The top 15 vaporware products of all time

What might have been...

11. Glaze3D Graphics Cards


Graphics card makers have always played a game of spec leapfrog, with each company squeezing higher resolutions and higher frame rates out of graphics chips as new technologies appear and components become smaller and cheaper.

In 1999, the Finnish company Bitboys Oy announced the first two cards using its Glaze3D architecture, with even the less-powerful of the pair promising render speeds that were spectacular by the standards of the day. They weren't playing leapfrog so much as doing long jumps. The not-so-secret secret behind the Glaze3D family's amazing performance numbers was that the chips relied heavily on embedded DRAM, bypassing the bottlenecks that came from using external memory.

While the numbers were enough to inflame any gamer's ardour - Including Apple gamers, as the Glaze3D family promised to be Mac-compatible — the overall reaction to the news could best be described as cautious optimism; many people adopted an "I'll believe it when I see it" attitude. Still, most folks gave Bitboys the benefit of the doubt. After all, the company and the people behind it already had a reputation for their graphics architecture work, and they had partnered with Infineon Technologies to produce the chips. Would Bitboys' unconventional method actually work?

We'll never know. For two years, the company missed release dates. Of course, during those two years the rest of the industry didn't sit still. As new technologies came along (for one thing, DirectX went from version 7 to version 9), Bitboys promised that Glaze3D would support them; the company also increased its performance claims, adding a third, even more powerful chip to the family. Ultimately (mercifully?) everything came to a halt when Infineon stopped producing embedded DRAM in 2001; lacking a manufacturer, Bitboys threw in the towel. Bitboys went on to produce processor designs for the mobile graphics market, and ATI acquired the company in 2006.

10. Atari 2700

Someone at Atari had a great idea: Take the insanely popular Atari 2600 gaming system, put it in a new cabinet, add spiffy new controllers, and call it the Atari 2700.

The end result was almost a license to print money. The cabinet designers skipped the dated 1970s look of the faux-wood panel and went for a then-futuristic sleek, wedge-shaped design with matte and glossy black finishes, topped with a built-in storage container for the controllers at the top.

The controllers themselves were innovative for the time, featuring built-in select and reset buttons (providing even less motivation to get off the couch), a touch-sensitive fire button, and a joystick that doubled as a rotating, 270-degree paddle. The killer feature: The controllers were wireless.

Advertising and packaging were created, but the Atari 2700 never reached store shelves. In quality assurance testing people noticed that the controllers had a broadcast range of 1000 feet. Since the controllers didn't have unique identifiers beyond "left controller" and "right controller," playing a game would affect any Atari 2700 unit within that radius. To top it off, the electronics were based on garage-door openers, so interference with other remote-control devices was a possibility. In the end Atari decided that redesigning the system and the controllers would be too expensive, and it scrapped the 2700 project.

The 2700 didn't exactly vanish without a trace, however. The cabinet design was slightly retooled for the Atari 5200, and the 5200 controllers also used elements of the 2700 controller design. The wireless functionality wound up in an Atari 2600 add-on, which relied on essentially unusable fat-bottomed versions of the classic 2600 joystick.

9. Secure Digital Music Initiative

In the late 1990s, the MP3 format and Napster--the original, bad-boy Napster--had the music industry running scared. While the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was in the middle of its lawsuit against Diamond Multimedia over that company's Rio MP3 player, a consortium of computer, consumer electronics, and entertainment companies got together to form the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI).

The goal was to create a new digital music format that would incorporate watermarking files as a means of digital rights management (DRM), as well as a standard for audio players so that they wouldn't play SDMI-compliant files that the owner didn't have the right to listen to. This arrangement would, theoretically, provide the safety net required for the music companies to start distributing music digitally.

In late 2000, the group offered a $10,000 prize to any person or group that could, among other things, successfully remove the watermarks on four music files they provided, within a three-week time limit.

A team at Princeton led by computer science professor Ed Felten did just that. The SDMI threatened to sue Felten, citing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), when the group learned that he planned to discuss his research at the 4th International Information Hiding Workshop the following year. The Electronic Frontier Foundation backed Felten by suing the RIAA, SDMI, Verance (one of the companies whose watermarking technology was cracked) and the U.S. Justice Department on First Amendment grounds.

Felten presented the paper at the 10th USENIX Security Symposium a few months later — but by then the SDMI's prospects had dimmed, and it soon dissolved altogether.

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Emru Townsend

PC World
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