At that time the personal computer market was in its infancy, and it was common for computer manufacturers to supply the software that ran on them, which would rarely work on other manufacturers' machines.
Software development would often lag behind the development of the system's computer hardware. As a result, some computer manufacturers advertised extravagant software packages that allegedly came with their machines, but had not yet been completed, or in some cases, hardly begun, in an effort to sell their hardware and encourage further software development.
In other cases, vaporware may be announced by companies in order to damage the development or marketability of more real products by competitors, sometimes in combination with a campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt; if customers believe the hype, they may put off purchasing the real product to wait for its vaporous rival to mature.
Another possible (and, in most jurisdictions, illegal) reason for announcing vaporware is to cause an uptick in the stock prices of a publicly traded company. This can then be used to gain more investment capital or allow officers of the company to sell shares on the "hype" of the software that may or may not ever be completed. (see pump and dump).
Allegations of anticompetitive vaporware, as well as concerns within the software industry prompted David Dranove (of Northwestern University) and Neil Gandal (of Tel Aviv University, University of California, Berkeley) to conduct an empirical study designed to measure the effect of the DIVX preannouncement on the DVD market. This study suggests that the DIVX preannouncement slowed down the adoption of DVD technology. According to Dranove and Gandal, the study suggests that the "general antitrust concern about vaporware seems justified.
In certain cases, as with Donkey Kong Racing, a title may no longer be able to be created due to a change in ownership rights. In that case, Rareware was purchased by Microsoft, essentially preventing it from producing any more console games in the Donkey Kong franchise.
Sometimes vaporware is the result of over-optimism, and may actually materialize after a long waiting time (sometimes years). One example of this was the long-delayed Apple Macintosh word processor FullWrite Professional, announced by Ann Arbor Softworks in January 1987 for delivery that April, and actually delivered in late 1988.
In the United Kingdom, Sir Clive Sinclair's Sinclair Research Ltd was quite notorious for its tardy product delivery cycle; various flat-screen displays, miniature televisions, the Sinclair QL business computer and Sinclair C5 electric car, the advanced Loki and several other projects were either late, unfinished, or entirely fictitious.
Several years before CD-R was introduced, Tandy Corporation had promised a fully recordable CD format called Thor-CD, but after being pushed back for several years, it was finally shelved due to technical limitations, and then became known as "Vapordisc".
Sometimes the delays or eventual shelving of a software product is caused by a corporate merger or internal strife within the company.
Peter Molyneux earned the dubious reputation of promoting games with lofty goals, such as Dungeon Keeper, Black & White, Fable, and The Movies, but often ended up having to remove copious amounts of features due to release date pressure or system limitations.
The biggest example of this is the computer game Daikatana, which was announced in 1997 but did not ship until 2000. Many who had waited felt the gameplay was disappointing. Ultima IX was released to savage reviews in 1999, due to numerous bugs, unbalanced gameplay and high system requirements.
The Spartan was possibly the first, classic example of vaporware in hardware. It was an Apple II emulator for the Commodore 64 that attached to the back of the computer and added a full complement of Apple II expansion slots and I/O ports. At the time of its announcement, the Apple II had the largest software library of any home computer, while the Commodore 64 was a relative newcomer. A C64/Spartan combination would have had a price advantage over the Apple II, in addition to its C64 capability. By the time of the product's release, however, over two years later, the 64 had matured into a wildly successful platform in its own right, and few of its users cared about Apple compatibility.
Another is Silicon Film, a proposed digital sensor cartridge for film cameras that would allow older cameras to take digital photographs yet require no modification. Announced in late 1998, Silicon Film was to work just like a roll of 35mm film, with a 1.3 megapixel sensor behind the lens and a battery and storage unit fitting in the film holder in the camera. The product, which never materialized, became increasingly obsolete due to improvements in digital camera technology and affordability. The original concept for Silicon Film evaporated in 2001 when the parent company filed for bankruptcy. A year later, a new Silicon Film product was announced that would replace the back of film cameras with a 10-megapixel sensor and LCD display; this product also has yet to materialize.
An added risk to this approach is increased software instability, as rapidly growing software can generate increased amounts of unforeseen bugs, glitches, security holes and other problems that can sometimes go unnoticed for weeks and months. These bugs may indeed never get fixed at all, the patches required to address the issues themselves becoming new vaporware items.
Microsoft's Longhorn OS was first discussed in 2001 as a minor update to Windows XP, and intended to be released in 2004, but multiple successive delays and changes in strategy led some to call it "Longwait". Longhorn garnered third place in Wired's Vaporware Awards in 2004 and 2005. Wired quoted a reader as saying, "If Microsoft keeps on pushing back the dates for Longhorn and removing features from it, they might as well just promise to bundle Duke Nukem Forever with the OS." The Longhorn project was eventually named Windows Vista. Microsoft released the OS to businesses at the end of November 2006, while releasing it to home users was delayed until January 30, 2007.
One such example is the video game Duke Nukem Forever, which has been in development for over twelve years, announced shortly after the success of Duke Nukem 3D in 1996 and with an original projected release date of 1998. The game has since won Wired News's Vaporware Awards numerous times. It placed in second in 2000 and topped the list in 2001 and 2002. Wired News created the Vaporware Lifetime Achievement Award exclusively for Forever and awarded it in 2003. George Broussard accepted the award, simply stating, "We're undeniably late and we know it. It did not make the list in 2004, but Leander Kahney noted that they had received a lot of nominations for the game. By popular demand, it topped the list again in 2005. Currently, Duke Nukem Forever has been announced (once again) to be in full production, still however without a specified release date. Wired once again awarded Duke Nukem Forever the first place in 2006 and 2007.
Another classic example of vaporware is Turbo Pascal for the Amiga computer which was announced when Borland placed a full page advertisement in the Fall 1985 premier edition of AmigaWorld magazine. It never shipped and was quietly dropped a few years later. Though it never formally received an award, it was periodically mentioned over the decade that followed in various computer-related magazines due to the notoriety of Borland and the splash that the full page ad created for the then just-released Amiga 1000.
Another prime example of a redemptive vaporware could be Team Fortress 2 (announced in 1998) which, after a redesign from a more realistic character and level design to a more cartoonish character design reminiscent of Pixar movies, received glowing hands-on previews, and it was finally released on Oct.10, 2007 (playable since Sept.21 as an open beta for people who preordered "The Orange Box" pack).