When Microsoft first decided to name its followup to XP “Vista,” I wrote at length about the significance of that moniker and what it might imply. This time, the company wants to make it clear that the next version of its OS ain’t nothing but a number.
“Over the years, we have taken different approaches to naming Windows. We’ve used version numbers like Windows 3.11, or dates like Windows 98, or ‘aspirational’ monikers like Windows XP or Windows Vista. Since we do not ship new versions of Windows every year, using a date did not make sense,” said Microsoft Canada’s Eliot Katz in an e-mail that was forwarded my way. “Likewise, coming up with an all-new ‘aspirational’ name does not do justice to what we are trying to achieve, which is to stay firmly rooted in our aspirations for Windows Vista, while evolving and refining the substantial investments in platform technology in Windows Vista into the next generation of Windows.”
I can’t criticize this approach too much, given the enterprise attitudes towards Vista so far. If Microsoft had come up with something like “Windows Dream,” for example, customers would likely have howled that they don’t want to put too much thought into the platform on which their applications reside. The last campaign for Windows focused on its “wow” factor. After more than a year of anti-Vista bile, Microsoft is aiming to simply stem any tide of outspoken discontent.
There are other alternatives to a number or an aspirational name, however. There is also the descriptive – something that represents the soul of the brand and what customers should expect from it. Microsoft might have decided upon Windows Foundation, for example, to underscore the importance of a rock-solid OS for enterprise users. That might get confused with its class library, though. Windows Bedrock? Too many Flintstones jokes. Something like Windows Gold might get across how valuable IT managers should treat the platform, but it might inspire a lot of derision over the price of the product and negative press once the inevitable bugs started surfacing. That’s no doubt why they stay away from names like Windows Excellence or Windows Powerhouse, for example. The problem with a descriptive name is it can be highly vulnerable to the sense of irony among customers and commentators (myself included).
Perhaps choosing Windows 7 is a way for Microsoft to keep expectations low in a time when businesses are expected to tighten their pursestrings. You could argue that this is, in fact, when we need companies to broadcast their aspirations with full force. It’s not only a part of the sell, it’s a way to get users thinking about creative ways to solve problems. An OS called Windows Progress, might indicate Microsoft has something major to offer its customers that predecessors lacked, that the company and the industry as a whole is maintaining its innovative momentum. A simple 7 doesn’t achieve that.
Of course, the Christian in me can’t help but think of how often the number seven appears in the Bible, particularly when Jesus is asked how often someone should be forgiven for their sins. “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven,” he says. As it prepares for yet another kick at the can, Microsoft would probably be thankful for such leniency.