Here you will find wondrous things, things you can search whole world over and perhaps find nowhere else. Covet them if you dare, but take note that our delivery schedule is not rock-solid.
The wonderful world of free marketing offers us much of that which we desire, arguably having shown itself to advantage in that respect compared to every attempt at an alternative. But such does not mean the free market fulfills all our wishes. First and foremost it offers us that which can be sold at a profit, a characteristic that unfortunately can leave some of our desires in the cold. If nothing else, should we desire that something be free, or even nearly so, the profit motive can fail to meet the mark, even if that thing costs nothing, or nearly nothing, to produce.
It is obvious how this keeps us from benefiting from the least expensive possibilities, but it does more than that. Motivation by profit discourages producers from offering us the full advantages of invention in those cases where adoption of invention can reduce into the producers' own revenue. Improvement is often left to new competitors, and a market's incumbents have the advantage since starting fresh can incur major costs. Brand names command our loyalty, though how they manage that when we know corporations buy and sell brand names remains a mystery.
So where can you benefit, or almost benefit from the invention that industry is not offering us? If you can overlook the absence of a solid delivery date, then I invite you to browse here. Go ahead and poke around. We'll offer you the world as long as you accept our geologic time-schedule.
Vaporia is the word that I coined for a website where I can peddle my vaporware. Little did I know that the word already existed: from what I can see and guess, "vaporia" is a typical place-name in Greek areas for a place, e.g. a district or neighborhood, associated with water.
For example, see: http://www.gogreece.com/classroom/Ermoupoli.htm
But my Vaporia is a place about my own vaporware, and if you don't know what vaporware is, I suggest you take this site with a grain of salt.
What sort of vaporware do I offer? Electronic gadgets. What sort? All kinds of consumer gadgets: music players, cameras, cell phones, telephones, VCRs, DVRs, clock radios, television sets, etc. So why should you prefer mine? What's wrong with the ones you have?
Well, here are my four laws for "minimally acceptable electronics".
(1) Electronic devices need to be ten times more reliable than they are now. Hm, did that device give you problems after one year? Vendors ought to bring that up to ten, immediately. For another device, is it ten years until it fails? It needs to be a hundred. For a third item, does one in every hundred of them cause the consumer problems? That needs to be one in thousand. Everything needs to be ten times more reliable than it is now.
I remember buying an electronic thermostat to replace my mechanical one. Just a few months later, one morning, the heat didn't come on, and when I investigated, I could no longer make the thermostat turn on the heat using the usual controls. After inspecting the device for a while, reading a lot of tiny writing on it, hunting down and looking through its instruction manual, that had a whole section of undoubedly-occasionally-useful "troubleshooting tips" such as "make sure the thermostat is receiving power", I finally, with no help from the manual, took the device off the wall, took the battery out, put the battery back in, and put the device back on the wall. With that, it worked perfectly, but needed reprogramming.
(Perhaps your device has a better manual. Perhaps it includes that advice in the troubleshooting tips.)
Here is my question: does this experience amaze and surprise you? Are you aghast that I could have had such an experience with a modern electronic gadget? Did you nearly fall off your chair in shock that such a thing could happen to a fellow consumer?
Or on the other hand, does the story have a ring of familiarity? Was the experience so "boringly normal" that, while reading, you wondered why I even bothered to relate the story? If it is the latter case, and yet you buy this junk, then you are like all of us: you are being duped. What kind of product sometimes simply stops working, and we know we might have to do silly stuff like that to get it working? What are we thinking?
Vendors need to take us far beyond this type of experience. One impediment that stands in the way of we consumers' actually influencing this in truly-positive way with our purchasing power is that when we choose electronic equipment, we have no way to tell how successful the vendor has been in accomplishing this point. You can stick with brand names, but they are often the same stuff as off-brands. You can read reviews, but models change so fast and there are so many that it is extremely unlikely that you can find enough (if any) useful reviews of the item you are buying.
(2) Electronic devices must be user-tested with the inventor's grandmother. This is the "grandmother test", and if the device cannot be understood, set up, and operated by a grandmother, than it's "back to the drawing board."
I don't think this law requires much explanation. Put your grandmother in front of a computer. Just go ahead, try it.
(3) When you attempt to upgrade the device (its hardware, software, and/or firmware), in at least nine hundred ninety nine out of a thousand instances, you should end up no worse than when you commenced to attempt to upgrade. We haven't specified that the upgrade is successful, merely that it hasn't made things worse. After all, we can't hope for too much at once. Note that this law does not assume that you "did it right", an escape-clause allowing the vendor to foist tons of fine print on us as well assumptions of specialized technical know-how, as well as limitations on what the upgrade applies to. Rather this means that when a thousand real-life consumers attempt the upgrade, if more than one has problems that leave them worse off than when they began the process, that is unacceptable. Of course, it ought to be no more than one in ten thousand, or even far less, but we have to start somewhere.
These days, software vendors tell you that upgrades are an absolute necessity. At least some vendors do. Humph!
(4) Anything to do with power should be standardized: batteries, chargers, and power supplies. Ever try to buy a replacement or a spare power supply or battery for any computer or piece of electronics? In some cases, you're totally out of luck In other cases, they are using the razor versus razor blade theory. They get a nice big profit on power equipment with the kind of jack that they chose to put on it.
Of course, the same can be said of printing supplies.
And these are the four laws, which all apply to gadgets, computers and their software. But specifically for computers and software, we have three additional laws:
(5) Disk failures do not require an expert to deal with. Disk reliability has increased over time, but with the growing popularity of portable devices incorprating disks, disks are often shaken more than if they were stationary, and failures remain common. Failures should be no big deal, easy to deal with. And the failures should involve no data loss, for obvious reasons, but which we shall focus on that later.
Perhaps you have had a disk failure in your laptop, and had to go to a computer repair store, hat in hand.
Undoubtedly intelligent kid: "You didn't make backups?"
You: "Why did this disk fail? This device is only two years old."
Undoubtedly intelligent kid: "That's what happens. It's not if a disk fails, it's when it fails. Why I, myself, had a disk that failed in a mere two months. That's the way it is."
Then they take your laptop for a week and send it away, then charge you hundreds of dollars. Your data is no longer on your computer, but you can go to a data recovery service, which might cost five hundred dollars, or five thousand dollars, to attempt to get your data off the broken disk. Maybe they'll be successful.
And these computer and software vendors think we should all get laptops and adopt new uses of them until they are vital to our every day lives, holding key information for us. Or what do they suppose we would buy them for? Only to carry data we can afford to throw away? That's what we spend hundreds or thousands for: something to carry expendible data? What is this expendiable data? Are they crazy? Or are we?
So we buy devices and put our valuable data on it, and at some random, unpredictable time, we have to send them in for expensive repairs. Then we have to live without them and the data on them until they have been repaired.
In Data Centers, where professionals run webservers and the like, they often must care for thousands of computers, and even though the disks are generally reliable, they care for so many disks that just by the numbers, failures are a regular occurrance. Data Centers are well aware of the effort required to deal with such problems, so vendors have addressed the issue. Let me describe a disk failure in a Data Center. A light comes on on the electronics cabinet that holds the computer, indicating a disk is bad. The computer professional pulls out the disk, which slides out of the cabinet like a drawer, then slides in a new disk. Then the professional pushes a button indicating they have now replaced the bad disk. After a while, the light goes off again, indicating the problem is resolved and the new disk is doing its work. No data is lost in the process. The server (i.e., computer) was never even turned off, much less powered down, and no reboot was necessary.
Computer companies very well know how to make this work. But one thing it requires is that the data be stored on more than one place at a time, i.e., so any specific data is recorded on more than a single disk. Disks do not cost very much these days, making computers that incorporate two or more disks more feasible, but in the case of laptops and portable devices, an additional disk would add considerable weight, and power demands. Making it reasonable to handle disk failures even while incorporating only one disk in the device increases the challenge to such companies, but if backup systems were usable (see below), and disks could be replaced as easily as batteries, then you still would be able to walk into a store, buy a disk, then slide out the old one, sliding in the new one. Then you could use your easy-to-use backup system to restore on it, and be on your way.
So you can see that computer professionals, the ones who actually know tons about how to backup, restore, and replace disks, don't put up with this disk-failure crap, and vendors fixed their problems years ago. This problem-plagued way of doing things is just foisted on us consumers, who are ill-equipped to handle the situation.
(6) When you buy a computer, it includes a backup system that you can understand, set up and operate. (And by extension, so can your grandmother.) Computer and operating system manufacturers generally don't include a means to backup their systems. In a way, they are being kind to the purveyors of backup software and equipment: they refrain from bundling such systems with the computer, letting other companies take a profit. (This is not entirely the computer and OS manufacturers' fault: they are often chastised for trying to make you spend all your money for one do-it-all package, not giving you the freedom to choose, or other vendors the freedom to profit.)
That leaves you with the simple task of reading the specs of your computer and operating system, reading the specs of a backup system, and seeing if they inter-operate. And, of course, wondering whether the backup system vendor makes reliable software (see rule 1). Very often, if software works with a range of versions of operating systems, some work better than others. Or rather, some work worse than others. Perhaps your friend-of-a-friend who does computer support has learned the ins and outs by experience, but you get to keep spending money and risking your data until you find a combination that works. And you are very likely to find out its problems at the most inopportune times.
Consumers are being set up to look stupid. And are being lured into risking their vital data in the process. I scratch my head trying to think how this has gone on as long as it has.
(7) When software stores your data on your computer, it is not stored in a proprietary manner. Computer and software companies get us to pay money to store our most valuable data on computers, anything and everything. Our music collections, our family and business photographs, our financial records, our personal mail, our writings, journal, the list goes on and on. This fact has something to say to our two above laws, regarding disks and backups. But there's more: software companies make it easy to store the data in ways that only their own software can deal with, and they keep upgrading the software, so you have to pay them more money over time, to get to your own data.
Naturally this is fantastic for software companies. But it has disadvantages for you. Besides your cost of purchasing the software and its upgrades, there is also the issue that software companies occasionally go out of business to the point where you can no longer even get the software necessary to read your own data. Some time in the future, when your present computer has lived out its life as an ultra-modern high-tech tool and has embarked on its second life as a mediocre doorstop, you could have your vital on data CDs or DVDs, yet be unable to read it.
For any specific kind of software, word processing, spreadsheet, accounting, there is always a market-leading software company that undoubtedly loves this situation, gladly pointing out to you that their company is the most stable, thus you are safest storing your data in their proprietary format rather than the proprietary format of any of their less-stable competitors'. Perhaps consumers need to wake up. And "send a message" to these vendors.
The largest customer, thus with the most clout, is the government, and when they demand something, vendors, listen. And these vendors do indeed act, though their action might well be yell loudly, and also to whisper quietly, in efforts to get the demands changed. I have heard that some governments and agencies put this kind of condition on their software purchases, in effect, that data may not be stored in a proprietary manner. And I further heard that this condition they placed on their purchases did indeed trigger vendor action. Do I mean the vendors saw the light and changed their software to store data in a non-proprietary fashion? Well, not exactly. The vendor action actually involved lobbyists.
Even if software companies sell you proprietary software, there is no reason that thay could not have it store the data so you can use the data without their specific software. Remember, you now put your financial records, your photographs, your address book, your homework, your dissertation, sometimes the sum total of your business, in these formats, that someone else owns.
So, what, precisely, is my product? The Vaporia Cell Phone, the Vaporia MP3 Player, the Vaporia DVR, the Vaporia TV, the Vaporia Computer, the Vaporia Word Processor. And on and on. Their claim to fame is that they scrupulously follow the seven laws. Interested? Well, OK, they are "on the way", but your wait might be a touch long.
But if you are up for some fun, you might try bringing up these issues with the companies who are trying hardest to sell you stuff. But I do not suggest you take this too seriously when you are finally forced to buy what they offer, because severe frustration cannot be good for your health.