While first encountered in writing in the 1920s, FUD is said to have been formally defined by Gene Amdahl nearly four decades ago after he left IBM to set up his own company, Amdahl Corp:
FUD is the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that IBM sales people instill in the minds of potential customers who might be considering Amdahl products.
Roger Irwin illustrates how Microsoft grabbed the FUD baton from IBM:
Of course the PC story is perhaps more a tale of big name marketing rather than deliberate FUD mongering, but the PC also brought Microsoft to the forefront as the supplier of the basic-in-ROM cum disk operating system. Microsoft soon picked up the art of FUD from IBM, and throughout the 80’s used FUD as a primary marketing tool, much as IBM had in the previous decade. They ended up out FUD-ding IBM themselves during the OS2 vs Win3.1 years.
A good example of MS FUD, and its potential, was demonstrated when Digital Research launched their DR DOS against MS-DOS5. DR-DOS offered more features and cost less, and was widely acclaimed by all. Then the new MS windows 3.1 release flashed up a trivial error message when run under DR DOS, and all of a sudden everybody was saying DR DOS is great but you can have problems running Windows on it. At the same time Microsoft announced the ‘imminent’ release of MS DOS6 which would be far more feature packed than DR DOS. In reality they had nothing, they had only just started looking at a ‘DOS 6’ in response to the DR launch, and it is also questionable whether the MS product was better. This classic FUD pack occurred together with a dealer package designed to make it financially advantageous to offer MS DOS with windows, and the result is history. Many believe this was the making of the MS monopoly.
A former Microsoft program manager, Joel Spolsky explains how Microsoft made a habit of FUDding competitors:
Think of the history of data access strategies to come out of Microsoft. ODBC, RDO, DAO, ADO, OLEDB, now ADO.NET – All New! Are these technological imperatives? The result of an incompetent design group that needs to reinvent data access every goddamn year? (That’s probably it, actually.) But the end result is just cover fire. The competition has no choice but to spend all their time porting and keeping up, time that they can’t spend writing new features.
Pre-Internet, FUD was easier to pull off for Microsoft:
- Hold a press conference to pre-announce products not even half-finished or entirely nonexistent except as clip art in a product manager’s PowerPoint deck.
- Give “exclusive” interviews to friendly tech reporters to generate one-sided stories without any counterpoints.
- Buy advertising in “friendly” publications and other media read by decision-makers-with-checkbooks to reinforce the central FUD message.
- Go astroturfing on mail-lists, forums and letters-to-the-editor sections through stealthily paid endorsers.
Of course, a lot has happened since the golden age of IBM and Microsoft FUD, namely the Internet and the fact that nobody really cares what IBM or Microsoft says or does any longer, especially in the consumer markets. Today, neither company is a market maker or has enough technical or business clout to dictate industry direction.
For several years now, I’ve been writing about how Google recognized the incredible opportunity presented to it by the rapid decline of Microsoft’s monopoly and how Google began to use Microsoftian tactics, predominantly featuring FUD, to buttress its market dominance:
- Fragmandroid: Google’s mad dash to Microsoftdom
- Microsoft passes the “choice” bludgeon against Apple to Google
- The Unbearable Inevitability of Being Android, 1995
- Google Buzz: The Big Misdirection
In fact, none other than Vic Gundotra, former Microsoft chief evangelist and current Google+ czar, told BusinessWeek how FUD plays a critical role at Google:
In Silicon Valley, that kind of evangelism usually involves firing insults at the competition. While that hasn’t typically been Google’s style, Gundotra hasn’t shied away. As he says, “It’s an art to create a sense of inevitability.” In a keynote speech at a Google event for developers last year, he even took aim at Steve Jobs and “a draconian future where one man, one company, and one device would be our only choice. … That’s a future we don’t want.”
“It’s an art to create a sense of inevitability”
So how would the new FUDster Google attempt to discount a rival’s product announcement three days prior to the event? Why, hold a press conference, pre-announce “potential” products without ship dates and essentially “create a sense of inevitability”:
- We cover so much of the earth (Hey, we’re bringing Map Maker to South Africa and Egypt today, and did you know you can get Street View in Antarctica? )
- We have everything the competition may have and, just wait, we’ll have even more (You can download parts of maps to your mobile device for offline use, sometime in the future.)
- Nobody else can do it as well as we can, because this thing is really hard (We managed to miniaturize all the stuff needed to capture Street View data into a backpack called the Street View Trekker, and did you know plate tectonics can lead to misalignments between different data sets?)
- It takes a lot of money, people and resources to do this (Street View cars have now driven 5 million miles and collected 20 petabytes worth of image data, and did you know we even use a snowmobile to collect data?)
- Everybody uses our products, we’re the safe choice (“communities of over 300 million people” will be using this stuff sometime soon.)
- We’re not evil (Halo Trust uses Google Maps to mark where land mines are around the world, also did you know we once helped a tribe in the Amazon?)
Now, I know the work of mapping related companies Apple bought in the last few years and wrote about it two years ago in Apple, Google and the map wars. But I have no idea whether Apple will in fact offer a map product next week or how good it may be. It looks like Google thinks Apple will and it may be good enough to resort to FUD. That’s good enough for me.
I’ve heard Steve Ballmer laugh heartily at iPhone’s prospects: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” I’ve seen Vic Gundotra tell us “One man. One phone…” is “Not the Future We Want.” I’ve been scared by Android czar Andy Rubin evoking North Korean nightmares under an Apple regime. So excuse me if I can smell FUD even 2,945 miles away as the 3D Google Maps flies, I’m well trained.