Vaporlock

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A few days ago, someone complained about the current vaporness of nVidia’s GeForce 6800 Ultra. He thought it rather wrong that this product wasn’t available a month after introduction.

He then asked us what we thought about it.

Unfortunately, vaporware is to the computer world what Mom and apple pie are to America.

However, there are different kinds of vapor, and some are worse than others.

Really bad vapor has one or both of the following qualities:

  • The maker of the product provides too much information to ignore, but not enough information to judge: If you say that your upcoming Product X is
    a whole lot better than Their Product Y, but don’t release enough information to let people make a ballpark estimate as to whether it’s better and by roughly how much, that serves to freeze people in their decision-making process.

  • The maker of the product says Real Soon Now for a Real Long Time. If a product is promised by date X, and 30, 60, 90 days later, you’re still saying “the check is in the mail,” the longer you do that, the less likely people frozen by your early announcement would have frozen their buying decision had they known how long it would take, and the less happy they’ll be with you. The question then becomes, “How long is too long?”

    Judging nVidia?

    Based on these criteria, is nVidia guilty of bad vapor?

    No, or at least not yet.

    They aren’t guilty on the first charge, because there’s been enough in the way of reviews for people to ascertain how the card fares against the competition and make a reasonably informed judgement about it. .

    The jury is still out on charge number two, but if these products do show up at the end of the month, beginning of next, six weeks is not an unconscionable length of time to wait. This is especially the case when the competition’s equivalent on the high end (the X800 XT) is equally unavailable.

    Bad vapor usually pits nothing against something. Right now, though, the nVidia/ATI situation is really nothing vs. nothing, vapor vs. vapor. You can’t complain about a bad choice when you effectively can’t make a choice yet.

    Now if one of the prime contenders show up August 1, and the other guy is saying “real soon” well after Labor Day, then we have a different situation where bad vapors start steaming out.

    But we’re not at that point yet.

    Shooting Oneself In the Foot

    The author thinks that products shouldn’t be announced until they’re ready in the store. That would be nice, but unfortunately, that sentiment has the same problem as “There should be no more war.”

    What do you do when someone does otherwise?

    In this situation, the author says that if nVidia doesn’t deliver products on time, people will go over to their competition, and that would be bad.

    This would be quite true if nVidia/ATI decided just for the hell of it to withhold supplies of the card. However, this isn’t too likely. Almost certainly, these cards haven’t been around because these two can’t quite supply them yet.

    Let’s presume both companies knew full well that they couldn’t deliver until August 1. If both were honest and said so, neither would get an advantage over the other. If neither were honest and said nothing, again, you have a competitive standoff.

    However, if one were honest, and one kept quiet, the one who kept quiet would get the edge from impatient people preordering. Those impatient people may end up being ticked off in the end, but the dishonest one has their money, and this industry simply does not think long-term.

    Are the less-than-honest ones shooting themselves in the foot? To some degree, of course.

    But, just between the two of us, why don’t you literally shoot yourself in the foot every once in a while? You don’t because you’ve heard and believe that it hurts a lot and makes it rather harder to walk around on it.

    If someone cast a magic spell would let you shoot yourself in the foot, and not only would it not hurt or do any immediate damage, but actually feel pretty good for a while, wouldn’t you be more likely to do so?

    This is basically how the vapor makers feel about it. It’s taking lemons and making lemonade from it. From their perspective, they just see a net plus in some more sales than they would have otherwise. Provided they don’t vapor too much a la Voodoo, the negatives don’t show up until later, maybe years later, so they don’t count.

    So long as vapor means net extra sales from impatient people, it’s going to continue.

    It’s like negative advertising in politics. People don’t like it, but nonetheless, it usually works. The only way you make it stop working is by making it hurt rather than help.

    So these companies “shoot” themselves in the foot, and it not only doesn’t hurt them; they think it feels good. They have the gun, and you’re the foot. The only way you’re going to stop them from shooting themselves to feel good is to make it hurt so much, right away, that they won’t do it again.

    And one person can’t normally do that, no matter what they do or how vengeful they get. So often, I see people unhappy with some company or product, and they say, “I’ll never buy from them again” like they were the key to the company’s future existence, like they were Michael Dell Plus.

    I have news for you. They don’t care, not even when you claim to speak for huge numbers of people. They know you aren’t, and they have the sales figures to prove it. There’s no point bluffing when the folks you’re trying to bluff know it’s a bluff. The only person it impresses is yourself.

    Not even a bunch of like-minded people can usually do that. There are tons of ThisCompanySucks.com websites out there, but I haven’t seen too many companies go down as a result of it. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard, and the bigger they are, the harder it is to make them fall.

    If a company is bad enough, long enough, it will eventually take its toll. However, being a little bad for a little while usually doesn’t, especially when all sides do something bad every once in a while.

    I suppose I have more “pull” than the average person in this arena. For quite some time, I’ve been saying, “Don’t buy from Intel or AMD for now.” Have some of you listened to me? Sure. Is either Intel or AMD in any danger of folding or even being much inconveniened by my action? Of course not, and I would sign myself into a mental institution to beat the rush if I were ever deluded enough to think it would.

    If every single hardware website tomorrow said what I’ve been saying and told their audiences the same thing and they all obeyed, what would happen? Intel/AMD sales would go down a bit, maybe a little more than a bit. The companies would be more concerned about hell freezing over, which is about when such an event is likely to take place. 🙂

    Unfortunately, the reality of the situation doesn’t reward virtue. These companies aren’t going to change their policy because you or a relative handful of people don’t like what they do anymore than George W. Bush is going to resign because you or even you and all your friends send him an email demanding it.

    It’s not that I like vapor, or want to defend it. This is more like Know Your Enemy. If you want to get somebody to stop doing something you don’t like, you’d better find out why he likes doing it to begin with.

    Of course, if you can get most people to stop buying a company’s video cards or vote for a certain guy come next November, that’s another story, but both require a lot of effort from a whole lot of people,.

    Frankly, it’s probably easier to get rid of the current President of the United States than to get rid of nVidia or ATI from the video market. Your average nVidiot/ATIdroid isn’t going to defect because a card is a little late.

    This doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try, or write to these companies asking them not to do this, but one ought to be realistic about the likelihood of success, understand what you’re up against, and realize most potential “voters” are not going to get too wound up about this.

    Ed

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