Vaporware has been used in the computer industry for years. IBM was often
accused of preannouncing new mainframes to keep buyers from turning to
rivals. But vaporware wasn't called such until the 1980s, with the advent
of the microcomputer. In t he early 1980s, Ann Winblad, now a San Francisco-area
venture capitalist, visited Microsoft headquarters and demanded to know
whether it was really planning to develop a piece of Unix software it was
promising her Minneapolis company. Getting no answer fr om executives,
she says, she asked an engineer, who whispered in her ear, "Vaporware.
We're not doing it." After hearing the word for the first time, Ms. Winblad
was credited with popularizing it.
In 1988, acting to head off a Microsoft product announcement, Lotus Development
Corp. said it planned a version of its flagship 1-2-3 spreadsheet for Apple's
Macintosh. At the time, Lotus dominated the spreadsheet market. But insiders
say that L otus didn't even have specifications for the product and acted
to counter Microsoft's announcement of a new version of its competing product.
In fact, Lotus 1-2-3 for the Macintosh didn't ship for another three years.
Lotus says the product delay wasn't i ntended to stall Microsoft sales.
The most famous vaporware product of its time, according to Ziff-Davis,
is FullWrite, released in 1988, almost two years after it was announced
by its original developer. Users of Lotus~ cc:Mail program have been waiting
almost three years for the new and improved mail server for that product.
First, NEC Home Electronics (USA) was charged with falsely claiming that
the memory capacity of one of its microprocessors could be easily expanded
in the future with anticipated memory boards under development.
Subsequently, the FTC charged Coleco Industries, Inc. with falsely claiming
that its "My Talking Computer" had certain features when, in fact, the
company did not plan to produce the modules necessary to deliver these
features for 12-18 months a fter the claims were made and had already determined
to abandon plans for one of the advertised modules.
The FTC in 1975 settled a case against Xerox, however, with a prohibition
of any product announcements more than three months in advance; there was
no court decision.
The Gang of Three brought up another preannouncement suit, but it wasn't
really a vaporware case. AT&T considered establishing a digital data
network (DDN), but decided not to do so. Datran then publicly proposed
a DDN service. AT&T responded wi th a crash DDN program and preannounced
it by two years. This discouraged investors from financing Datran and led
to its demise. The government sued AT&T for monopolization, alleging
that this episode was part of a continuing monopolistic program of AT&T
to prevent other companies from competing with it. The court held that
the total pattern of conduct would show monopolization unless AT&T
rebutted the evidence with contrary proof. While the US- AT&T case
involves preannouncements, it is not clear that any deliberate falsity
(vaporware) was involved--alth ough two years is rather longish for a preannouncement.
Also, the DDN preannouncement was only one of many other exclusionary tactics
that AT&T used. Thus, the court did not say that the Datran episode,
by itself, showed monopolization.