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5. Palm Foleo

Palm Computing's founder, Jeff Hawkins, is a lucky guy. What few people have done once--define a product category--he has done twice, first with the original PalmPilot PDA and later with Handspring's Treo smart phone. (Both categories existed before Hawkins' inventions, but Palm's products made them accessible enough for nontechnophiles to latch on to.)

On May 30, 2007, Hawkins went for the hat trick when he announced the Palm Foleo, a $499 Linux-based subnotebook designed to synchronize with a smart phone so that business travelers could, among other things, work on documents and e-mail without cramping their thumbs.

Even such notable features as its 2.5-pound weight and its instant-on feature failed to muster more than a collective "Why?" from the digerati. Stuck somewhere between a PDA and a notebook in power and size, it seemed to be only an extra device to carry around, with too much feature overlap.

Our own Editor in Chief Harry McCracken was part of the vocal minority who thought that the Foleo was being hastily prejudged, and hands-on reviews alternated between positive and negative. Barely three months after Hawkins presented the Foleo, Palm pulled the plug on it, citing a need to "get our core platform and smartphones done first." McCracken agreed, writing that the "Foleo was likely to be a distraction at a time when Palm couldn't afford to be distracted--and probably a LifeDrive-like flop, too."

Some people might argue that Hawkins could yet be vindicated, as low-cost, lightweight laptops such as the Asus Eee PC seem to be catching on despite being underpowered--good enough for some tasks, but not as feature-packed as a full-featured notebook.

4. Taligent and Microsoft Cairo

Image courtesy of RoughlyDrafted.com
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.

Thanks again to RoughlyDrafted.com for the image.

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