The Vaporware Fog: How To Be Vapor-Wary

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It’s noisy in the marketplace. Undoubtedly, you are spoiled with all the choices when browsing the shiny new software tools that could be exactly what you want. Be wary, however, — they could also be the wrong items, distorted by the vaporware fog.

Vaporware is the fog of the software world. It’s non-existent software and functionality that can make it more difficult to determine which software products will help, and which will waste your time.

You must be able to avoid vaporware, but it’s not easy to identify. When buying software, what considerations will provide you with the best opportunity to evade the fog of vaporware?

The vaporware fog

Vaporware has earned this name, because it is  software (and other technology) that doesn’t exist outside an exaggerated sales pitch or a marketing team’s embellishment. It can come from anywhere — from massive companies to tiny start-ups keen to attract their first customers.

Vaporware can also disguise itself as futureware. Futureware is functionality planned within a product roadmap, or already in development. Futureware doesn’t exist yet, but it will exist during the future. It becomes vaporware when companies announce it, believing it will be created, only to fail to deliver expectations. (Think the Phantom gaming console, for example.)

Vaporware is most commonly created due to the fear of losing a client or prospective customer. It’s a result of the need to close a new customer, the desire to keep a competitive edge or simply a product of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Shining a light

As frustrating as vaporware is, it’s rarely born of a desire to trick customers. In the moment, the marketing team or sales rep will likely believe the functionality they’re promising is available now or will be soon. Sometimes, stretching the capability of a feature — or even just letting customers make incorrect assumptions — is all too easy.

The problem with vaporware is, of course, you’ll never receive the product, feature or function you were promised (or worse, paid to acquire). It wastes your time and it never solves the initial problem.

When you’re worried the software you’re buying might be vaporware, there are a few points to consider.

Point #1: The track record

Actions speak louder than words, and a company’s track record can help you determine whether the word of the company is golden or hype.

  1. How trustworthy is the vendor?

Look at multiple reviews and case studies — are people happy with the software, or find it lacking? If people are complaining of poor functionality or undelivered expectations, then the provider could be a vaporware vendor.

  1. How long has the vendor been promising the software without releasing it?

For new software, it can help to re-read press releases or product roadmaps and determine when the software was first announced. If it’s been more than a year, then the program is more likely to be vaporware hype than a product in development.

Point #2: The current software/product

If the company already has an existing product you’re considering buying, then focus on what it can do for you now, instead of the promises of future functionality.

  1. Does the company offering the software have an existing product?

If so, then does it address the problems you want the software to solve? Can the vendor testify to the software’s capabilities in a formal RFI or RFP? When evaluating SaaS products, be sure to apply your criteria, and be ruthless.

  1. Is there a free trial or live demo?

Live demos and free trials serve as proof the software exists or is beta-ready. If neither exist to see or try, then ask why not. Perhaps, it’s because the software doesn’t exist. No tangible proof of existence means the promised software is more likely to be vaporware.

Point #3: The pitch and the promise

A common time for the vaporware fog to descend is during the sales pitch. It distorts existing features by showing them stretched and twisted to offer a function they simply aren’t designed to deliver.

  1. Was the feature in the initial sales pitch, or added later?

Was the functionality you want mentioned initially or after you asked questions or even started to disengage from the sales pitch? If it’s the latter, then the feature may not be as capable to provide the function you want as effectively as you believed.

  1. Has the function or feature been actively promised?

Sometimes, we assume that a software product can perform a function or solve a problem, and we simply aren’t told that it can’t. If the salesperson actively promised the functionality or the promise was the result of an assumption that an existing feature could cover the function in question, then you may find yourself in a vaporware fog.

Be vapor-wary

It’s always difficult to know for certain whether a product is futureware or vaporware. You can, however, shine a light through the vaporware fog with candid questions and careful considerations.

Companies must work to avoid vaporware, but in the meantime, customers must be vapor-wary.

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Niamh Reed is a copywriter for Parker Software – a UK software house specialising in providing business process automation and live chat software worldwide.