What is FUD?
Written by Roger Irwin, 1998. Comments etc. to irwin(at)mail.com
F.U.D. stands for Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. It is a marketing technique used
when a competitor launches a product that is both better than yours and costs
less, i.e. your product is no longer competitive. Unable to respond with
hard facts, scare-mongering is used via 'gossip channels' to cast a shadow
of doubt over the competitors offerings and make people think twice before
In general it is used by companies with a large market share, and the overall
message is 'Hey, it could be risky going down that road, stick with us and
you are with the crowd. Our next soon-to-be-released version will be better
than that anyway'.
In the computer world, FUD was first practiced on a large scale by IBM in
the 1970's. Many people cite Amdahl as coining the phrase when he left IBM
to start his own company thus making himself a FUD target.
When IBM moved into the desktop market with the launch of the IBM PC, it
took FUD tactics along with it. IBM themselves only reckoned on selling around
100 to 200 thousand units of the PC, which were to be sold as an alternative
to the APPLE II in 'all IBM' companies. It should be remembered that in many
respects the IBM PC was an overpriced and retrograde step for the desktop
market which had already reached the level of 16 bit multi-user, multi-tasking
machines with a good deal of flexibility and inter-operability of hardware.
The IBM PC had non of these characteristics and cost more, but by marketing
on the strength of the IBM label (stick with us, we are big), the PC exceeded
all expectations and killed off the existing market.
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
Whilst the DR DOS case may be one of the most significant events in the story
of the PC, my favorite FUD factor event pre-dates this, before FUD was a
household world, and the story relates to hardware, not software.
AMSTRAD, a UK consumer electronics manufacturer, had a reputation of selling
reasonably OK electronics goods at rock-bottom prices. Much of their success
was due to rationalized design, giving customers what they most desired whilst
keeping the construction simple. One day they decided to launch a range of
PC's aimed at the home consumer. Due to the optimization of the design, AMSTRAD
decided that a 35W PSU would be sufficient, even if a hard disk and tape-streamer
were added (at that time many low end PC's just had twin floppy drives).
As the computer was supplied complete with a monitor (and monitors have complicated
PSU requirements), they also decided that instead of putting the standard
PSU in the corner of the box (as most manufacturers still do today), they
would supply the computer from the monitors PSU, which was accordingly upgraded.
This actually spawned another advantage. Monitors dissipate a lot of heat,
and so the large case is peppered with holes to allow effective convention
cooling. Computers by contrast tend to be closed boxes, and so it was (and
still is) normal to have a fan incorporated in the PSU. As the AMSTRAD had
no PSU in the case, and the contents dissipated typically 20W, they ran quite
happily with no fan (they had incorporated convection cooling in the case),
and so were also quieter.
The AMSTRAD computers were a great success. Too great. Not only did they
sell in AMSTRAD's traditional consumer market, but they were finding a place
in office environments, where equivalent 'traditional' models cost typically
50-100% more, and of course the AMSTRAD'S were quiet. FUD campaign gets rolling.
"The AMSTRAD has no cooling fan", shock horror. "Stick a hard disk in an
AMSTRAD and it melts", aghhh.., "If your program crashes it is because your
AMSTRAD has no cooling fan".
The FUD was easily refuted. AMSTRADS actually worked quite well, and you
could use them all day, then feel the box and find it to be cool. Nonetheless,
many new customers where being scared away from the AMSTRAD because it had
no fan when everybody else did. So in the end AMSTRAD fitted fans, right
in the back corner where the PSU normally goes. Of course the AMSTRAD had
no PSU there, and because the case was designed for natural air-flow, a simple
test with a cigarette would soon reveal that the air was just going round
But it kept everybody happy! Rational people in the know simply cut the wires
to the fan (and never had any problems), but the majority of users just accepted
the constant whine of the fan as necessary. Such is the power of FUD.
A few FUD examples and links:
Confusing naming of USB standards and speeds.
This link has changed...
Athlon CPUs seems to be named after Windows XP and labeled with wrong clock rates.
Seeing things from a biblical perspective might even help you to understand the basic
mechanisms and the level of moral it takes, to carry out a full fledged FUD.
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