Vendors say the darnedest things

The product demo is one of tech journalism's most hallowed institutions. Over the years, the players have changed; the ritual has not. Product managers, corporate communications specialists, public relations coordinators, even "technology evangelists" show up at the editor's office, armed with a soon-to-be-released piece of hardware or software and a well-rehearsed PowerPoint demo.

The product demo is one of tech journalism's most hallowed institutions. Over the years, the players have changed; the ritual has not. Product managers, corporate communications specialists, public relations coordinators, even "technology evangelists" show up at the editor's office, armed with a soon-to-be-released piece of hardware or software and a well-rehearsed PowerPoint demo. After the business card exchange and a few introductory pleasantries, the demo begins. The demo-er shows off the product's features, provides context, and bad-mouths the competition. The demo-ee takes notes, asks questions, and tries not to zone out.

'Twas ever thus. And although the process doesn't always come off as planned (I've witnessed system crashes, network failures, lap-scorching coffee spills, even one spectacular mid-demo loss of consciousness, complete with audible snoring), product demos usually convey useful information.

Lately, though, demos have taken on a surreal air. Maybe it's because the Internet has spawned so many new companies, all jockeying for market share. Or maybe it's because companies are suddenly encountering a tightening venture-capital market. But vendors have recently cranked up the double-talk, raising the arts of hyperbole and obfuscation to once unimaginable heights. One example: A few years back, the term "product" was banished from most demos, replaced by the more positive "solution." So we had hardware solutions, software solutions, and so on. Today, though, simple solutions aren't enough. Now, we've got the fully integrated solution, the real-time solution, the 100-percent Internet solution, the cross-platform solution, the custom solution, the branded or cobranded solution, the e-commerce and e-business solution, the single-source solution, the enterprise-class solution, the turnkey solution, and the deliciously redundant "complete end-to-end solution."

Solutions aren't the half of it. A recent product description described a "revolutionary software architecture that...harnesses the untapped power of every desktop computer in the Internet to create an intuitive, immersive, and interactive environment." Try saying that five times fast.

These oh-so-overblown euphemisms do more than simply amuse. They provide a "dynamically updated" picture of the computer universe, which is why I offer to you, Insider readers, this tech vendor lexicon. The following phrases, all lifted verbatim from recent product demos and press releases, should help you keep abreast of the latest industry trends. And should you ever find yourself marooned on an island or in some other "collaborative environment" with a bunch of "knowledge management" workers or "information architects," you'll have a "smooth migration path" toward understanding what the natives are saying.

Solutions aren't the half of it. A recent product description described a "revolutionary software architecture that...harnesses the untapped power of every desktop computer in the Internet to create an intuitive, immersive, and interactive environment." Try saying that five times fast.

First off, recognize that no one in the "new digital economy" is a follower. So when "next-generation" vendors use the label "industry leader," all that means is that they have a product that has already shipped. If they describe their company as a "technology leader," it usually means nobody's ever heard of them, but they've cobbled together some interesting code that might or might not work. While we're on the topic of leadership, remember that today's "best-of-breed" (formerly "state-of-the-art") companies strive to "raise the bar" and "leverage synergies" to create a "value proposition." If they've hooked up with another group in the process, then they will "marry the strengths" of both.

When vendors claim to be "concentrating on core competencies," that means that their previous product tanked.

When vendors explain that they're "moving to an ASP model," it means that their previous product tanked.

When vendors explain that they're "migrating to a B2B [business-to-business] model," that means that their previous product tanked.

When vendors claim that they're "creating a new category" or "opening new doors," that means that they don't have a previous product, and they have no idea how to describe this one.

When vendors explain that they've "added functionality," it means that they've fixed a few bugs.

When vendors say that they're "establishing a new platform for future technologies," that means that they're hoping to be purchased by Microsoft or AOL, which might give their product some chance at survival.

When vendors say that another company has made a "strategic investment in us," it means that their stock price has fallen so low that their competitors were able to buy a piece of them.

When vendors say that they're "responding to a demonstrated industry need," that means that no one ever thought it was important enough to try before.

Congratulations. You're now highly qualified to converse in vendor-speak. Try it the next time you can't think of anything to say in a business meeting or at a cocktail party. Oh, and don't worry about being misunderstood. That's the whole point.

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