The Top 15 Vaporware Products of All Time

These big ideas were supposed to revolutionize technology, but they never actually appeared. In a few cases, you'll be glad they didn't.

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4. Taligent and Microsoft Cairo

Steve Jobs, ousted from Apple's board of directors, left the company in 1986 and founded NeXT Computer. In 1989, NeXT released its first computer to great acclaim. Though the NeXT computer was only a modest commercial success, its launch and the technology it demonstrated (including the advanced NeXTSTEP operating system) galvanized three companies in particular: Apple, IBM, and Microsoft.

What NeXT had done, seemingly out of nowhere, was create an object-oriented operating system. (Among other things, such a design makes reusing programming code easier.) Apple had already started work in 1987 on an object-oriented operating system code-named Pink, but was struggling against internal politics to deliver anything even close to a finished product.

In 1992, the Pink project moved to Taligent, a joint venture between Apple and IBM. IBM, having recently parted ways with Microsoft over OS/2, had already started work on a microkernel called WorkplaceOS. Taligent merged the work on Pink and WorkplaceOS, with the intent of releasing a multiplatform operating system named TalOS.

While the group did eventually release an object-oriented programming environment named CommonPoint for OS/2 and various flavors of Unix, the actual Taligent operating system never surfaced. The company was absorbed into IBM in 1998.

In 1991, Microsoft launched the Cairo project--by several accounts, as a direct response to NeXT. Cairo promised a distributed, object-oriented file system (Object File Store, or OFS) that indexed a computer or network's file structure and contents automatically.

Several versions of Windows NT came and went as Cairo continued development, shifting targets all the while. Eventually the company referred to Cairo as the successor to Windows NT Server, and then as a collection of technologies. Cairo development ended in 1996.

Incidentally, two of these object-oriented ventures ended up generating technologies that lots of people use today. Bits and pieces of Cairo (in addition to conventions from Mac OS and NeXTSTEP) helped inspire the Windows 95 interface, and formed the building blocks for Exchange, Server, Active Directory, and Windows Desktop Search. (The OFS vision morphed into the Windows File System, aka WinFS, which was promised for Longhorn but removed from the feature list by the time it became Vista.) Apple bought NeXT in 1997 and got Steve Jobs with the deal; NeXTSTEP became the foundation of Mac OS X.

3. Silicon Film EFS-1

At the end of the Digital Imaging Marketing Association (DIMA) show in February 1998, a company called Imagek announced its Electronic Film System unit, the EFS-1, to a small group of journalists. The EFS-1 aimed to fulfill the dreams of many professional photographers: In principle, the EFS-1 would act as a replacement for a 35mm film cartridge in any camera, allowing anyone to use their existing, familiar photo equipment to take digital pictures.

Despite the considerable engineering challenges that the company faced, Imagek expected to have a working demo unit a few months later, and a sub-$1000 unit on store shelves a few months after that.

Observers greeted the announcement with some skepticism, and to no one's surprise Imagek missed its target dates. However, it did release specs, some of which were admittedly modest: The (e)Film cartridge had a 1.3-megapixel CMOS sensor, able to fit 24 1280-by-1024-resolution uncompressed images in its on-board memory before the user needed to offload them to a computer or a CompactFlash card via the included (e)Port carrier. (The entire hardware and software package was now collectively referred to as the EFS-1.)

Because of the sensor size, the captured image would be only about 35 percent of the camera's full frame. And forget universality for the time being: The EFS-1 worked with just seven Canon and Nikon cameras.

Aside from a name change (to Silicon Film), some Web site updates, and a few sample images, nothing new came out of the company until the 2001 PMA show, when Silicon Film publicly demonstrated the EFS-1, exactly three years after the initial announcement.

Skeptics were less inclined to mutter "vaporware," but the projected June release date passed with no product to be seen. That September, Silicon Film suspended operations when Irvine Sensors, a 51 percent shareholder of Silicon Film, withheld further funding over problems with European environmental standards. Irvine Sensors' press release also obliquely noted "present market circumstances," which may have been a polite way of referring to the falling prices and increasing quality of digital cameras, including SLRs.

Silicon Film's last gasp directly addressed that last point: The EPS10-SF, announced the following year, produced 10-megapixel images while supporting more cameras and providing a 2.5-fps burst rate and an LCD preview screen. And then the company was gone.

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