Microsoft’s 1991 “Press Computer Dictionary” defined “Vaporware” as follows (taken from Bayus et al.):

“vaporware n.  (1) a product that the vendor keeps promising is about to arrive ‘really soon now’, but it goes so long past its shipment date that no one believes it will ever really ship […] (2) slang for announced software that may never materialize […]; (3) a term used sarcastically for promised software that misses the announced release date, usually by a considerable length of time”

Into management language “vaporware” could probably best be translated as “strategic product pre-announcement”. Especially in technological network markets, corporations with strong market power pre-announce upcoming products and promise a wide range of features so that customers refrain from adopting or even switching to an already existing alternative solution. The rationale behind those strategies is relatively simple and it transcends network markets, reaching into the realm of standardization with network effects in general: “the standard that is expected to become the standard will become the standard”, as Shapiro and Varian put it in their seminal book “Information Rules” (1999, p. 13).

For decades, Microsoft was the uncrowned king of vaporware. (Actually, already in 1985 Bill Gates received the “Golden Vaporware Award” by Infoworld’s editor Stewart Alsop.) The long pre-announced introduction of Windows 95 is legendary and has just recently been topped by Microsoft starting to announce new features of Windows 7 immediately after the release of its unloved Windows Vista.

Seen in this light, the recent reactions of Microsoft officials to Google’s pre-announcement of “Chrome OS” (see “Microsoft vs. Google: New Fronts in a Paradigmatic Battle“) do not lack unintentional humor. Microsoft’s Senior Vice President, Bill Veghte, bemoaned in an interview that “so far Google’s Chrome OS is nothing more than a blog post.” Even more revealing is yesterday’s remark of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, as reported by CNET:

“Gates said it was hard to really say much about Chrome OS, since Google has said so little about how it will actually work. ‘The more vague they are, the more interesting it is,’ he said.”

Both critiques resemble accusations Microsoft regularly had to deal with in the past. But maybe Microsoft is right and Google will be its successor to the throne of vaporware. We will see.