Vaporware insults, part 2

4 December 2006

Wow–I’m really taking a beating on this one.

Without a doubt, the decision to pre-announce software may not be a good one. I still think, however, that my commenters discount the Omni cult following. There are many people who want to be inside the development cycle and know what’s going on. They like to feel like insiders. I contend Omni intended to serve these people by pre-announcing, not not chill the GTD market until OmniFocus came out. The Omni Group isn’t that big of a player in the software market. If Apple or Microsoft would have done the same thing, then yes, I could see that as a method of encouraging people to wait to buy their app instead of one currently on the market, but I highly doubt that a small shop like Omni could do the same thing.

Even had it been the case, how effective would attempting to chill the market have be? If the GTD philosophy truly has a cult, then I can’t imagine the users not trying both, especially when they need one now. I know Apple is going to come up with some amazing Boot Camp thing for 10.5, but I bought Parallels because I need the tool now. Midnight Inbox only costs $35–it’s not exactly cost prohibitive to get into now. I can’t imagine GTD cultists are too stingy to spend that much to get started today, especially when–at least by my guess–OmniFocus will cost twice that.

Lest we forget, OMG [Omni] USERS ARE CRAZY. The creation of OmniFocus is largely at the users’ behest. As Linda Sharps originally wrote during the development of OmniDazzle:

Some of you guessed correctly about what Brand New Secret Product is. Some of you are clearly insane and made us laugh until we sprayed Jamba Juice out our collective nostrils. And some of you – check that, LOTS of you – guessed that we’re building some kind of GTD app.

Brand New Secret Product is not a GTD app. However, we have been talking very seriously about building a GTD app, and collaborating with our friends Ethan and Merlin, and hearing so many of you tell us that you’re interested in that kind of software…well, we would really, really like to come up with something. We have some awesome ideas for how it could work.

In a couple weeks we’re sitting down with some folks here in Seattle and brainstorming what this GTD app might do, and how we might be able to get it out the door in a timely manner. We do have a lot on our plates these days, and we’re not a big company; we just don’t know yet if we have the resources. But! If you would like to send us ideas, feature requests, or just a plea for us to make it happen, please email omnitask-planning@omnigroup.com, in the next week if possible. (OmniTask is our code name. Shhhhhh.)

The Omni Group only pre-announced OmniFocus because of user demand for them to make it, and from the very beginning they looked for user feedback in order to fuel it. The Omni group pre-announced the software as a nod to their rabid user community, not in some bad faith manipulation of the GTD cult. They only reason they keep talking about it is because their users are howling for updates, and public betas simply aren’t ready. Such service to their user community doesn’t deserve the tongue-lashing they took.

3 Responses to “Vaporware insults, part 2”

  1. LKM insisted,

    The Omni Group isn’t that big of a
    player in the software market.

    And GTD isn’t that big of a market. If they release their GTD app, they are the big fish in the small pond. I’m looking for a GTD app, but I’ll wait for Omni’s offering. If that was their intention, it’s working.

  2. leslie decided,

    John’s out of line on this one. It doesn’t matter what the denotation of “vaporware” is, what matters is the connotation attached to it.

    Vaporware is clearly an insult and that’s the way its been used for years in the industry.

    I’m not an Omni fanatic, but I’m involved in product development so I feel for the Omni guys on this one.

    I find it strange that Omni gets called out on this when pre-announcing a product is clearly the small company marketing strategy of choice used by many Mac, web app, windows… hell you make software, you give away a little bit, everyone does, you have to in this day and age. Even super-secret Apple does.

    I might also point out that Joyent used this strategy back in 2005, that John talked about Joyent on his blog before new features were announced, all the cool stuff it would do, and never once called his company’s pre-announced product “vaporware.”

    Take, for example, his small link to Joyent’s 2.0 UI “Preview” (vaporware by his definition I guess). This is a small example and I’m not after John, but just do a search for Joyent on his archives.

    But since Dave is his friend, I guess its a link to a preview and not Vaporware.

  3. Señor Pantalones announced,

    “I can’t imagine the users not trying both, especially when they need one now.”

    I appreciate your editorial on this issue, but I think you lack the contextual experience to criticize it. Specifically, planning/productivity applications (which include GTD apps) are frameworks inside which people structure their entire work process. Some even plan their lives (goals, meals, fitness) in them. While all techno-junkies are on the lookout for something even better, all the time, giving up your framework is a massive upheaval. To switch from one productivity system to another means exporting data, most likely manually converting, archiving, and entering old data in the new system. This involves spending superfluous time and effort, for which the payoff is uncertain.

    That is why users won’t try both. Omni’s announcement is a vaporware cannonball fired across the bow of Midnight Inbox, ThinkingRock, Actiontastic, TiddlyWikiGTD, and the handful of other <1.0s who have surfaced this year. Everyone knows Omni builds exceptional products, so it’s much easier for people to wait for the Omni dream app than risk their chances with one of the others. ThinkingRock is spectacular, but lacks OS integration. Inbox, beautiful and buggy, just hit 1.0 and is now developing a huge, active user community contributing to its growing feature set. Actiontastic is already rocking Quicksilver. But see, in our Omni dream land, Omni’s going to build an app that does everything these do, prints index cards, reminds us to do some yoga every few hours, watches our caloric intake, and asks our directors for raises. That’s why people are waiting.

    So it’s not that Omni did anything “wrong.” Marketing is a tricky business and anything goes. They’ve taken advantage of their great reputation by announcing plans for a product, probably in effort to keep potential users from adopting other systems from which later transition would be difficult. In doing so, however, they have fulfilled the definition of releasing vaporware.

    P.S. I mainly use ThinkingRock on OS X, but am enthusiastic about Midnight Inbox and believe it could replace TR in a few months.