Microsoft renames SkyDrive to more confusing OneDrive amid legal complaint

After a trademark infringement case filed by British Sky Broadcasting over Microsoft's cloud service SkyDrive, the service has renamed OneDrive. The new name may lead to other problems.


Image: Microsoft

In June 2013, British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), the largest pay-TV broadcaster in the United Kingdom, filed a trademark lawsuit against Microsoft concerning the name SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage service offered to users of Windows, OS X, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Xbox 360. One month later, BSkyB won its case against Microsoft, which agreed to rename the service in a timely manner. On January 27, 2014, Microsoft announced that SkyDrive is rebranded as OneDrive.

The BSkyB complaint stems from the usual branding of services from BSkyB -- that is, naming services with the word Sky, such as Sky Broadband or Sky Go, a digital streaming service. BSkyB does not provide a competing cloud storage service, though the firm acquired public-access Wi-Fi hotspot provider The Cloud in January 2011.

This is the second name change incident to hit Microsoft since the announcement of Windows 8. The first, and most visible, is the name of the oft-maligned Metro interface, which has been dubbed the "new User Interface" (among others) after trademark issues arose with German retailer Metro AG.

A protracted history of bewildering branding decisions

Microsoft's history of frequently changing branding decisions entered a new phase when Windows 8 reached the Release to Manufacturing (RTM) milestone, at which point, the Windows Live branding was abandoned, resulting in the renaming of a wide array of Microsoft products and services. The change prompted from the verdict in the BSkyB case marks the fourth name for the product now known as Microsoft OneDrive, which launched as Windows Live Folders in August 2007. Accordingly, Windows Live ID (formerly .NET Passport, itself formerly Microsoft Passport, originally introduced as Microsoft Wallet) has been renamed Microsoft account.

Microsoft's newfound focus on the word One is a byproduct of its increasingly incessant positioning of the Windows ecosystem, and by extension, the don't-call-it-Metro interface, in various products in the lives of consumers. For reference, the announcement and launch of the Xbox One, the third generation of the Xbox hardware, is a product of an apparent audacious marketing strategy that held that users would refer to it as The One as users refer to the predecessor as The 360. Instead, out of vast disapproval, the gaming press and enthusiast community have referred to it as the xbone. Accordingly, Windows 8 bears more than a passing resemblance to Windows 1.01, as noted by The Verge.

Could the new name infringe something else?

Competing cloud service: Ubuntu One

Ubuntu One, the cloud service included in the popular Linux distribution since Ubuntu 9.10, was the most visible cloud service that incorporated the word One in its name prior to the Microsoft rebranding announcement. In addition, Ubuntu One also has clients for Windows XP (and later), OS X, and Android.

At the time of this writing, there has been no public statement from Canonical, Ltd., the vendor of the popular Linux distribution, regarding the potential confusion that could arise from Microsoft's rebranding.

Web hosting and cloud service:, a web hosting service established in 2002 that has since expanded to cloud services, may also have a rightful claim to recourse. The Cloud Drive is a preexisting competing service to Microsoft's offerings, and works on Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android.

Like Canonical, no statement has been made regarding the potential confusion that could arise from Microsoft's rebranding.

Semantic problems inherent with the word one

While speculation on trademark infringement is interesting from a business perspective, a more pressing issue is the difficulty that end users face for what could prove to be another problem. A side effect of the versatility of the English language is that under certain circumstances "one" can be understood to describe a particular item in a class of items, such as hard drives. This, in turn, creates ambiguity when a noun immediately follows the word one, such as in OneDrive.

To illustrate the problem at hand, here is a theoretical support transcript.

Client: "I saved the accounting information on my one drive." Support: "Which drive did you save it to?" Client: "On my one drive."

This type of semantic nightmare is nothing new for Microsoft, which finally abandoned the practice of inserting the adjective My in front of words such as Documents or Pictures with the release of Windows Vista. Common support frustration about that practice (e.g., "It's in your My Documents folder, not my My Documents folder") will hopefully be put to rest later this year, as Windows XP reaches end of life on April 8th.

If a tree falls in a forest…

The state of OneDrive is an interesting conundrum for IT professionals and for enthusiasts taken to such discourses about product marketing, but for end users to notice a difference, end users must first exist. 

What is your take on the name change? What cloud provider, if any, do you use for your personal documents? Let us know in the comments.

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