The late, the bad and the imaginary: 7 epic software failures
In the cult classic film Office Space, a group of disgruntled office employees dream about transforming their lives but lack the courage to put their plans into action. One character believes the world is holding its breath for his greatest invention: a Jump to Conclusions Mat (see what he did there?). Although no one is convinced that jumping onto squares labelled ‘Think Again’, ‘Go Wild’ and ‘Accept It’ will aid their decision-making skills, Tom continues to fantasise about his future success.
It seems a lot of people are confident their idea will be the next big thing. The results can be wonderfully irrelevant. Some aim to replace simple, common products (a table knife) that need no improvement (a banana slicer), while others are needlessly complicated or possibly injurious (a 10kg dumbbell alarm clock that requires 30 reps to switch off). It’s no surprise that in the fast-paced world of technology, many software ideas never get off the ground or become obsolete even before they get shipped or fail soon afterwards.[Tweet “In the fast-paced world of #technology, many #software #ideas never get off the ground.”]
Here are 7 to get you thinking:
Although vapourware is announced to the public, this software and hardware is neither manufactured nor formally cancelled. It’s publicised in the hopes of retaining customers tempted to switch to a competitor, but it is literally a developer’s dream … and a marketers nightmare. Notorious examples include:
- Xenix – a Bell Labs operating system based on Unix and adopted by Microsoft. It vanished into thin air when development stopped and Microsoft quietly abandoned the idea.
- Adam – a home computer bogged down by early design problems. Production of Adam was announced in 1983 and then released with limited success by the toy manufacturer Coleco. One of its major faults was the tendency to erase any removable media left near it by an electromagnetic surge on start-up.
- Ovation – an office suite lauded by the press, hailed by Ovation Technologies and eagerly anticipated by the public. Amazingly, this celebrated innovation never actually existed. Despite the hype, the funds for its development ran out long before the company stopped trumpeting its imminent arrival.
This holding pen is more like limbo, where concepts, software and other half-formed projects linger without getting to production stage. They are never officially cancelled but development and refinement slows or stops. When long-term software development enters development hell it is considered vapourware (see above).
- Mystery software – how many, how long, how close? We’ll never know what brilliant (and not-so-brilliant) pieces of software are waiting in development hell, or if they’ll ever see the light of day. But given the colossal tech failures that precede them, maybe it’s better that way.
When is something so late to get shipped that it can hardly be considered the originally advertised product? As long as 10 years? What about 50 years? How can an exciting launch become old news before it even happens?
- Xanadu – part document-building software and part digital library, and first developed in 1960. Supporters say it might have become a precursor to the internet in the 1980s but it repeatedly failed to overcome programming obstacles and gain investors. When it was finally released on the internet as OpenXanadu in 2014, its reception proved lukewarm at best. It couldn’t have been easy to conceptualise Xanadu before the first astronaut walked on the moon …
- Nintendo 64DD – gaming hardware with a disk drive and endless software tweaking. Slow to appear after a slew of pre-release press conferences in 1997, Nintendo finally made a version of 64DD available by Japanese mail order 2 years later. It was discontinued in 2001, with only a handful of the many software games advertised ever available to play.
- Windows Vista – Microsoft operating system released in 2007, more than 5 years after Windows XP. Five years seems a lifetime between desktop OS releases, and 5 years has been the longest time between successive Microsoft releases. Delayed again and again, the system was given a Vapourware Award by Wired Magazine in 2006 by readers wanting to get their hands on it. (They probably feel a bit differently now.)
The very modern history of IT is full of stories of people, systems and software that made it past countless obstacles to succeed. But for every useful and groundbreaking discovery there has been at least one idea that seemed good at the time, which went on to fail miserably. Do your research before you invest and with any luck you won’t be Tom inventing the Jump to Conclusions Mat – or the person buying it![Tweet “The very modern history of #IT is full of stories of people, #systems and #software that made it.”]