Bonum Certa Men Certa

Imaginary Software Patents as the Modern Equivalent of Vapourware

Back in its early days, Microsoft identified a very powerful marketing tool. It realised that vapourware -- however controversial the method may seem -- was the means of "freezing the market", based on false facts which prospective customers rely on. An old memo from Comes vs. Microsoft [PDF] exposes us an example of this (note: emphasis is mine). Right from the horse's month:

From nathanm Mon Oct 01 11:42:05 1990 To: billg; bradsi; Subject: SPARC, MIPS & Compaq Date: Tue Oct 02, 22:57:14 1990

[...]

The purpose of announcing early like this is to freeze the market at the OEM and ISV level. In this respect it is JUST like the original Windows announcement...

One might worry that this will help Sun because we will just have vaporware, that people will stop buying 486 machines, that we will have endorsed RISC but not delivered... So, Scott, do you really think you can fight that avalanche?


When Munich prepared for its migration to GNU/Linux, another mutation of this so-called 'vapourware' announcement emerged. The SCO Group maintained that Linux code -- while no specific fragments could not be identified -- was stolen from UNIX. Based on these bogus allegations, some people found themselves routed into alternative directions.

Finally, this brings us to Novell and Microsoft. The two companies swap 'protection money' and exchange patents that cannot even be listed. They never intend to put them out in the open. Like imaginary innovations (or vapourware), this creates a form of uncertainty. It is, after all, just 'vapour' being exchanged, yet everyone must weigh this unknown factor.

Here are several recent examples of vapourware in the context of software:

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