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Hype Vaporware, Go To Jail? 369

Posted by simoniker
from the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin dept.
Tim Dierks writes "The New York Times (registration required) has an article describing a federal case against executives in Enron's broadband data division, based upon the charge that Enron claimed that a software platform was more complete and more functional than it actually was. It seems to be that if this case holds up, most of the software industry is guilty. Would the world be better off or not if it was illegal to overpromote the functionality or features of software?"
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Hype Vaporware, Go To Jail?

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  • Duke (Score:5, Funny)

    by GhostChe (585665) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:24PM (#6152575)
    Guess Duke Nukem Forever is really screwed...
    • Re:Duke (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Schnapple (262314) <tomkidd@v i a t e x a s . c om> on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:33PM (#6152708) Homepage
      Well the critical difference, I think, in what will be considered "criminal" in the Vaporware world is whether or not there's money involved. It's one thing to put on a smoke and mirrors show in order to get more investors money - and then not spend that money on what was claimed to be invested in. In this case it's either that the above had happened, or the developers really were doing what they said they were with the investment money, and they have the bad luck of being at Enron at this point in time.

      Regarding DNF, it's being funded out of 3D Realms' pocket at this point in time (following comments by George on Shacknews), so no one is being bilked out of anything.

      Besides, Battlecruiser 3000AD was Vaporware for like eight years, so as you can see there's worse things than never being released.

      • <quote Well the critical difference, I think, in what will be considered "criminal" in the Vaporware world is whether or not there's money involved</quote< When companies hype vapourware, there's *always* money involved. Whether it's to bilk investors or the general public shouldn't make a difference.
      • Re:Duke (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DickBreath (207180)
        I think, in what will be considered "criminal" in the Vaporware world is whether or not there's money involved. It's one thing to put on a smoke and mirrors show in order to get more investors money - and then not spend that money on what was claimed to be invested in.

        Investors? Investors?

        Why is investors money more important than Customer's money? In fact, screw the investors. If customers' money is stolen through vaporware, then the investors are not the ones who are wronged the most. The cust
        • Re:Duke (Score:4, Funny)

          by Exedore (223159) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:53PM (#6152979)

          Well, for one thing, in the case of DNF, no customer money is involved because no product has been released or sold yet.

          In my opinion saying "This software is gonna be Teh Best EVAR," spending your own money to develop it, and then failing miserably might make you look stupid (Hi, John Romero!), but it's not a crime. Hyping a potential product to investors and using the money to line the pockets of company officials may be another matter altogether.

          • Re:Duke (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Schnapple (262314)
            And in the specific case of a computer or video game, there's little chance of the consumer being ripped off, since there's systems in place like reviews, Internet commentary, demos, etc. If you're still concerned, buy from some place like GameStop that has a lenient take-back policy.

            Consumers didn't get hurt one bit by Daikatana taking four years too long, but Eidos took a $30M hit. Worse, the reviews, word of mouth and demo ensured that to this day the game sits in $5 dust bins.

            However, convincing peopl

            • And in the specific case of a computer or video game, there's little chance of the consumer being ripped off, since there's systems in place like reviews, Internet commentary, demos, etc

              What about reviewers that are paid off? What about 'studies' done about software feasability that have been paid off? (There seems to be a certain company I recall that used this tactic fairly prolificly in the past (present?)) These things hit many a person in the wallet, especially involving games.

              Would software review
      • Re:Duke (Score:2, Funny)

        "Besides, Battlecruiser 3000AD was Vaporware for like eight years"?

        What's wrong with that? 997 years early...
      • Re:Duke (Score:5, Funny)

        by Spectre (1685) on Monday June 09, 2003 @03:12PM (#6153176)
        I find it amusing that you abbreviated "Duke Nukem Forever" as DNF ... when that is a common race abbreviation for "Did Not Finish" ...
    • "Guess Duke Nukem Forever is really screwed..."

      Don't you get it? It's never going to come out! That's the joke! Naming it Duke Nukem' Forever is the entire thing as a one-liner! They never intended it to be released!
    • Do you think it's a coincidence that the initials for "Duke Nukem Forever are the same is "Did Not Finish" ?
  • by emo boy (586277) <hoffman_brian.bah@com> on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:24PM (#6152576) Homepage
    I think vaporware is critical on all levels in many different arenas. Not only for consumers but for developers as well. If companies aren't able to throw out plans and ideas then innovation is stifled. For consumers this give people a great place to see what is coming soon and to learn to expect more from technology companies thus pushing more and more creativity in the industry.
    • True, true. I can't abide by blatent lies though, it needs to be made known that 'features are in development', instead of promising things that might not ever solidify.
      • I can't abide by blatent lies though

        But which is the lie? The fact that two years ago Software 98 was the miracle end-all to solve all your problems? Or the fact that today, you need to upgrade because Software 98 is a steaming pile of <insert a certian market leading OS here>?
    • by ShatteredDream (636520) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:32PM (#6152695) Homepage
      I agree that tossing out ideas must remain legal, but there are different types of vaporware. I for one see no reasons why it should be legal to imply that you have a reasonable capability to deliver something when you know that you probably don't. That is called initiating fraud in libertarian terms. If I tell you I can build a house for you and all I know how to build is a basic shed, but I'm in the process of learning how to build a nice house, don't you think that's not merely tossing out an idea but rather fraud?
    • by DarkBlackFox (643814) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:40PM (#6152806)
      There is a differance between corporate vaporware and media vaporware.

      Corporate vaporware is when a company not only announces, but blatently promises to deliver a product, and never does. This is bad not only for the company's reputation, but for the industry and consumers, who prepare for and anticipate those "promised" products. However, it's the companies own fault for hyping something and not delivering.

      Media vaporware is differant. This is when a company floats a concept for potential software around, and somehow the media gets ahold of it. Suddenly, X company is working on Y product that will "revolutionize the modern computing experience," despite it's entire existance on a cocktail napkin thrown out of an executive session. This is dangerous for obvious reasons- now the companies reputation is in the hands of a third party, unbeknownst to them. Rumors start that a product is under development. Company denies product exists. Media reports company is scrapping project, even though it never existed. In this case, the company can not be held responsible for anything, since it's strictly the media which hypes, regardless of what the company says.

      Both are bad for the industry and the consumer, but the latter is worse, since it's out of the control of the company.
    • If companies aren't able to throw out plans and ideas...

      There's a difference between throwing out an idea for something and claiming you did something when you didn't. Looks like Enron was doing the latter.
    • at what point are the lines between vaporware, puffery and the Expected Fitness of the Product for a Particular Purpose (the definition of law used in negligence/torts involving warranties, no i'm not a lawyer, but i am the son of one, yes that does make me an asshole ;)) drawn? i admit i didn't read the article but can you sue AOL because it doesn't really offer the best internet experience ever but they advertise it does? at what point is software complete enough to be considered warrantied for whatever p
      • They all have the little asterix that says speeds are not guaranteed, and they all say "up to" 100 times faster. That said, I do actually occasionally achieve 500-600 KB/s downloads on my cable modem.
    • by mykepredko (40154) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:48PM (#6152913) Homepage
      Nobody would argue that it is critical for companies to announce where they are going, both for developers and customers.

      However, I have a big problem when a company says something exists or can do something when it doesn't. This is fraud.

      I don't see any issue for noting on advertisements and product packaging that a product will be able to support a given feature with an expected firmware upgrade or additional feature/download/whatever. The Internet is ideal for telling customers what is happening with their product and when/how/where updates will be available which will add the missing features.

      The carrot and stick for Vendors? I know that in my own case when I've bought something that didn't work as advertised, I make sure that people hear about the issues - while they sold one to a sucker (me), there is a net loss of all the people I can influence.

      myke
    • Throwing out plans is one thing, but promising your software does one thing, when, in reality, it does nothing of the kind is false advertising at the very least.

      Microsoft, in particular, gets away with murder dealing with this kind of stuff. They market their software as secure, cheap, and reliable, and it's hard to figure out what the hell they're talking about 90% of the time.

      And with companies like AOL, who profit off the ignorance of their subscribers with claims like "You can sort your email!" or "N
  • by ShatteredDream (636520) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:24PM (#6152579) Homepage
    If you really have to ask yourselves that you have an issue with real morality.....
    • by bmongar (230600) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:31PM (#6152673)
      Hmm, to me it would depend on what the statement is like. For example a statement like "We are planning a word processor that can improve your sex life" and then the magical sex life improving feature gets cut is ok. But "We have a word processor that can improve your sex life" is a lie. I realize improving your sex life is an insane feature it is just an example.
      As a developer I see features get cut because of feasability/time/customers weren't impressed with the feature in the vaporware announcements. So I think it is important to be allowed to talk about features you don't have.
  • by TWX (665546) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:25PM (#6152589)
    If release dates are touted and pushed and touted and pushed, would that constitute vaporware? I know of one company in particular that was guilty of that severely until August 24, 1995...
  • by The Bungi (221687) <thebungi@gmail.com> on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:25PM (#6152590) Homepage
    Everyone is guilty of hyping unreleased stuff. From commercial software companies like IBM, Microsoft and Sun to open source projects. Virtually no one is innocent if doing that type of thing, if only to keep interest alive.

    In this case I suspect the govt' is just trying to further stick it to Enron and set an example.

    • by DickBreath (207180) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:50PM (#6152935) Homepage
      Everyone is guilty of hyping unreleased stuff.

      Well, I guess that makes it all okay then.

      I hear this argument "Everyone in business would do what Microsoft has done" from a Microsoft shill coworker. My argument is always "Does that make it okay?"


      Everyone in politics is corrupt. So it must be okay.

      All of the copyright holders are persecuting search engine dude because his code could potentially tell you where to get mp3's. So it must be okay.

      (From the 70's, that's ninteen-seventies, last century...) Everyone litters. So it must be okay.

      All businesses would rather just dump their pollution into the river due to cost effectiveness. So it must be okay.

      So it is that case that as long as it is in the name of profit, that it is okay to do wrong? No matter what? If everyone else would also do it for profit, then it must be okay? Why don't we just get rid of many laws then?
  • Oh no! (Score:2, Funny)

    by teamhasnoi (554944)
    I guess the new level in Duke Nukem Forever will be the 'Licence Plate Factory'.
  • I don't know if this specific case is the right or wrong way to go about it, but there are a great many American companies that desperately need to have the fear of law put into them.
  • Sure! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:27PM (#6152613)
    Why shouldn't intentionally overstated "pre-announcements" intended to lure customers--especially to lure customers away from a competing product--be illegal? I'm thinking more long the lines of FTC-level deceptive trade practices sanctions here, rather than outright convictions for fraud.

    How about we apply the same logic to overstated legal claims, too? Especially those designed to spread FUD about a particular product, hmm?

  • If hypeing vaporware is a crime, then we don't have enough prison cells to lock them all up. We'll have to build more. Let's start today. Tell 3D Realms they've got until monday to deliver Duke Nukem Forever, or they're all going to the cornhole corral.
  • by richjoyce (582073) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:27PM (#6152621)
    IDNRTA, but is this applying to future predictions that don't hold true (ie. Duke Nukem Forever will exist sometime)? It seems Enron claimed that something existed at the time they said it, which didn't hold true. Surely companies should be able to state that their product will be at point b in production by date x, (whether they truly believe it or not) and then have it at only point a when date x rolls around.
    • An excellent point. Claiming a current product which is actually being sold includes features which are not present is fraud - Saying Duke Nukem Forever will be done "when it's done" is just disappointing.
      • "Claiming a current product which is actually being sold includes features which are not present is fraud"

        So, all of those Microsoft splash screens during the installers for Windows 95, 98, 98SE, and Millennium could allow us to sue them?!
  • Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Da_Biz (267075) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:27PM (#6152623)
    I'd be curious to see, specifically, what the "functionality" the case is talking about. I was the lead QA engineer for a time on the Broadband Streaming Media platform.

    The organization had a LOT of sharp engineers. Unfortunately, the management was completely incompetent and didn't allow many of the better engineers to have a say in functional requirements/technical specifications.

    There was also a disturbingly bad attitude that pervaded the works at EBS as well. Case in point: during one meeting, I made the point that the service level metrics they were using were horribly vague. I didn't believe we should do business like that (goodwill is, I think, an important concept in business), but their response was "oh, if they'res a problem, we'll just sick our lawyers on them." Assholes.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I suspect that an answer common to comments here will surface once again;

    Closed Source projects would be mostly 'at risk', as they can claim to do anything without simple review by the user/the masses to make sure of this.

    Open Source, however.. the client has the code, and can determine for themselves, or have determined by others, that the program will or will not live up to any claims.

    In other words - yet another instance where Open Source would be exempt from common practice based on the premise that
  • by Phronesis (175966) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:28PM (#6152633)
    The Times article suggested that the vaporware point would be very hard to prove. It is pitched as the weak link in the case, not as a groundbreaking strategy.

    Also, just for reference, even if the prosecution succeeds, it just means that you can't lie to shareholders about vaporware. There's still nothing wrong with sowing FUD against competitors by making vaporware claims in your advertising so long as you keep them out of your stock prospectus and annual report.

  • No big deal (Score:5, Funny)

    by ENOENT (25325) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:29PM (#6152644) Homepage Journal
    It's just the executives who go to jail. That's one of the risks that go along with the insane salaries, bonuses, interest free loans that get forgiven when they become inconvient, stock options, etc.

    Of course, if there were any real justice, every person in every marketing department everywhere would be forced to use nothing but vaporware to create their copy...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I fear the day a judge decides if a feature is implemented. Even if the decision is about "a reasonable person would conclude," we'd have yet another set of SCO lawsuits. Just what the world needs.
  • by BrynM (217883) * on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:30PM (#6152658) Homepage Journal
    3DRealms is in serious trouble if this goes through, but I doubt a judge would hear the case of millions of bummed out gamers wishing for Duke Nukem.

    It's interesting to see the possibility of a company called on vaporware though. Large companies get screwed all the time by sales people over-inflating the features of new versions forenterprise level software that they are shoehorned into buying in order to keep support of previous versions. Business is hurt by these tactics so much more than consumers, but it has become a (laughable) standard practice.

    Now if only we could find a way to punish software that did get released and just plain sucks (Microsoft Bob anyone?).

  • Would the world be better off or not if it was illegal to overpromote the functionality or features of software?

    For a start, most of the Microsoft execs would be in jail. Let's see ... life [ntk.net] without [valleyofthegeeks.com] Ballmer [tecchannel.de]... Yep! Clearly better off.

  • I think we can attribute this same kind of advertising to what you would see on TV in the middle of the night. "It slices! It dices! It feeds your pets!" This is the kind of marketing that everyone has grown used to. While in the computing industry there are numerous sites which review software products, the ability to download demos or trials, and then you can avoid the whole problem by using OSS..

    "Buyer Beware"
  • Rampant (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BWJones (18351) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:30PM (#6152669) Homepage Journal
    based upon the charge that Enron claimed that a software platform was more complete and more functional than it actually was.

    Boy, this sort of behavior is rampant among companies small and large. I have known several small software companies whose sales divisions were always making promises that were not grounded in reality. Promised functionality that had simply been discussed, but was not actually in code at the time. I'd say to the sales managers, "what the hell are you doing?" to which they would reply, "making sales".

    That was hugely dissapointing for me as I would much prefer a product based sales strategy where something is not announced until it is ready as opposed to a timeline driven or sales driven paradigm where products tend to be pre-announced and then released half-assed.

    • Re:Rampant (Score:3, Insightful)

      by st0rmshad0w (412661)
      "Promised functionality that had simply been discussed, but was not actually in code at the time. I'd say to the sales managers, "what the hell are you doing?" to which they would reply, "making sales"."

      And someone on the other end of the equasion was blindly believing the sales droid. Honestly this whole thing runs fairly parallel to buying a used car. The weasel in the bad suit is going to tell you anything he can to part you from your cash and you had better get the merchandise checked out before you c
    • Re:Rampant (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Arandir (19206)
      At my company we are not allowed to talk about our projects to anyone in marketing. Our internal websites are password protected to prevent marketing finding out what we're working on. In fact, development has its own "marketing" people internally so we can make reasonable marketplace decisions without marketing knowing about it.
  • by marcsiry (38594) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:31PM (#6152684) Homepage
    Law is notoriously slow to catch up to technology. It was years after the first car showed up that someone had the bright idea to install traffic lights, or impose a speed limit. More recently, file trading took the RIAA completely by surprise-- it was many months before they even acknoledged the problem, let alone started to take legal action.

    In the case of damaging actions which are currently part of accepted business practices, I think we'll start to see the law come around. I'm particularly interested in when the first major lawsuit against Microsoft will appear for lost business due to mass internet slowdowns from Outlook virus propogation.

    I just clicked over from MacMinute, where they reported the BugBear virus had slowed the .Mac service... not from vulnerabilities, but from sheer load on the infrastructure. All it takes is for some pissed off, Mac-using litigator to realize that negligence on the part of Microsoft is damaging a public utility, and we're off...
  • Blatant fraud aside, its the seller's fault if the buyer is an idiot? Everyone knows vendors are usually talking up whatever they need to to make a sale, all the more reason for very careful scrutiny of what they offer. Maybe if everyone learned a little about what they are buying or perhaps had whatever was being offered checked out by knowledgable people this wouldn't be an issue.

    In any case, where the hell is my flying car?

    • It's very much the seller's fault if the buyer is "an idiot". An idiot in this case would merely be anyone naieve enough to take a seller's claims at face value. An environment where seller's claims are completely unusable is highly inefficient. Any consumer should be able to trust the description of the product.

      As someone else said: If the dealer says that there's a v8 under the hood and 4 wheel ABS, the car damn well better have those features.

      One shouldn't have to verify all this piddly little crap wit
      • "If the dealer says that there's a v8 under the hood and 4 wheel ABS, the car damn well better have those features."

        Hell yes, and you know what your guarantee is? The sales contract that describes in detail what features are in the product being purchased. If you sign off on a deal for a V8 and they give you a V6, straight to court, case closed, contract violation.

        What seems to be the situation here is that instead of a straight product purchase (finished wares, ready to go) the continual promise of func
  • I can't wait for the day that it's illegal to make a banner look like a window, with a close button. or an OK button... or even make it look like an Instant Messenger window (I have a screenshot of a popup doing this!).

    Im suprised Microsoft/apple/AOL/whoever hasn't sued the pants off these banner companies for "stealing" their intellectual property and mimicking their GUI.

    And just to stay on topic:
    I think false advertising in any sense, software or other, should be illegal. When someone advertises feature
  • by dfn5 (524972) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:33PM (#6152705) Journal
    I do this all the time in my weekly staff meetings.

    Boss: How is that <insert latest project here> coming?
    Me: Oh, I'm almost done
    My Brain: Mental note. Start that damn project

  • Good - Let 'em burn! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by D4rkSt4lker (678569)
    Good! I'm sick and tired of buying software that is NOT up to par as the advertisements claim to me.

    For example, if I were to buy a car that was advertised at getting 80 MPG, I'd
    *EXPECT* 80 MPG!

    What is even worse than that is, you can't take the software product back!! (Or at least I have NOT found a store around here that'll take the product back)
    • Welll....in all the software licenses I've read, there's a big "Disclaimer" section that states that the only guarantee about the software is that it's going to take up space on your hard drive (actually, not even that for some things).
  • by jabbadabbadoo (599681) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:34PM (#6152715)
    ...now that Enron itself turned out to be a vaporfirm.
  • As a developer: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Vengeance (46019) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:34PM (#6152719)
    I think it would be great. It's the marketing clods and PHBs who oversell capabilities, product, and deliverable dates.

    Let's not even get started on Microsoft's legal status under such a regime.
  • Nice in theory. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tjrw (22407) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:34PM (#6152724) Homepage
    Sadly, in practice, all I foresee out of that is lots of lawyers stirring up trouble and making lots more money, and very little improvement for the end-user.

    Let's face it, part of the reason we have so much shoddy software about is because we, the end-users, encourage the behaviour (yes, I'm a Brit), by buying from whoever is first to market, rather than waiting for someone to release a quality debugged product. So, the people who cut corners are often rewarded and those who try to do "the right thing(TM)" are punished.
  • Its difficult to tell what is really going on from reading the article-- eg. what the claims really were or how it performed. But shouldn't it be up to the customer to decide if the product works or not? Hasn't it always been?

    Of course, this Enron product was not a clear cut scam. Misleading the customer is one thing, and its done all the time. Outright lying is quite another thing.

    (Oh good, I just checked my mail and my new Enron Penis Enlargement Pump arrived!)

  • Would the world be better off or not if it was illegal to overpromote the functionality or features of software?"

    If "overpromote" means we can now lose the phrase "not warranted for any particular use" from the various EULAs, then yes, we'd be better off. Software developers and distributors would then have to be people of their word, and their stuff would actually have to do what they say it does.
  • by jbuilder (81344) <[evadnikufesin] [at] [gmail.com]> on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:36PM (#6152741)
    Look at the history of the softare industry and you'll see that honesty is the best policy.

    Case in point -- Phillipe Kahn decided to "open the kimono" a bit and show off Paradox for Windows 18 months before it was ready to ship. Stock values went through the roof and people thought it was going to come out practially at any moment. Especially when he said it would be shipping in six months (18 months later it finally *did* ship).

    If they'd only known at the time just how rehearsed all of that was. When they realized Paradox for Windows *wasn't* going to ship any time soon, stock values dropped sharply and Borland was investigated to see if any wrongdoing had occured. Fortunately what had been decided was that Borland's board of the time was just stupid in showing a product too soon. R&D knew it wasn't ready, but overzealous management thought that R&D was just being too cautions. Next time, listen to those who are being honest with you. Don't listen to just what you want to hear...

    Today Borland (and many other software companies) all have the same policy; "We'll show it to you when it's ready. When will it be ready? When it is, that's when."

    Personally I think *every* software vendor should be honest in the cost and timeline of something. And the same holds true for other vendors as well. Look at King County, Washington and the now demolished King Dome. They took the lowest bid on the dome from a company that simply couldn't deliver based on the the timeline and cost to contruct the dome. The result - Seattlites for *years* had to content with something that was dark, dismal, looked like a garbage can, and is still *being paid for today* even tho it's been demolished and replaced. If they had gone with an *honest* vendor and an *honest* price, who knows - it might still be standing today....

    Now should you, as a software vendor, be held civially or criminally liable when you are less than honest about what you can deliver and when? No. I think you should be punished accordingly - your business should go elsewhere and you should simply cease to exist when your customers disappear. That's what's happened in the past and it's been effective. Many of the companies that couldn't deliver on their promises have gone. Or they *learned* (as in the case of Borland) and have gone on to thrive.

  • by raehl (609729) * <raehl311@[ ]oo.com ['yah' in gap]> on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:36PM (#6152743) Homepage
    Between saying you expect to release a product with certain features on a given date and not making it, and saying that you have a product that has certain features right now when you don't.

    A release date is a plan. Plans change. A statement that you have something you don't is a lie.
  • Already illegal (Score:3, Informative)

    by Junks Jerzey (54586) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:36PM (#6152750)
    This is already illegal for publicly traded companies. Just look at any press release and you'll see all the required legal disclaimers about "forward looking" information and all that. But you can still get into trouble by misleading shareholders.
  • Would the world be better off or not if it was illegal to overpromote the functionality or features of software?

    It might be a better place without the overpromotion of the functionality and features of a lawsuit.
  • Itâ(TM)s not the action itself that was illegal, but the end to which it was done.

    The point of this article is not that it should be illegal to taught a feature and then not ship it, but rather that doing so with the intended effect of artificially manipulating the market is illegal (and always has been). Most of the time, I think that you can argue that the effect that these kinds of practices have on the market is negligible; the tech market is fairly savvy to the hype most people spew. The differ
  • Well, I don't think that I am much different that every other person who has managed a project - an internal project not for public knowledge. I would say that everyone who ever reported to me, shade the truth, fibbed, stretched the truth and out right lied to me. Some were more guilty of it but if there was one thing that everyone understood - the truth could get you fired so lets hide it.
  • by Jonsey (593310)
    Just remember folks, Diakatana was VaopurWare for quite a while. Be careful what you wish for.
  • Yes! Absolutely! (Score:3, Informative)

    by alchemist68 (550641) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:39PM (#6152786)
    Would the world be better off or not if it was illegal to overpromote the functionality or features of software?"

    The world would be a much better (happier users) and safer (less security risks). The Borg would lose its monopoly if people really knew how badly engineered Microsoft software is put together. I'm not trying to be a troll, but everyone here on Slashdot knows that M$, for a while, was coming out with weekly security updates for Internet Explorer and Internet Information Server. Even the US government hinted that M$ better get its act together and repair its flawed products after 9/11, saying that our information infrastructure was at risk to attacks. Apple seems to do a better job of weeding out the bugs before the public en mass downloads any updates to Mac OS X. And Apple is certainly much faster at fixing known bugs in its software. Look at how fast it was in clearing up the iTunes internet sharing flaw - one week to get the update out, only to be thwarted again by the UNIX heads playing around with port numbers, etc... At least the music is "protected" from sharing not "in the know".
  • Would the world be better off or not if it was illegal to overpromote the functionality or features of software?"

    Let's see .... do we make people give truthful and accurate information about their businesses and products (when they choose to say something) or do we let people say anything they feel like saying?

    When I was in law school, I learned a name for the act described as:

    1. Knowingly stating false information; or recklessly stating information with disregard for its truth or falsity; or omitting in
  • by pcraven (191172) <paul&cravenfamily,com> on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:40PM (#6152799) Homepage
    I worked with a product manager who thought it was a cool idea to release an announcement that we were taking preorders for Product X. If there were enough preorders, we'd make the product. Otherwise the product wasn't worth the business.

    Free market research. But that company is all but out of business now.

  • Hmmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by M.C. Hampster (541262) <M.C.TheHampster@gmail. c o m> on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:40PM (#6152800) Journal
    Would the world be better off or not if it was illegal to overpromote the functionality or features of software?

    Only if it's illegal to say that drinking a certain type of beer is going to get you more women.

  • by Sean80 (567340) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:40PM (#6152810)
    Amazingly, I discovered the other day that, in the UK, you're not allowed to specifically say that your product is better than some other company's. Instead, you apparently just have to go on about how great your own product is. Now if that doesn't take the heart and soul out of marketing, then I don't know what does.

    I suppose you have to break down the argument into what a product -does- and what benefits it will give you. Perhaps lying about the actual features of a product is bad, but it seems a much more difficult problem to sort out who's lying about what the benefits of the existing features are. What beer isn't supposed to make you a sex god? Which software product isn't going to save you millions of dollars? Which car ad is going to tell you in big, bold letters on the screen that driving like that is going to get you some pretty serious jail time? Flat-out lies right there, but how could you call the companies on this?

    If you're not allowed to hyperbolize about your product, then the entire marketing industry is doomed. I'm pretty damn sure that the folks at McDonalds couldn't give a flying proverbial at a rolling donut whether I'm smiling or not.....

  • by JSkills (69686) <.jskills. .at. .goofball.com.> on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:44PM (#6152870) Homepage Journal
    But my favorite move by the marketing guy, who after telling me he just sold some functionality/product/magic-button that doesn't exist to an advertiser and then me explaining to him how the project can't reasonably fit into the development schedule (or can even be done at all) is :

    "So what do you want me to do? Give the $50,000 back to the advertiser?"

    Never mind the agreement between the marketing team and our development team that marketing cannot promise a delivery date on anything before at least having a short conversation with us first - it can often be that surreal, on par with a Dilbert cartoon ...

  • "Would the world be better off or not if it was illegal to overpromote the functionality or features of software?"

    While I don't think any sort of government punishment is called for, I think the world would be better off without product hype when the hype-ers know that it will either be not this functional, or not even have this function whatsoever.

    The punishment is already there. It's when the public and investors start doubting every word a company says.
  • They have been jerking around the press/graphic arts industry for years! Steve Jobs even made a reference to them in a speech, calling them the 'latecomers' or some such thing.

    I don't know if Apple and Quark had any sort of 'arrangement' with the OS X version, but Quark definitely dropped the ball and hurt Apple sales.

    Frankly, I'm now using InDesign, which is native OS X and *so* rocks over Quark I can't believe I ever touched that pile of code. I've been spreading the word, and Quark may become vapor i

  • Ask Germany (Score:4, Interesting)

    by oldstrat (87076) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:46PM (#6152897) Journal

    I would expect that the Greman readers of /. could best answer the question of truth in advertising.
    Whin I lived there in the early Late 70's, early 80's one of the cultural differences between Germany and the United States that stood out was that the law prohibited making false claims, and was strictly enforced. If Volkswagen claimed that it's car was better than Ford of Germany, it has better be specific, and provable, not just opinion, inference, subjection.
    And the Government took great joy in persuit.

    So would software be better if it had to tell the truth? Again, Ask Germany.
  • by DailyGrind (456659) on Monday June 09, 2003 @02:46PM (#6152899) Homepage
    Hey,

    Is the software industry the only one that "overpromotes"?

    see any weapons of mass distraction yet?

  • Good Morning, Class...


    Today's topic: Would the world be a better or worse place if we prosecuted software companies just like anyone else when they commit acts of false advertising?


    Divide up into small groups and discuss.

  • Because I don't think the Pentium chips really "make the Internet faster."

    ~Philly
  • by jd (1658)
    Well, going on the premise that tax refunds help everyone, and that this would lead to a 40 billion dollar refund from Microsoft....


    I can't see how it could really hurt anyone.

  • In many software projects that I've used, there was usually a "wish list" of some sort. It seemed clear that these were features that were, for all intents, yet to be included.

    But a lot of people have made valid points. What constitutes "vaporware"? Does the mere inclusion of such a wish list make these features vaporware?

    I think that, rather than having the courts do this, let the people figure it out. True, it won't work out so well (Windows 95, anyone?), but why should the courts have a say in ho

  • So, what happens in this case: The engineers/ programmers start the project, and are later asked by sales to come up with a list of features. The sales people start the hype train. Project goes over budget (or some VP thinks it's takig too long), and it gets release before it's time?
    Now you've got software that doesn't do what you said it would. It happens in manufacturing, and I'm sure it happens in every other industry.
    • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Monday June 09, 2003 @03:01PM (#6153077) Homepage

      As a programmer you make sure you document what you promised and on what schedule. And you make sure you can deliver as promised. Then when sales starts promising more faster and gets nailed by this, you can produce the documentation showing that you were delivering on your promises. Then it'll come back on Sales for promising more than they were told would be delivered. And it'll probably be worse for them, because your documentation trail will show that they knew they were over-promising and courts tend to be harder on people who deliberately write checks they can't cash.

  • The International Herald Tribune has the story on their site with no registration or pop-ups: In Enron case, criminalizing hype [iht.com].
  • If something like this happens, would it be just for software? Where does the line end? This is a very gray area. How many times have you seen roads or bridges "scheduled to be completed by and yet you're still taking a detour six months later? Does that mean we'd get to send the DOT or workers to jail? New features for phones, new concept cars that are supposed to be in production in X years, restaurants that are supposed to open...this kind of thing happens all the time. Hell, do I get to send my mom to
  • Puffery, exaggeration and just plain lying to the public about your product is usually considered pretty tame stuff, especially if you qualify your fibs with enough weasel words ("we believe", "according to" "you should see" "tests show", etc.). Even if you don't qualify them, but use your tall tales primarily to sell the product, you usually don't incur the govt's wrath (health claims excluded). No one is generally prosecuted for falsely claiming they make the best widget or for failing to meet a delivery
  • by Stonent1 (594886) <stonent AT stone ... intclark DOT net> on Monday June 09, 2003 @03:05PM (#6153105) Journal
    It all comes down to that. Marketing people are not accountants or financial analysts. Their job is to oversell everything. Then the legal department has to come in and put disclaimers all over the press releases.
  • Better... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Monday June 09, 2003 @03:12PM (#6153181) Journal

    Would the world be better off or not if it was illegal to overpromote the functionality or features of software?

    Overpromote in what way? If you say that a feature exists, knowing that it doesn't, with the intent to make a profit, that's fraud, and you should be charged criminally with it.

    One sticking point you might notice with my definition is that you have to know that you are lying, and that has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • by penguinlust (669507) on Monday June 09, 2003 @03:21PM (#6153289)
    After reading many on the comments here I have a number of things I would like to say. First, for the last 16 years I have tried to honestly create solutions that are innovative and useful. At the same time I have tried to set expectations and schedules that were achievable. This can be a difficult process and is made more difficult by both the engineers and management.

    At one company a number of years ago (who shall remain nameless), I was told by my manager to cut my schedule in half. This should be based on hireing 3 new engineers (doubling my staff). And then she said it did not matter if they were actually hired (we had no reqs for them) because it was expected that software schedules will slip.

    I the other side I have not been selected for several very interesting projects as an engineer because I was honest with the manager about the chances of success on time. I would not commit to having a product on a data I knew could not be achived. On at least two of these I was brought in in the end to try and work some of the problems out. One was so badly done I left for another company rather than be stuck with it.

    Since then I have been just and engineer on a couple of projects and back in the low level manager / project architect position on a couple others. I now have an MBA and more training in project managment. I still do not know how to adaqutly bring the two levels together.

    The MBA tought me some basic business information which has helped me alot. It also tought lots about managing employees that I beleive are more contributors to the problem than solutions. And I think this is the basic problem with Enron Broadband screw up.

    Enron is just one example of the problem. The whole dot com crap more of the same. Most of it starts with somebody who has an idea, builds a business case for it and downplays all the problems. Expectations to investors are set that are unrealistic due to lack of business sense. Investors put money into it no understanding the technical road blocks and set expectations back to the company that are unrealistic. A great deal of this goes beyond tacking a calculated risk.

    In this industry, everyone has a grand story with a kernel of truth. Open source software is no different. I like it because I can take the source and solve my own problems if I have the time. However, a very small percentage of people can do this so it is at best a minor argument. Much of the claims I have seen over the years are out right fraud. I left companies that were good because a buy out changed companies from engineering to hype / fraudulent.

    Big business in the US is based mostly on hype. To keep "market share" this is necessary. Enron Broadband was a hype. It had a core of truth masked by hype in a search for that all important market share. In this case it was also fraudulent because its hype was so large that it was out right lieing and not just streaching the truth. It occured because business in the good old US of A is about making money and NOT about producing products. As long os the multi nationals can keep paying off politicians this will not change.

    My tirade is ended. All of you who stated you could go to jail if this is true, check your resumes. In the economy today getting fired is just as bad as going to jail. Maybe you are guilty.
  • by swb (14022) on Monday June 09, 2003 @03:56PM (#6153685)
    Would the world be better off or not if it was illegal to overpromote the functionality or features of software?

    Too many of society's current problems have to do with the ever-widening gulf between "legally acceptable" and "morally unacceptable", particularly in the business world. WorldCon, Enron, the whole investment banking industry pump 'n' dump of the late 90s, the car dealer, and many commonly accepted marketing practices can ALL be blamed on people doing "what's legal" but which are by any common standard of ethics dishonest.

    Even spam (especially spam?) can largley be blamed on people marketing "products" which really don't work or for promoting "deals" which really aren't.

    It'd be great to see more significant penalties and more streamlined punishment procedures for what essentially amounts to dishonesty for dollars.

    The case of vaporware is essentially just a subset of the larger problem, and can be a particularly malicious tool used by big companies against small companies when product choices and switching are high-cost endeavors.
  • If I say I'm selling a V-8 and it's actually a V-6, that's illegal. There should be no difference in the software world! The companies know what the software does, and if they say it does more than it really is capable, they are attempting to deceive their customers.
  • Not an issue (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CAIMLAS (41445) on Monday June 09, 2003 @04:21PM (#6154017) Homepage
    This isn't an issue, because anyone that installs commericial software (typically) forfits any right to protest, copy, refund, etc. before they even install it through the court-proven click-through EULA.

    I suspect it would mostly apply to more of the custom-application market (banks, hospitals, restraunts, etc.)

"And do you think (fop that I am) that I could be the Scarlet Pumpernickel?" -- Looney Tunes, The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones)

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