`Feature creep' and the Internet upset best-laid plans in 1996

While words such as Galileo, Copland, and Cairo conjure up images of interesting people or far-off places to some, to others they represent shining examples of 1996's broken vendor promises.

While words such as Galileo, Copland, and Cairo conjure up images of interesting people or far-off places to some, to others they represent shining examples of 1996's broken vendor promises.

Missed software-shipment deadlines are nothing new in the computer industry - only the reasons seem to change.

In 1996, the importance of the Internet and intranets left vendors scrambling to incorporate Web features into their product plans, causing some delays along the way.

Another force at work last year was "feature creep," where vendors delayed or even skipped releases by promising to add goodies later.

"It becomes very difficult to plan around a vendor who changes not only when a product will be available, but what's in it," says Rob Enderle, senior analyst with Giga Information Group, in Santa Clara, California. "You realize that you have to use vendor information with a grain of salt; you figure you take the scheduled release date and add six to 12 months to it."

But although new features were to be gained when Netscape refocused its client strategy around its groupware Communicator product, Navigator users were forced to wait for their upgrade. Netscape last third quarter began discussing Version 4.0 of its Navigator browser - which was code-named Galileo and scheduled for delivery during the fourth quarter of 1996 - before the first version of 3.0 was officially out the door. The time frame has now shifted from 1996 to 1997.

In its rush to embrace and extend the Internet, Microsoft found it difficult to meet shipment dates for its messaging and browser software.

Exchange Server 5.0, now scheduled for availability during the first quarter, has a new version number because it will include some Internet features - native HTTP, Network News Transfer Protocol, and Active Server Platform capabilities - that would not have been in Version 4.5, had it ever shipped.

On the OS front, both Microsoft and Apple shifted plans. What were billed as next-generation operating systems for Windows NT and MacOS became technology enhancements to be rolled out piecemeal.

Cairo does not refer to a version of Windows but instead to a set of technologies that the company began rolling out in 1995 with the new interface to Windows 95.

"As a marketing term, we don't use [Cairo] anymore because people get confused," says Rich Tong, vice president of product marketing with Microsoft's personal and business systems division.

At least one analyst disagrees, saying that users are lost in confusion because Microsoft has used the term to mean an operating system, a strategy, and a time frame.

"This has been the Cairo shuffle," says Michael Gartenberg, research director with the Gartner Group, in Stamford, Connecticut. "If something tries to be everything, it ends up being nothing."

Rather than ship Copland in mid-1996 as promised in 1994, Apple said it hopes to incorporate Next Software's technology into an OS upgrade this year. But many industry observers doubt that such an upgrade will be available in 1997.

The year of waiting patiently:

Casualties of "feature creep" in 1996

• Netscape Navigator 4.0 slipped from late 1996 to 1997

• Microsoft Exchange 5.0 skipped Version 4.5 to ship in early 1997

• Internet Explorer for Macintosh and Unix slipped from late 1996 to early 1997

• Apple's Copland slipped from mid-1996; strategy will be revamped with Next acquisition

• Microsoft's Cairo, no longer used to refer to OS upgrade, is now a set of Windows technologies

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