ready to release their dBase IV database manipulation program, but pushed the release date back to add support for SQL. They felt their product would not be competitive without it.[9] On to the popular use of the word "vaporware" by writers in the mid-1980s, InfoWorld magazine editor James Fawcette wrote that its negative association was unfair to developers because of situations like these.[15]

Vaporware also includes announced products that are never released because of financial problems, or because the industry changes during its development.[9] When 3D Realms first announced their video game Duke Nukem Forever in 1997, it was early in its development.[16] The company's previous game released in 1996, Duke Nukem 3D, was a critical and financial success, and customer anticipation for its sequel was high. As personal computer hardware speeds improved at a rapid pace in the late 1990s, it created an "arms race" between companies in the video game industry, according to Wired News. 3D Realms repeatedly moved the release date forward over the next 12 years to add new, more advanced features. By the time 3D Realms went out of business in 2009 with the game unreleased, Duke Nukem Forever had become synonymous with the word "vaporware" among industry writers.[17][18] The game was revived and released in 2011.

Early announcement

Announcing products early—months or years before their release date,[19] also called "preannouncing",[20] has been an effective way by some developers to make their products successful. It can be seen as a legitimate part of their marketing strategy, but is generally not popular with industry press.[21] The first company to release a product in a given market often gains an advantage. It can set the standard for similar future products, attract a large number of customers, and establish its brand before competitor's products are released.[9] Public relations firm Coakley-Heagerty used an early announcement in 1984 to build interest among potential customers. Their client was a former employee of Atari who wanted to market his new arcade game, but his contract with Atari prohibited it until a later date. The firm created an advertising campaign—including brochures and a shopping-mall appearance—around a large ambiguous box covered in brown paper to "stall for time" until the game could be announced.[3]

Early announcements do not send signals only to customers and the media. They are noticed by providers of support products, regulatory agencies, financial analysts, investors, and other parties.[21] For example, an early announcement can relay information to vendors, letting them know to prepare marketing and shelf space. It can signal third-party developers to begin work on their own products, and it can be used to persuade a company's investors that they are actively developing new, profitable ideas.[20] When IBM announced its Professional Workstation computer in 1986, they noted the lack of third-party programs written for it at the time, signaling those developers to start preparing. Microsoft usually announces information about its operating systems early because third-party developers are dependent on that information to develop their own products.[20]

A developer can strategically announce a product that is in the early stages of development, or before development begins, to gain competitive advantage over other developers.[22] In addition to the "vaporware" label, this is also called "ambush marketing", and "fear, uncertainty and doubt" (FUD) by the press.[20] If the announcing developer is a large company, this may be done to influence smaller companies to stop development of similar products. The smaller company might decide their product will not be able to compete, and that it is not worth the development costs.[22] It can also be done in response to a competitor's already released product. The goal is to make potential customers believe a second, better product will be released soon. The customer might reconsider buying from the competitor, and wait.[23] In 1994, as customer anticipation increased for Microsoft's new version of Windows (codenamed "Chicago"), Apple announced a set of upgrades to its own System 7 operating system that were not due to be released until two years later. The Wall Street Journal wrote that Apple did this to "blunt Chicago's momentum".[24]

my own estimate is that at the time of announcement, 10% of software products don't actually exist [...] Vendors that are unwilling to [prove it exists] shouldn't announce their packages to the press

—Joe Mohen, "vaporware epidemic", 1989

Industry publications widely accused companies of using early announcements intentionally to gain competitive advantage over others. In his 1989 Network World article, Joe Mohen wrote the practice had become a "vaporware epidemic", and blamed the press for not investigating claims by developers. "If the pharmaceutical industry were this careless, I could announce a cure for cancer today — to a believing press."[25] In 1985, Stewart Alsop began publishing his influential monthly Vaporlist, a list of companies he felt announced their products too early, hoping to dissuade them from the practice.[2] Wired Magazine began publishing a similar list in 1997. Seven major software developers—including Ashton-Tate, Hewlett-Packard and Sybase—formed a council in 1990, and issued a report condemning the "vacuous product announcement dubbed vaporware and other misrepresentations of product availability" because they felt it had hurt the industry's credibility.[26]

Antitrust allegations

Announcing a product that does not exist to gain a competitive advantage is illegal via Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, but few hardware or software developers have been found guilty of it. The section requires proof that the announcement is both provably false, and has actual or likely market impact.[27] False or misleading announcements designed to influence stock prices are illegal under United States securities fraud laws.[28] The complex and changing nature of the computer industry, marketing techniques, and lack of precedence for these laws applied to the industry can mean developers are not aware their actions are illegal. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issued a statement in 1984 with the goal of reminding companies that securities fraud also applies to "statements that can reasonably be expected to reach investors and the trading markets".[29]

Several companies have been accused in court of using knowingly false announcements to gain market advantage. In 1969, The United States Justice Department accused IBM of doing this in the case United States v. IBM. After IBM's competitor Control Data Corporation (CDC) released their computer, IBM announced they planned to sell a more advanced computer soon—its System/360 Model 91. The announcement resulted in a significant reduction in sales of CDC's product. The Justice Department accused IBM of doing this intentionally because the System/360 Model 91 was not released until three years later.[30][31] The practice was not called "vaporware" at the time, but publications have since used the word to refer specifically to it. Similar cases have been filed against Kodak film company, AT&T, and Xerox.[32]

US District Judge Stanley Sporkin was a vocal opponent of the practice during his review of the settlement resulting from United States v. Microsoft in 1994. "Vaporware is a practice that is deceitful on its face and everybody in the business community knows it," said Sporkin.[33] One of the accusations made during the trial was that Microsoft has illegally used early announcements. The review began when three anonymous companies protested the settlement, claiming the government did not thoroughly investigate Microsoft's use of the practice. Specifically, they claimed Microsoft announced its Quick Basic 3 program to slow sales of its competitor Borland's recently released Turbo Basic program.[32] The review was dismissed for lack of explicit proof.[32]



Video games

  • Starcraft: Ghost – announced in 2002, after numerous production issues caused Blizzard to announce the game on an "indefinite hold" in March 2006. Sources such as IGN and GameSpot show the game as canceled.[36]
  • I Am Alive - Originally announced in 2007, the game eventually was never heard of again even though Ubisoft stated that the release of the game would be in 2008. Three years later, however, Ubisoft once again released another trailer that promises a Winter 2011 release.
  • Elite 4 – Started in 2000 only to be abandoned,[37] "nearly finished" in 2008,[38] and will resume development "after The Outsider has been completed"[37] - which is also vaporware and has been abandoned.
  • Project BC[citation needed]
  • Final Fantasy Versus XIII - Unveiled by Square Enix at E3 2006, Tetsuya Nomura has said the game is unlikely to be released in 2011 and that the earliest possible reveal of information about the game would be at E3 2011. However, the game was not present at the show.
  • Connie Talbot: Over The Rainbow - announced in August 2008,[39][40] and was scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2009,[41] but copyright issues with the songs to be used in the game hampered its release.[42]
  • Project Milo was announced at E3 09 but conflicting reports from Microsoft and the developer Lionhead have raised speculation over if it was a real game.[43]
  • Anarchy Online's new graphics rendering engine, announced in June 2007[44] with a planned release date of mid 2008 which was later pushed back to end of 2008. On May 22, 2009 it was announced that work on the OGRE engine had ceased and work on converting Anarchy Online to use the Dreamworld engine had begun,[45] with a predicted release date of sometime in 2009. The engine was then scheduled to enter a testing phase by the end of Q2 2011 [46], a date which passed without mention. The engine is still unreleased as of 2011. Although no concrete release date has been specified by the developers, renderings from an emulated engine environment and videos of the work in progress are periodically being released. The most recent official video was a 17 second video released in December 2009 [47], although cell phone footage from June 2011 has been posted by a third party.[48]
  • Lost Colony - A dynamic, episodic MMOFPS by Red Planet, LLC., announced in 2006, with gameplay similar to SOE's PlanetSide in which 3 races are fighting for control over a persistent world. Lost Colony was first hyped as "The Next PlanetSide" with rough, extremely buggy "demos" being supplied to those that pre-paid $20 for access to the beta program which only released clients that were pre-alphas quality. Many were anticipating the move from PlanetSide to Lost Colony to be a game changer for PlanetSide subscribers. This never happened as the pre-alpha releases stopped in mid-2007 and official updates ceased on the official forums. Players were offered the choice to have their funds returned, however, the timeline did not exist very long for the program to reach all of the subscribers. The website for the game and Red Planet, LLC. are no longer available for service.[49]
  • Microsoft Train Simulator 2, announced in 2003 but canceled in 2004, it was again announced in 2007. It will be the last time because the game was later cancelled in 2009 after the studio closed ACES
  • 2 Days to Vegas[citation needed]
  • Chrome 2[citation needed]
  • The Getaway (PlayStation 3)[citation needed]
  • Eight Days[citation needed]
  • Warhound[citation needed]
  • They[citation needed]
  • Shenmue III - The Shenmue series were planned for 16 chapters, 6 of which were presented in Shenmue I and Shenmue II, the latter of which has ended with a cliffhanger with familiar "to be continued.." at the very end. Since then a continuation was mentioned numerous times [50][51] and even Yu Suzuki (of Sega) himself mentioned that Sega might let him finish the game but proper fundings are an issue.[52][53] However according to a 2009 article in a Japanese magazine Famitsu Shenmue 3 tops as the second most wanted video-game sequel.[54]


  • Game Runner - A Sinclair Spectrum emulator that was intended to run on the Commodore 64. It was advertised for a single month before being withdrawn from promotion.
  • Ovation – An integrated software package for DOS that was announced by Ovation Technologies in 1983. Written about in many computer magazines at the time, Ovation was never released.[55]
  • Textmate 2.0 - a popular text editor for the Macintosh by Macromates. Development stalled in 2006, and version 2.0 has yet to be released as of 2011.[56]


  • Smile, an album by The Beach Boys, has been delayed for almost 45 years until it was announced with a final release date in November 2011 (with the official release name being The Smile Sessions).
    • A Brian Wilson only version (along with various studio musicians) of Smile was released on September 28, 2004.

Surfaced vaporware

Products which once were considered to be vaporware which eventually surfaced after a prolonged time:

  • 3G[57]
  • Bluetooth[58]
  • Daikatana[59]
  • Windows Vista (then, "Windows Code Name 'Longhorn'")[59]
  • Windows 2000[60][61]
  • Mac OS X, the long-awaited "next generation Mac OS" that began life as Copland[62]
  • Warcraft III[58][63]
  • Prey, was announced in 1995 and took 11 years to be released.
  • Mother 3 was originally announced in 1996 for the Nintendo 64DD and was cancelled following numerous release date pushbacks and a shift to the Nintendo 64 alone. The project was eventually announced to have been revived for the Game Boy Advance in advertisements for Mother 1+2 in 2003, and was released on April 20, 2006.
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl – Originally announced in 2001, the game experienced numerous delays.[64] Beta builds of the final product have been distributed to numerous game review sites.[65] On March 3, 2007, THQ announced that the game had gone gold and was released on March 20, 2007, though it was leaked three days earlier.
  • Team Fortress 2[59] was announced in 1999 and took 8 years to be released. The North American release took place on October 9, 2007.
  • Darkfall Online was announced on August 29, 2001, and was released in 2009.
  • Duke Nukem Forever was announced on April 28, 1997 and went on to be a six-time winner of Wired's Vaporware Award and a winner of their Lifetime Vaporware Achievement. On September 3, 2010, it was officially announced to be released sometime in 2011.[66] Due to be released 3 May 2011,[67] it was further delayed to June 14.[68] Demo of the game had been released on June 3, 2011 for those who pre-ordered it or purchased Borderlands Game of the Year Edition. The demo was released on Steam, Xbox360 and PS3.[69] The game eventually took 14 years, 1 month and 17 days to be released (using release date in North America).[70]

Some examples of non-software vaporware that eventually surfaced are:

  • Chinese Democracy, an extremely long coming album by hard rock group Guns N’ Roses, was finally released in 2008 after millions in recording costs and years of developing (recording had actually started in 1994). It has been certified platinum by the RIAA.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e Flynn (1995), p. 1.
  3. ^ a b c d Shea (1984).
  4. ^ Dyson (1983), pp. –6.
  5. ^ a b Bayus; Jain; Rao (2001) p. 3.
  6. ^ Garud (1997); Ichbiah cited in Bayus; Jain; Rao (2001) p. 3.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Bayus; Jain; Rao (2001), p. 5.
  8. ^ a b Flynn (1995), p. 2.
  9. ^ a b c d e Jenkins (1998).
  10. ^ Prentice; Langmore (1994) p. 11.
  11. ^ Sloan (1997)
  12. ^ "What's New". Popular Science (Bonnier Corporation): 15. 2007-03-01. ISSN =0161-7370. Retrieved 2010-04-15. 
  13. ^ Bersinger, Ken (2008-04-05). "Road for electric car makers full of potholes". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times).,0,626587.story. Retrieved 2010-04-19. 
  14. ^ Johnston; Betts (1995).
  15. ^ Fawcette (1985).
  16. ^ Thompson (2009).
  17. ^ Kesten, Lou (2009-04-11). "R.I.P. `Duke Nukem Forever'". ABC News. ABC News Internet Ventures. Retrieved 2010-04-15. [dead link]
  18. ^ Kane, Yukari Iwatani (2009-05-07). "Duke Nukem Nuked". The Wall Street Journal Blogs (Dow Jones & Company). Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  19. ^ Prentice; Langmore (1994) p. 2.
  20. ^ a b c d Prentice (1996), p. 3.
  21. ^ a b Prentice (1996), p. 4.
  22. ^ a b Bayus; Jain; Rao (2001), p. 4.
  23. ^ Haan (2003).
  24. ^ Zachary; Carlton (1994)
  25. ^ Mohen (1989).
  26. ^ Messmer (1990).
  27. ^ Bayus; Jain; Rao (2001), p. 11.
  28. ^ Prentice; Langmore (1994) p. 15.
  29. ^ SEC (1994) cited in Prentice; Langmore (1994) p. 17.
  30. ^ Gerlach (2004).
  31. ^ "IBM Antitrust Suit Records". Hagley Museum and Library. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  32. ^ a b c Stern (1995).
  33. ^ Yoder (1995) cited in Bayus; Jain; Rao (2001), p. 5.
  34. ^
  35. ^ Kahney, Leander (2005-01-07). "Vaporware Phantom Haunts Us All". Wired News. Archived from the original on 2006-01-31.,1284,66195-4,00.html?tw=wn_story_page_next3. Retrieved 2006-05-17. 
  36. ^
  37. ^ a b
  38. ^
  39. ^ "Connie stars on Wii". Express & Star. 2008-08-19. Retrieved 2008-08-22. 
  40. ^ "Connie Talbot Singing on Wii Soon". 2008-08-18.,11730,11730. Retrieved 2008-08-22. 
  41. ^ Mason, Kerri (2008-10-10). "Record buyers head-"Over"-heels for 7-year-old". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  42. ^ "Connie's Nintendo Wii Game".'s-nintendo-wii-game. Retrieved 16 February 2011. 
  43. ^ [1]
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^ "Game List and Directory - Discontinued - Lost Colony". Retrieved 2 January 2010. 
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^,-says-Suzuki--a010867-p0.php
  54. ^
  55. ^ "Famous Vaporware Products". BYTE. Archived from the original on 2007-11-30. Retrieved 2007-10-31. 
  56. ^ "Vaporware 2009 - Inhale the Fail". 
  57. ^ The Real Reason 3G is Vaporware
  58. ^ a b "Vaporware 2000: Missing Inaction". Wired. 2001. Retrieved 2007-10-31. "The bona fide beginning of the new millennium is almost upon us, but some things never change: The tech industry continues to whip up excitement by promising amazing new technologies, only to crush our spirits by delaying, postponing, pushing back or otherwise derailing the arrival of said goods – sometimes indefinitely." 
  59. ^ a b c "Vaporware '99: The 'Winners'". Wired. 2000. Retrieved 2007-10-31. "The last year of the last decade before 2000 has come and gone, but the Vaporware 1999 "winners" are still a dream to some, and a nightmare to others." 
  60. ^ "Vaporware 2002: Tech up in Smoke?". Wired. 2003. Retrieved 2007-10-31. "As 2002 ends, there is a lot of unfinished business in various corners of the tech world. We are referring, of course, to vaporware: hot, must-have products promised but never delivered." 
  61. ^ "Vaporware 1998: Windows NT Wins". Wired. 1999. Retrieved 2007-10-31. "Each December, Wired News petitions its readers for the year's most egregious examples of vaporware. This time last year, our research team was busily running down broken promises, empty hype, and slipping ship-dates all over the technology kingdom." 
  62. ^
  63. ^ "Vaporware 2001: Empty Promises". Wired. 2002. Retrieved 2007-10-31. "Whatever you like to call it – the New Economy, the Dot-Com Economy, the Clinton Years – one thing is now clear about the period of prosperity that began in the mid-'90s and was snuffed out early last year." 
  64. ^ Top 10 Tuesday: Modern Vaporware
  65. ^ First impressions – S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. Eurogamer
  66. ^ High, Kamau (2010-09-03). "Controversial ‘Duke Nukem Forever' Will Finally Be Released". The Wall Street Journal. 
  67. ^
  68. ^ Andy Robinson (March 24, 2011). "Duke Nukem Forever delayed again (really)". Retrieved March 24, 2010. 
  69. ^ [2]
  70. ^


External links

Wired Magazine Vaporware Awards

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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