What's in a Name? - 18 Apr 2001

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other word would smell as sweet," writes William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. Microsoft certainly seems to agree with the Bard. In a surprise move, the company decided to forego its new .NET moniker for the upcoming versions of Windows and Office in favor of an even newer XP designation. The next release of the desktop versions of Windows will be Windows XP Professional Edition and Windows XP Home Edition. (The official names of the Whistler server editions are expected to be Windows Server, Windows Advanced Server, and Windows Datacenter Server.) Likewise, the next version of Office will be Office XP. Triggering thoughts of Jimi Hendrix (for those of us who remember the '60s), XP is officially supposed to stand for "experience." Unofficial rumors are that XP stands for "XML Protocol."

Why Not .NET?
Microsoft's recent flurry of naming schemes leaves me wondering what Microsoft marketing is thinking. First, the company introduced the ill-conceived year-based naming scheme. Then, the company tried out the short-lived and confusing Windows DNA, followed by the all-encompassing .NET, and now, XP. Perhaps the move to XP is the result of the confusion that surrounds the .NET concept and Microsoft's inability to successfully articulate all the different components of the .NET strategy.

The XP extension might also be a result of .NET's premature announcement—the underlying .NET support simply isn't ready for the next version of Windows. The XP name might simply be a placeholder until Microsoft really is ready to incorporate the Common Language Runtime (CLR) and other required .NET support ingredients into Windows.

Good-Bye Year-Based Names
I prefer Windows XP or Windows.NET to Microsoft's year-based naming scheme, and I'll be happy to see that bad idea fall by the wayside. We all knew that Microsoft had taken a wrong turn back in 1995 when it named its new OS (Windows 95) after the year it was released. You didn't need a lot of foresight to know that this road was full of potholes. The plan worked out OK for Win95, but it got messy fast when some products barely squeaked into release in their predestined year—and messier still when product compatibility questions inevitably cropped up. For example, the Microsoft SQL Server forums are full of questions about whether Windows 2000 is required to run SQL Server 2000 (it isn't). I suppose Microsoft adopted year-based names to give its products an up-to-date feel; in the long run, the plan had the opposite effect of making the products seem dated or disposable.

The problems with the year-based naming scheme came to a head with the release of Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me). Microsoft had already named the Windows NT 4.0 follow-on Windows 2000—even though it uses the NT code base and is totally separate from the Win9x code base. And although Windows Me was the true follow-on product to Win98—sharing the same Win9x roots—it couldn't be named Windows 2000 because that name was already taken. Nor could it be named Windows 2001, which would have implied that it was the follow-on product to Windows 2000.

Perhaps Microsoft marketing finally understood Murphy's Law of the highway: "If everything is coming your way, you're in the wrong lane." The move away from year-based names is overdue, and the change to Windows XP is a good one—even if "experience" shows us that the new name will likely be short-lived.

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