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Windows 8: Solving the Metro Naming Flap

Microsoft this week quietly but quickly began a Soviet-style rewriting of history, ordering the removal of the word “Metro” from anything related to Windows 8 and claiming that this word had always been a codename anyway. I’m not the first to call BS on this one. But I do have a solution, and one that is far better than the new phrases Microsoft is planning to use to replace the word Metro.

First, the fury: As we exclusively revealed on the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday, Microsoft is circulating a memo internally, telling its employees they can no longer use the term “Metro” for unspecified “legal reasons.”

Metro, in case you’ve been living under a rock, is the design language Microsoft developed first for the Zune HD and then formalized for Windows Phone. It’s the basis for the new experiences and apps in Windows 8 as well, though it’s important for this discussion that you remember that Windows 8 is not the first or only time Microsoft has used Metro-type interfaces. (This design language is all over the Xbox 360 Dashboard, Office 2013,, and even Microsoft’s web site, among other products and services.)

Windows 8, of course, is an odd beast. It has two operating environments, the traditional desktop, with its Win32-based applications and services, and the new “Metro” environment, with its new Metro-style apps and experiences. I put Metro in quotes there because this is what I call this environment: Microsoft refuses to call it anything, and after pressing for several long and difficult minutes during a briefing earlier this year, one of the architects behind it finally told me, exasperated, “It’s just Windows. It’s nothing else. Just Windows.”

Microsoft’s inability to name this and other experiences in Windows 8 has been a problem for me here on the SuperSite and for Rafael Rivera and me in our new book, “Windows 8 Secrets.” So we’ve taken the stance that we’re going to name those things that Microsoft will not. So Metro it is. Windows 8 has two user experiences: Metro and the desktop.

Except, of course, that Microsoft is now not allowing anyone in the company to use the term Metro. Ignoring for a moment the details of why this is so—rumors are rampant, but frankly, I don’t really care—an internal Microsoft memo has directed employees to use the term Windows 8 apps as a replacement for Metro apps (or “Metro-style” apps). And the Metro UI is now referred to as the Windows 8 UI, or “other appropriate terminology.”

This is stupid. And while Ed Bott has written what is arguably the best and most exhaustive explanation of why this last-minute change reeks of Soviet-era history rewriting, I’d like to turn my attention to what I think is a very important issue: Solving this mess.

Microsoft, please listen.

The terms “Windows 8 apps” and “Windows 8 UI” do not work. The reason Metro works is because it transcends a single version of Windows, one that will ultimately have a very limited life cycle. This is why the term “desktop” is so great. You can say the Windows desktop, and we know what it means. But we also know that the desktop is a long-lasting UI convention, one that in Windows’ case has been around since 1995. It’s not a slice in time. It’s almost timeless.

If Microsoft is serious about this new user experience, what we now call Metro, it, too, needs a name. It needs a name that will last, a name that will transcend a single Windows version and will carry on past Windows 8.

I think Metro is/was a great name. I think Microsoft should use it, and pay for it if they have to.

But if they can’t, I have a solution. And it’s right under all of our noses.

You may recall that Windows 8 includes a new runtime engine, the Windows Runtime, or WinRT. This is analogous to Win32 on the desktop side, for the most part, a runtime in which apps/applications run, and a set of APIs that developers target when creating these solutions. In the same way that one might refer to the desktop as Win32, one might likewise refer to Metro as … WinRT.

It’s perfect. Microsoft already “owns” it, is already using the RT name in some other related products (Windows RT, Surface), and it’s descriptive and will transcend and outlive Windows 8. The WinRT environment is consistent between Windows 8 and Windows RT. And related Metro, excuse me, WinRT user experiences, like those on Windows Phone and Xbox, could simply be renamed to match (e.g. WinPRT and WinXRT, respectively, or whatever).

Best of all, you can cut and paste WinRT in lieu of Metro and it just works. “Develop great Metro-style apps for Windows 8” becomes “Develop great WinRT-style apps for Windows 8.” And so on.

In this sense we could use the term WinRT to describe the runtime engine, the APIs, and the user experience. It’s that thing in Windows.

WinRT. It’s obvious.

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