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Vaporware is software that is preannounced by a developer, but never emerges as an actual product. The term implies deception; that is, it implies that the announcer knows that product development is in too early a stage to support responsible statements about its completion date, feature set, or even feasibility.

The word vaporware was coined by the trade press in response to Ovation Technologies' OVATION, an integrated software package for DOS. OVATION was announced in 1983. Company management was widely lauded for their skill in securing venture financing, generating "buzz", and giving superb demonstrations showing a product that, had it existed, would have been greatly superior to Lotus Development Corporation's 1-2-3. Unfortunately they neglected to arrange for development of an actual product.

In some cases, vaporware may be the result of a trial balloon. In other cases, vaporware is announced by companies in order to damage the development of real products by competitors; if the customer believes the hype, they may put off purchasing the real product to wait for its vaporous rival to mature. An widely cited example of this is Microsoft's strategy in Windows 95 against IBM's OS/2.

Sometimes vaporware is the result of overoptimism on the part of an honest organization, and may actually materialize after a long waiting time (sometimes years). One example of this was the long-delayed Macintosh word processor FullWrite, announced by Ann Arbor Softworks in January 1987 for delivery in April, and actually delivered in late 1988.

In other cases vaporware never materializes because some other product fills its niche. Examples include Project Xanadu, a hypertext project started in 1960 whose intended role has been mostly filled by the World Wide Web, and the HURD, a project started in 1984 to create a free software replacement for the Unix operating system, which has mostly been supplanted by the free Unix-like operating systems Linux and FreeBSD.

A notorious example of vaporware in the gaming world is Duke Nukem Forever, which as of 2003 was six years past its release date.

Vaporware is also a company selling Amiga Internet applications.

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