July 17, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Microsoft looks to improve its name game

When Microsoft showed off Silverlight at an April conference, it generated near-instant buzz.

Interestingly, though, it was not the first time Microsoft had talked about the technology. But when the company had done so a year earlier, it was under the name "Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere," which just didn't excite people the way Silverlight did.

The improved moniker was no accident. For the past two years, Microsoft has put in place a concerted effort to improve its product naming, an effort that is just now becoming publicly visible with the introduction of products like Silverlight, Popfly and the new Surface tabletop computer.

"I'm very pleased with the progress we've made in a relatively short amount of time," said David Webster, the general manager of brand strategy for Microsoft. The software maker hired him away two years ago from naming expert Siegel+Gale, where he was a managing director.

Photos: Cool names, disappointing products

In recent months, Webster and team have held in-person seminars and offered Web-based training on how to come up with better product names. The group also put several dozen posters around campus with a box of Band-Aids and the caption: "You wouldn't call it Wound Healer 2.0."

The company has a rich history of products with names that are excessively wordy. Arguably one of the most convoluted monikers announced by Redmond (though thankfully later shortened) was its appellation for the mainstream 64-bit version of Windows XP: Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems.

Its woes in product naming and packaging are legendary both within and outside the company. A popular video has made the rounds on YouTube outlining what Microsoft might have done if it had been tasked with designing the iPod's box. Instead of the minimalist carton that Apple came up with, the video ends up with a text laden container for the "iPod Pro 2005 XP Human Ear Professional Edition with Subscription."

It later emerged that the video was done by people inside Microsoft.

"It was the packaging team trying to make a point about design," Webster said.

In fairness, when Microsoft did come up with its iPod rival, it gave it a distinctive name--the Zune--and included a well-designed box that shared many of the attributes of Apple's popular packaging.

The company is still trying to use its Windows and Office brands where those make sense, Webster said, though the company is also trying to brand new technologies with new names, with the brand group now working directly with Microsoft Research to brand technologies even when they are in their earliest incarnations.

"There are a lot of marketers at the company. They are at various levels of sophistication when it comes to how they think about naming."
--David Webster, general manager of brand strategy, Microsoft

Still, when it comes to names, there are still some mouthfuls coming out of Redmond. At its Worldwide Partner Conference recently, Microsoft was touting the benefits of its Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), a collection of tools for businesses to manage their PCs.

"I think there's an opportunity for us to get better in naming some of the products," Microsoft COO Kevin Turner said during an interview at last week's conference in Denver. "I mean, we just have a lot of products, and we're building a lot of products. So that puts a lot of pressure on making sure you can be consistent."

Turner also noted that the company has to go through an extensive process to make sure that its desired names are available in all the places Microsoft sells its products. "And so there's a whole legal process that goes into naming conventions," he said. "But, you know, I think it's fair to say that we could do a little bit better job in that area."

It's also a matter of getting the message out to hundreds, if not thousands of people, scattered throughout the company.

"There are a lot of marketers at the company," Webster said. "They are at various levels of sophistication when it comes to how they think about naming."

The Windows Live group in particular has come under fire for labeling multiple products with the same name and constantly shifting things around. The memorable Hotmail became Windows Live Mail, only to finally settle on Windows Live Hotmail. Another product, then known as Windows Live Mail Desktop, moved in to quickly scoop up the name Windows Live Mail.

CONTINUED: Keeping the audience in mind…
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Not to mention the 47 versions of Vista
A lot comes out of Redmond, but simplicity, good design, good
functionality, and positive customer experience are not among
Posted by expatincebu (156 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes yes we all saw
the apple ad, oh my it's so hard to tell the difference:
home basic - no aero, for cheap computers (those costing 70% less than an apple)
home premium - for home use, no active directory
business - for businesses, no multimedia
ultimate - has everything
Really when you think about this, it's no harder than the XP Home/Pro setup. Maybe that was hard to some people, but then I don't know how those people managed to tell the difference between the NT line and the DOS based Windows versions either.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Link Flag
Take another page from Apple.
MS has pretty much been copying Apple since inception. Why not just copy Apply right out. Or, at least, take another page from Apple's naming convention. Take Apple's OS: Mac OS X. It's very simple. You can't mistake it for any other OS. We know it's a Mac. To determine which version, Apple uses the feline family as their naming convention: from Puma to Leopard.

When one thinks of those big cats, it evokes certain feelings of aggresssivenes. Fearsome. Best of all, it rolls of the toungue. Which one can not readily say for: Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems.
Posted by Silver_Surfer3838 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
oh ya. that explains
That explains the use of names from feline family by Apple... coz some of the species are on the verge of extinction...
Posted by cary1 (924 comments )
Link Flag
Disclaimer: Not a fan boy of either system. I've said it before and I'll say it again - apple has a rich history of copying from others. However, when apple gets copied they create a keynote address around the competition and not their own products.

For example, the latest OSX includes: Spaces, Time Machine, Fast User Switching, and a few others. Jobs hailed these as great new features, but he failed to mention that these have been in XP since 2001.

Another example is the sidebar. Apple people claim MS stole this for Vista. What they didn't state was that this came from Konfabulator. Heck, even OS/2 had a sidebar in 1992!!!
Posted by frankwick (413 comments )
Link Flag
If you're going to praise Apple's naming conventions, picking the ridiculous OS naming is not the way to go.

OS X, great - but OS 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 10.4, 10.5? Not Apple's best naming work.
Posted by cameronjpu (178 comments )
Link Flag
Now that you got some cool names....
how about some cool products that really work! Yes I use Vista and I hate it with a passion! Used it since it came out on the market and I still think its atrocious. A bunch of things comes to mind:
1. Have you noticed some of the graphics are hard to see?
2. Have you noticed how zipping and unzipping is extremely slow? XP is much faster. So does that constitute a downgrade instead of an upgrade?
3. Did you notice Defrag has no detail screen like XP had? I consider that a downgrade and not an upgrade.
4. Nero does not work need to buy new version.
5. VirtualDrive 10 and under does not work need to buy new version.
6. 128 Meg Nvidia add on card did not work needed to buy another one.
7. Several JAVA related programs did not work. I cannot replace.
8. Sign Language program did not work. I cannot replace. (This was important)
9. My EXPENSIVE Dreamweaver did not work. I hope my workplace will replace it.
10. My disk labeling software (The favorite one) did not work. There was no replacement as of yet.
11. MS Internet Explorer was highly disfunctional. I ended loading up Opera.
12. I was upset that I could no longer put "Control panel in MyComputer (Now called Computer).
13. Unable to temporarly turn off System Restore (There are good reason for this function)
14. I really hate all those open folders. (Really who cares whats in a folder to see page ends sticking out)
15. I cannot run OCR Software from previous version of windows. I had to update me Brother Laser printer drivers only to find that it will not do OCR. This was very important to me and was the reason I bought this printer late last year. I went to the OCR website "Nuence Scansoft" to see if they have an update only to find that purchese a new version for 150.00.

This is all I can think of to this date. But I did spend hours trying to get things to work. You should have seen all the error codes (Over 400) listed in task manager. (Its still still there after a hard find and you can no longer get to it with the three finger salute.)That was having this computer for just two weeks. The gadget bar and Areo effects have already gotten old to me after all the problems I have been confronted with.

If you are a vista user please add you gripes and see what kind of list we can compile here!
Posted by Ted Miller (305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It is hardly MS's fault if third parties
will not release updates for their software.
Posted by catch23 (436 comments )
Link Flag
OK, *that* was a funny post!
Posted by KTLA_knew (385 comments )
Link Flag
3rd parties
First of all, why did you upgrade if you hate it so bad?

Second, there was a list of software that doesn't work and Nero is at the top of the list. Any effort to educate yourself on the upgrade process would have dug up this little info nugget.

I seriously doubt IE7 didn't work out of the box and you were forced to switch to Opera.

90% of your problems are from 3rd parties anyway. Anytime you upgrade anything from any vendor you should always check for compatibility -- especially if it is important to your daily work. Hello common sense?

Apple and Nvidia were all over the media for not having their software ready to roll with Vista. How could you possibly not know that your Nvidia card would not work? These companies took some flack for this since Vista was available to developers in various forms for a year or so. Your Nvidia card should work now, they released updated drivers a couple of months ago.
Posted by frankwick (413 comments )
Link Flag
No gripes here...
Because I'm on a Mac.

When Apple switched to OS X, they kept a "Classic" version of
the OS on board so all your old programs continued to work. It
was a seamless transition for me. When they switched to Intel
chips, their Rosetta software allowed the Power-PC chip software
to run along side and you'd never know it. Now, any Universal
Binary software runs on both chips. I can also run Windows on
my Mac Pro laptop with Parallels software.

Sorry to hear about your woes. Not sure why Microsoft wouldn't
try to make the transition smoother. Relying on 3rd parties to
keep up is one thing. Providing a great user experience and a
smooth transition is another.

Notice, no belligerence. But I do expect some in comments to
my post.
Posted by ckdexterhaven2 (3 comments )
Link Flag
legacy compatibility
most of your complaints are that the old versions of your software don't work any longer. Of course, if they did, you might complain the OS wasn't secure enough or didn't offer enough new features. Microsoft has done an excellent job with backward compatibility, but sometimes you have to sacrifice compatiblity for progress.

-btw - I suspect you would have found the 'Program Compatibility Wizard useful - <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://windowshelp.microsoft.com/Windows/en-US/Help/99a95df6-04e6-46eb-bb65-6404cd215e641033.mspx" target="_newWindow">http://windowshelp.microsoft.com/Windows/en-US/Help/99a95df6-04e6-46eb-bb65-6404cd215e641033.mspx</a>
Posted by Nizzuts (35 comments )
Link Flag
However, it's time to upgrade...
third party want to get money out from your pocket... not Microsoft's fault...

but about the defrag problem, I believe the background defrag much more user friendly...

not to mention people didn't upgrade their Windows based PC since Windows 98 came out...
Posted by Kenny Yeung (25 comments )
Link Flag
A pile of crap by any other name
is still a pile of crap.

Microcrap does not get it and never will.

It is about usability and security.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Reply Link Flag
nice contribution
next time you decide to 'contribute' something, think twice and flush instead
Posted by Nizzuts (35 comments )
Link Flag
You still don't get it.
Using poor grammar, repetitive posts without content, insults, and derogatory names does nothing to help your credibility.

Rephrase your comments in an adult manner and you may find people taking your word more seriously.

Posted by Vegaman_Dan (6683 comments )
Link Flag
MS needs to spend a little money
and buy a clue. They are plentiful and cheap, but apparently no one in Redmond has ever bothered to bring one to work.

Here's an "oldie, but a goodie" that is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. :)

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUXnJraKM3k" target="_newWindow">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUXnJraKM3k</a>
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Forget the marketing for a moment...
[i]"In fairness, when Microsoft did come up with its iPod rival, it
gave it a distinctive name--the Zune--and included a well-
designed box that shared many of the attributes of Apple's
popular packaging"[/i]

...and yet it failed. Why?

1) it was locked down to ONE operating system, and ONE format.
2) It was weighed down with DRM to the point of near-
3) Nobody wants a 'wannabe' selling at (nearly) the same price -
for the same amount of cash, they want the real deal.
4) Word got out that MSFT makes each user pay a 'sin tax' to the
RIAA per unit sold, on the assumption that users are naturally
'criminals' (to use the RIAA's point-of-view on illegal sharing).
5) The one hit on the hardware was the lo-rez screen.

The Zune's hardware was fairly solid (albeit the screen was
inferior to iPod's - physically larger but at a far lower resolution).
The WiFi transfer was actually a nice idea.

The failures lie in its software and pricing scheme.

MSFT can't simply assume that inertia will sell their stuff. It's
time they actually did innovate, and not just say they do. The
Zune (and Vista) proves that they cannot.

Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree mostly
The Zune is a product late to a market that is already moving away from music-only devices. I've held the original Toshiba product it came from and it was a great little device. Why it got redesigned into the brick called the Zune, I'll never know.

The Zune's simply an ugly brick and clunky. I wouldn't own one.

Vista- well, time will tell on that one. I've seen the number of service calls to rebuild/repair/reinstall the OS on XP drop dramatically on those same systems now that Vista is being used. I can't argue with that sort of result. If it makes the system more reliable and the end users have fewer issues, then I'm good with it. Less work for me to deal with.
Posted by Vegaman_Dan (6683 comments )
Link Flag
A few good points...
While you have some good points, I think you overlooked the main reason why the Zune wasn't as successful as some might have wanted: It's not called an iPod.

I mean, let's face it, while there are media players out there that work very well and have just as many or more features as iPods, it doesn't have the name recognition nor the clever marketing...

1. Also, being locked in to one OS is a bad move of Microsoft's part, I agree. However, it is iPods that need Windows to be popular, not Zunes that need Macs to be popular. That said, cross-platform would be great for me since I use a Mac and I want to try a player other than iPods.

4. I doubt many average home users know about the RIAA tax on the Zunes. In fact, most home users probably don't even care... After all, if people despised the RIAA the way you and I do, did then Top 40 radio stations would meet their demise.

Personally, I like the Zune hardware, but the software totally sucks.
Posted by toosday (343 comments )
Link Flag
forgetthe marketing....
hmmmm,economic 101 will teach you that marketing IS everything!

it starts on Madison Ave...
Posted by gary85739 (613 comments )
Link Flag
New names, huh?
Sort of like calling a terrorist a "freedom fighter"? It makes the bystanders feel better, but doesn't help the victims any.
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Funny quote

Careful, the uneducated MS fanboys are going to call you a troll.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Link Flag
It's because of Apple
It is.
Posted by technewsjunkie (1265 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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