What big projects do you know about that never hit the mainstream?

I feel sorry for haXe and OpenLaszlo because people put so much work into them and they never got a user base large enough to become big hits.

+11  A: 

Boo Programming Language. Great tool that just doesn't seem to get the publicity / IDE it needs (not a big fan of #develop).

I think the success of Unity can make it used by a wider audience. see http://unity3d.com/unity/features/scripting
Conflict of interest? Or a fan of ghosts?
Posted before the avatar change :)
+3  A: 


While it won't hit mainstream as such given that it addresses the relatively specialised niche of microfinance, I nevertheless think it deserves far more attention and spare time from hobbyist developers. Contribute to free software and help alleviate global poverty in one package...

(Disclaimer, I was contributing professionally (to the extent of my capability, though not with code) to this project at a point)

+52  A: 

Plan 9 from Bell Labs

The same people who invented UNIX did it again some twenty odd years later. It does not suffer from the second system syndrome. Its design is actually much cleaner than UNIX ever was.

Unfortunately, the first versions were not available to the general public. You had to be a university and pay a few hundred dollars for a CD-ROM. When it was eventually open-sourced, it was too late.

I disagree. The Plan 9 Fever was at my university a few weeks ago. I'm interested and when I get some free time, plan to load it into a VM.
Thomas Owens
It's great to hear that is is still alive. But if you think about the potential it had when it was first released (around 1992), then I feel sorry for it. Just imagine it would have been open source right from the beginning.
The Plan9 namespace made its way into Linux. Someday it may gain traction...
+50  A: 

Does Duke Nukem Forever count?

I'm glad it's dead. This game's hype was Θ(n!), which would result in 100% chance of disappointment had it been released.
Andrew Keeton
n being time, of course.
Andrew Keeton
@Andrew Keeton - Just look at Spore for a perfect example of this!
I'm not really sorry about this one. Not at least wrt the question. The problem was that the developers didn't get a product out. It failed not because it gained enough interest, but because it didn't interest its own creators enough to complete in a reasonable time frame.
To be fair, Wright bit off more than he could chew with spore.
To be fair, everyone knew that but him.
Hey, if you were the guy that made Sim City, entire planets and ecosystems wouldn't seem like such a big deal to you either.
No it was a marketing concept, not a software project.
I wish I could vote this 12 times, each for a year it was not released on.
And now it [might get finished](http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/30256/Gearbox_Confirmed_To_Finish_Development_Of_Duke_Nukem_Forever.php) after all...
Georg Fritzsche
+38  A: 


I loved using that OS, it was much snappier and quicker than anything else I could find at the time, and more stable as well.

Agree, but the dev tools were too immature for developers to consider that platform. T'was unfortunate as the OS itself had potential.
You might want to try Haiku which is an Open Source version of BeOS. It's still in pre-alpha though, so don't be surprised if it crashes on you.
It's been pre-alpha for years. I just don't have the time to monkey around with it anymore, sadly.
+35  A: 

Windows Vista?


Jim Arnold
Call me heartless.
Tom Hawtin - tackline
+1 - you're funny dude!
David Robbins
Uhhh SkyNet? Anybody?
David Robbins
What about windows me?
+6  A: 

I don't think there is any need to pity projects that aren't popular. Sometimes it's better that way, there's more freedom when you don't have to worry about users. You don't have to have a large user base to derive satisfaction from developing software.

For example, I'm busy making backwards-incompatible changes to one of my projects. The changes might inconvenience my users, but it's only used by a few people. If I was working on something as popular as the Linux kernel, making backwards-incompatible changes would likely trigger a deluge of vitriolic blog posts and a lot more grief than I would want to deal with.

It used to be the unofficial motto of the Haskell community to "avoid success at all costs". That attitude can be frustrating if you're a user, but it can be liberating for a developer.

Dan Dyer
The linux kernel is a bad example, because they tend to do a lot of b/w-incompatible refactorings, leading to vitriolic blog posts from 3rd party vendors with closed-source code.
Torsten Marek
Fair enough, I don't follow its development particularly closely. The point still stands though, fewer users means fewer people who might get upset with you.
Dan Dyer
The Linux kernel keeps a compatible interface to user-space programs for the most part -- but they feel free to change things up inside the kernel in a way that breaks device drivers at any time. They prefer device drivers to be open-sourced and added to the kernel tree. Drivers that are included in the tree are fixed as needed. It's the closed-source drivers that break. If you write a device driver, your choices are either to get it included with the kernel so the public can update it, or to update it yourself as each new version of the kernel comes out.
Kevin Panko
+3  A: 


Seems to be having a few problems being a one-man show at this time.

It would have a lot more users if it were free and open source...
+21  A: 

Even it was once hit mainstream, I deeply feel sorry for ICQ. MSN Messenger never deserved to take over.

Serhat Özgel
Let's be clear: ICQ *sucked*. The bigger disappointment is the vast disaspora of instant messaging protocols. There is no http:// for IM, and there should have been since forever
Jeff Atwood
I think this would be smtp. It's just like http, it's not what we want, but what we have got.
The http:// of IM is xmpp:
Joachim Sauer
ICQ was a strange beast, your contact name was a number, it said "Uh OH" every time you got a message and ate up your memory.. apart from that, yeah sad to see it die out.
Kyle G
I haven't used my ICQ UIN for 10 years - but I still remember it!
ICQ was my favorite of the IMs. So many of the other early IM programs were frusrating because they wouldn't buffer messages if one of the communicators was offline. Over and over I'd see someone online, start typing, and have them log off. There's as nothing I could do with the message! ICQ would send it anyhow.
@Johan: Same here. It popped into my head the other day and bugged me until I figured out why I knew that number. Oh yeah, that IM client you used for 3 weeks in December 1997. I can't remember to call the county offices and make sure they put my wife's name on the deed to our house, but I can remember a user ID from 12 years ago. I win at life.
Chris Doggett
Doesn't ICQ still have a huge userbase in some Asian countries? And yes, I'm 40163192. I'll never forget it. Ever.
Stuart Branham
sometimes i still hear that little "Uh Oh" even when i'm nowhere near a computer.
Ash Kim
40163192? You came to the party late! Try 1764441 :)
ICQ is still very popular in the Czech Republic for some odd reason.
Tomas Pajonk
How can anyone feel sorry for ICQ? They shot themselves in the face with every new release after 97b. They feature creeped themselves right off the highest peak of Mount "UI Nightmare".
you're all late. mine is 755117! I still log in daily (using Miranda IM, of course)
I still use ICQ. Don't ask me why, I have Miranda installed but I use ICQ.I'ts actually a funny experience to see half the message boxes read "Internet Explorer", one message box has the title "IQC" (no joke) and once it escaped Javascrip code in the font selector. Really try it out ppl.
Camilo Martin
I just have to throw in my 2 cents since if it wasn't for ICQ, I probably would not have married my wonderful wife. Most of our communications for the first two years we dated were over ICQ. I still maintain 1200256 but only have a friend or two still on there. I really need to find the "uh-oh" sound so I can set that for incoming texts on my phone. :)
@Tomas Pajonk Russia as well. Looks like it still has a strong foothold in Eastern Europe in general and was bought out by a Russian tech investment firm for $187M. Not sure why I'd feel sorry for it.
Alex B
+11  A: 

React OS, they never update that!

Lucas McCoy
+9  A: 


It was a joy to use and for a time it was more advanced than competing operating systems in many areas.

Will Harris
"RISC is going to change everything" ah, Hackers how we laughed :P
+3  A: 

Hmm is there a minimum answer length?

Martin Beckett
+12  A: 

It's got to be Iridium, the satellite-based mobile phone system available anywhere on earth. The technology was wonderful, with seamless cellular handoffs between low-earth orbit satellites travelling at 17,000mph. Awesome hardware and software, but a business plan that turned out to be very wrong. The original investors took a bath, but the system is still operated by Iridium, LLC.

Jim Ferrans
Yup, during the Y2K issues suddenly companies ordered handsets, just in case all else would fail while one needed to get in touch with the maintenance crew on some offshore platform in some ocean. Never heard of it since.
Iridium is still around. I have used its signals for testing antennas and pre-amplifiers. There is a also a Iridium pager channel which seems pretty busy and was told is used by the US Military.
It's actually owned by the US Military now, iirc.
+20  A: 

Chandler. A brilliant book was written about this project, which was supposed to revolutionize personal information management software. Unfortunately millions of dollars were poured into endless meetings about every little aspect of the system whilst Google (and others) came along and actually released working software.

A very good demonstration that design-by-committee is full of pitfalls and that delivering stuff is of paramount importance.

Something like 7 years later (7 years!) the project's funding was eventually - and quietly - dropped.

Check out Joel Spolsky's review of Dreaming in Code: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2007/01/21.html
Jim Ferrans
Actually, I think the book is *unintentionally* brilliant, as the author presumably approached it with a view to documenting the process whereby a great, game-changing application was written. He should have realized a bit more that he was instead writing the tome on how *not* to go about designing software.
+4  A: 

I feel sorry for Daikatana - surely one of the most anticipated video games ever? 3 years overdue and it just about made enough money to cover production costs. What a flop!

Barry Gallagher
As Yahtzee pointed out in Zero Punctuation, Duke Nukem: Forever makes that game's delay look spot on.
If you haven't read the book about those two, I would suggest you grab it IMMEDIATELY. It's an amazing read. Masters of Doom is the title iirc.
+12  A: 

Intel Itanium processor, especially the C++ compiler for Itanium. It could have been a mainstream CPU, and a mainstream compiler.

I am sure much of the headway that Intel has made is reused, but it's unfortunate that it never hit the markets in a BIG way.

Abandoning X86 was a horrible move and it cost Intel dearly.
Abandoning X86 would've been a great move and not doing it costs everyone dearly each year that we fail to move on!
+1  A: 

The Atari 1450XLD. It was announced with the other XLs, but this top-of-the-line model never came out.

The other XL model (1850XL) was to use the Amiga technology.

The unreleased XEM was to feature the crazy high-end AMY chip--an allegedly groundbreaking sound chip that was never quite ready for silicon. The Atari ST line was also to get the AMY chip when it was ready.

+8  A: 

WinFS, it had great concepts behind it...

Gab Royer
Although on the plus side, several of those concepts were integrated into other MS products.
Alex Angas
Hmmm... Actually, no. There are good reasons for its failure :) The intended result was awesome, but the underlying technological stack was doomed to fail.
+2  A: 

Rock Processor from Sun Microsystems

Only commercial transactional memory system. Its going to be a long time before we get to see how real TMS is, without a widespread platform.
Ira Baxter
+18  A: 

The GIMP. It's a decent tool and a lot of people use it but it will never be out of photoshop's shadow.

I think there's probably no good reason to say that The GIMP could never exceed photoshop from the point of view of features and usability, but once it does, it'll have to stay that way for a while before photoshop starts hurting.
It's going to be a very, very long time before GIMP will be anything close to photoshop. It's "easy" to catch up to the functionality of Photoshop 7, but everything they continued to add after that were huge increases in complexity.
There's no program i hate more than The GIMP. Serious.
The GIMP can never go mainstream because no one can ever take it seriously while it's called The GIMP.
@Jeff As long as Lotus Notes will be out there, that's impossible
Pascal Thivent
@womp: That's a pretty bold statement coming from someone who calls himself "womp" ;)
...which doesn't mean you're not right.
IMO, The problem about the GIMP isn't necessarily about its features (or lack thereof), but more so about its unusual user interface approach which feels widely different to many users, especially the ones used to concepts on MS platforms.
+1  A: 

Countless game mods, but this one for HL2 in particular excited me and looked top quality, alas they have not made an update since 2006. This is one mod I really would have liked to play. Quality artwork, original idea, and good backstory.


+3  A: 


it was (still is) a very nice alternative to Twitter, much prettier, more organized, more scalable and with more features. I must say that it wasn't used by too many people, maybe that's why Google has abandoned it. and Twitter was in its hype, so Jaiku wasn't getting much new users.

too sad, I liked it...

According to interview of Jaiku's founder in finnish magazine, it was never Google's intention to further develop Jaiku. They wanted to integrate the features to new Google products (see Latitude, Waves, Profiles..).Interview in finnish: http://www.talouselama.fi/uutiset/article298287.ece
The name is too asian sounding for the mass.. to someone hearing it for the first time they would think it was a video game or some fantasy thing.
+3  A: 

Like I said here, which, BTW, is very similar to this question:

"There's no platform that's more under-appreciated than the Ecere SDK.

It was created by a guy in ##programming on freenode, its official channel is #ecere on the same network.

He's been working on it for years, it just never got noticed.

Don't be be deceived by it's website's old look; it's really amazing, you can find examples of it along with a sample code here.

I hope you guys like it. GB"

Leo Jweda
+3  A: 

Multics. Symmetric multiprocessing with world-wide addressing (18 bit segment + 18 bit offset would have gorgeous with 24 bit segment and 40 bit offsets) and robust security, running in the 1960s. Used in the WhiteHouse until a few years back because it really was secure! We could have had Multics. Instead we got Eunuchs :-( and what stormed the market was a really bad OS called MSDOS. Now all we have are flat-space Linux and Windows. What has this devolution cost us? (I suppose I'm really feeling sorry for us all).

Ira Baxter
Gotta learn to walk before you can run.
Too bad we learned to run first, then learned to like crawling.
Ira Baxter
More information on Multics: http://ftp.stratus.com/vos/multics/multics.html. And some photos of Multics people: http://ftp.stratus.com/vos/multics/tvv/multics-images.html
Jim Ferrans
+8  A: 

Xanadu. Ted Nelson's hyperlink vision, doomed to failure by his ambitions. Much later Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web as a lab-internal documentation scheme and accidentally scooped Ted.

Ira Baxter
Sounds so 60s, is it "dead as disco"?
As much as any project that isn't mainstream is "dead as disco". OTOH, there are zillions of ideas that aren't 2010 mainstream ideas and yet still have some interesting life. The question in this forum was, "What do you feel sorry for" and I interpret that as "what really good ideas didn't become mainstream?"
Ira Baxter
... and perhaps to make the point about the 60s, the Xanadu vision was indeed conceived back in the 60s.
Ira Baxter
Xanadu was impossible as a practical project in the 1960s, or 1970s for that matter, and probably the 1980s, although a showcase local setup could have been done (and might have been, for all I know).
David Thornley
If you go to http://Xanadu.com, you can read about the history of the project. There's been a number of attempts to build it. But I don't think it was impossible, any more than Multics was impossible in the 60s. I stil think of Multics as being the OS we could have had, and what we got was Windows.
Ira Baxter
+4  A: 

Burroughs. Beautiful Algol machines in hardware, no assembly code, OS ("MCP") coded in a high level language from day 1. Overwhelmed by IBM salesmen selling to the suits. Burroughs lost this war and then went on to produce the 1700, a machine that would run any language you cared to define, by swapping in the necessary microcoded HLL interpreter on a task switch. Finally eaten by loser hardware vendor Unisys. Poor Burroughs. (If they had won the marketplace, nobody would have ever had an Intel PC or instruction set to contend with).

Ira Baxter
+6  A: 

I feel sorry for the D programming language. It's great. You really should hear of it as much as you do C.

+1  A: 

The Commodore Amiga. I remember learning to program in C on mine and it was such a great OS, with fantastic computer architecture.

James Black
It was great. Way ahead of its time.
+5  A: 

HURD - HIRD of Unix-replacing daemons, where HIRD stands for HURD of interfaces representing depth

Sounds good on paper, but probably even Microsoft will have something comparable on the market before its finished.
I personally don't get why an OS supposedly based on a slim micro-kernel with modularized components can take that long to finish - it should be easier with that architecture.

Georg Fritzsche
Here's a question for you - If Linus was a HURD hacker, would it have gotten done before now?
+4  A: 


I love the product. Sadly, it is now in the shadows. Some people keep predicting increase in Delphi popularity in the future, but I am just afraid it won't happen.

Peter Perháč
I've not heard that prediction for about 10 years. Who is doing the predicting?
+3  A: 

OS/2 2.0 and upwards

It was really great at its time, unfortunately they couldn't manage to get developers to write applications for it, and had to depend on it's windows support.

Viktor Sehr

In the dotcom age, I briefly worked on a project for a startup. The startup went bankrupt before the site was launched :)

Hans Westerbeek
I hope you at least got paid.
David Thornley
I did, but the company I was working for wasn't so lucky :)
Hans Westerbeek