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Microsoft Fails in the Symbolism Department

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The “Kudos & Calamities” column was the brainchild of its original co-authors, AdamTheTech and Tyler Thompson. The idea behind the column was to be able to alternate authors every week who each tackle an interesting personal topic or news headline related to technology. The column was inherited by PCM members Kram and Ryan Passey, and was eventually retired as PCM evolved into more of a blogging format.

There’s been a flurry of activity directed at Microsoft this week with the release of the new name for the newest version for Windows, scheduled to be released sometime in late 2006 or early 2007. Here’s a brief look at some of the hysteria it has caused.

Microsoft induced a flurry of activity industry, letting loose a beast that brought untold chaos upon the computer industry. It only took two written words before women and children began weeping and men began gnashing their teeth, ready to flee from their computers in horror. Those two words were Windows Vista.

The general consensus is that there are two main viewpoints to the new name of the new Windows platform, which was code-named “Longhorn”. The first set of people are basically up in arms about the name and how terrible it is, while the second upholds an indifferent opinion that speaks, “ah well, it’s their company. Let them do what they want.” There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion either way. Remember, the Windows platform is just a tool, and most people probably wouldn’t be upset if they changed the model name of next year’s lawnmower model.

Then again, it’s a tool in the sense that it gets used all the time, much like a car. Think of your computer as a highway, and then each vehicle on the highway as a different Operating System. You probably wouldn’t care much if the changed the name of next year’s 16-wheeler, but if you’re a car enthusiast, you probably would have an interest in a name change of a car model that you own or would like to own (Vista was, in fact the model name of a car.

“The Windows Vista title was created after more than eight months of review by focus groups and Microsoft customers.” As I read that, my exact reaction was this:

“hahahahahahahahahaha…what a waste of a focus group”

Then I read it again. Apparently, it was plural: focus groups. At that point, I was just about ready to put my head on the table. It took multiple groups of people eight months of extensive thought and research to come up with the product name of “Vista”? I am saddened.

Not only that, but there is a business right near Microsoft’s headquarters carrying the name of “Vista,” as well as the vista.com domain. Logically, of course, they sued Microsoft. After all, Microsoft is known for doing similar things. Does anybody remember the disagreement Microsoft had over MikeRoweSoft.com, owned by Mike Rowe? Microsoft claimed the similar name would confuse customers, as both companies were in the software business.

Don’t you think Windows Vista would pose some confusion between Microsoft’s product and the Vista company? Even I had to specify which was which in that last sentence. At least the Vista company is getting a lot of publicity over this whole ordeal. If they win the lawsuit, I expect that their business will skyrocket (assuming, of course, that they run a reasonable business).

That isn’t the only business named “Vista,” either. A quick google search will bring up thousands of hits. Talk about an overused word for companies and products. Try giving this a look-see: http://www.vistawindows.com/

As for the logistics of Microsoft’s naming decision, there are a few items I’m sure many people have questions about. First, why would they choose a name that can potentially have more than one pronunciation in the English language? I know it is a pet peeve among techs everywhere that the term “ethernet” is pronounced at least two different ways. Half of the techs are always trying to correct the other half’s pronunciation, and visa versa. Ah well. I guess English is the Microsoft of languages.

The way I see it, the Windows product line already has a naming scheme. First, you have the manufacturer name, followed by the product name, followed by the release version, followed by revisions and/or Service Packs. So, you would have Microsoft Windows 2000 SP4. Microsoft Windows XP Home SP2, or, Microsoft Office 2003. It’s simple, easy to remember, tells you everything you need to know about the product, and allows users to see the chronological order of the product/version releases. And it looks like Microsoft was on the verge of continuing that trend as seen here.

So, we have Windows 3.1, 95, 98, 2000, XP, 2003 Server…and now Vista. I admit, XP was the other oddball one, but at least it had a solid, strong name to go with it. “Vista”…it sounds wishy-washy. It sounds like they’re not sure what the product does. Maybe “Windows CloudScape” would have been a better name. It has a nice ring to it, but sadly, IBM already holds the CloudScape name.

Windows Vista is not a very definitive name. Microsoft needs to stamp something on the box that doesn’t require interpretation. “as ‘Vista,’ a brand it hopes conjures an image of a sweeping view into the digital world.” Conjure an image? All I see is cloudy confusion. On top of that, here’s the new Windows sub-message, “Clear, Confident, Connected: Bringing Clarity to your World.” I’m just plain confused about the whole thing. I can tell there will be an insurmountable number of quips about Microsoft’s choice of wording here. I’m guessing that there were way too many “Yes Men” in the focus groups.

Granted, the name a bit of a stretch, but I think almost I see the direction that Microsoft wanted to go with it. Basically, Microsoft thought it would be quite poetic to use some form of symbolism in the product name. Roughly translated into plain English, we get “Windows View.” Or, “Windows Enclosed View,” “Windows Long And Narrow View,” or even “Windows Distant View”. Or, if you want to take it a step further, “Windows Windows.” Don’t forget about the implications of the word “Vista” in other languages (remember the Nova automobile? “No va” was Spanish for “No go”). In Korean, one meaning would give you “Windows Dome.” In Polish, word “wiśta” (pronounced “vista”) means to hang or to carry on. In Catalan, “Vista” means to lose sight of something. In Latvian, you’ll get “Windows Chicken.”

How about just giving in and calling it Windows Apple? Or Windows X? At least when Apple officially refers to their OSX releases, they use nouns rather than flowery descriptive words. Of course, we shouldn’t look to Apple for names either. The company is named after a fruit, after all.

If anyone has seen the promo video on the Microsoft website, there is a guy on stage dressed in a rancher’s garb (symbolizing the Longhorn name), and with a fairly nice cowboy hat, I might add. After they play the video for the audience, the “rancher” swaps his nice cowboy had for a cheap $5 baseball cap with “Windows Vista” stamped on it, and the crowd gives a droning standing ovation.

Longhorn was a halfway decent sounding name. It was a name that was difficult to make crude jokes about, and it packed a punch. The way I see it, Microsoft tossed away the coolness factor when the rancher tossed away his hat. Hasta La Vista, baby?

(Originally published on pcmech.com)