In the aftermath of Microsoft's decision to use the Windows 7 codename as the final name for that product, a weird backlash has grown online: Why is Microsoft describing this release as the "seventh release of Windows" when it is clearly no such thing?
"'Windows 7 just makes sense,'" Microsoft Corporate Vice President Mike Nash wrote in a Microsoft corporate blog Tuesday. "Simply put, this is the seventh release of Windows."
It turns out it's not really that simple. And many tech bloggers are calling Microsoft's bluff, stepping through the various versions of Windows the company released over the years in an attempt to justify the logic of the Windows 7 name. They're also using this event as an excuse to stake a claim for themselves, as if this was really an issue worthy of heavy debate. Faux indignation aside, this is hardly an intellectual exercise. No matter how you count it, Windows 7 is not the seventh release of Windows. It's just that simple.
The problem, of course, is that Microsoft has confusingly used three different branding types for its client versions of Windows. It has used year names (Windows 95, 98), version numbers (Windows 3.1, Windows 3.11), and so-called "aspirational" names--Windows XP and Vista--that are as made up as the word "aspirational."
Looking at just the major versions of Windows, you will find Windows 1.x, 2.x, 3.x, 95, NT 4.0, 2000, XP, and Vista, making Windows 7 the ninth version of Windows. But there have been far more versions of Windows than those--Windows 98, Windows Millennium Edition (Me), Windows NT 3.51, and so on--not to mention supposedly minor versions like Windows 3.1 which were, in fact, huge releases.
Looking at version numbers, things get even more complex, with even more Windows versions. It doesn't help that there were two major Windows product families over the years, including the DOS-based "classic" Windows family that ended with Windows Me and the NT family of products. And NT started with version 3.1 to keep it in line with the classic Windows version of the day. Confusing? Yes. But then Windows branding has always been confusing.
Responding to this week's silly criticisms, Nash followed up his original post and tried to explain how Microsoft arrived at "the seventh release of Windows." It's a bit of tortured logic, where XP (version 5.1) is not counted as a major version while Windows 7 (version 6.1) is. The company would have been better off simply stating the obvious, and what I feel is the real reason for using the Windows 7 moniker: It's simple, and elegant, and Microsoft likes it.
In any event, Microsoft is positioning Windows 7 as a major release of the OS though the company has yet to justify that description. Its version number--6.1--hints at what Windows 7 really is, an evolutionary update to the major release called Windows Vista, which was version 6.0. Presumably, the company will add enough end user functionality to the product to make it as interesting as Windows XP, a product that rose well above the meager implications of its own version number.
We'll find out more about that next week at PDC 2008. Stay tuned.