Windows Vista: What's in a name?

With Windows Vista, is Microsoft changing strategy with its OS naming conventions? Take a look at this interesting history behind its product names.

At first glance, "Vista" sounds more like a moniker that Microsoft would use as a codename for a project under development than a bona fide product name, but it's actually kind of refreshing—especially, when you think about past Windows desktop product names, like Windows 1.0 - 3.11, Windows 95, 98 and 2000, and Windows NT, ME, and XP. So, giving the new operating system a real name is a big change for Microsoft.

This shift reminded me of reading about the origin of the name "Windows." Scanning through my bookshelf I located the book titled "Gates" by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews and began skimming through the chapters on Microsoft's early days. Soon I found the history what I was looking for.

At the Fall 1982 Comdex convention in Las Vegas, Bill Gates saw a demo of a new integrated software system called VisiOn, from VisiCorp of VisiCalc fame, which featured a primitive graphical user interface, displayed applications in windows, used a mouse for navigation, and it was running on an IBM PC.  Fearing that VisiOn might easily supersede DOS and VisiCorp could potentially replace Microsoft as IBM's partner, Gates learned as much about VisiOn as he could and proceeded to oversee the development of a competing operating system product he dubbed "Interface Manager."

As the operating system progressed through the development cycle, the name stuck as Gates and other Microsoft employees had become attached to it. That is until Rowland Hanson, a veteran marketing wiz who had taken on the role of crafting Microsoft's public image, had devised a marketing campaign designed to make Microsoft a brand name by using the company name as the generic first name of every one of the company's products. He also redirected the naming of the software products to using a product name that communicated product tasks or features. For example, "Microsoft Word" became the name for the company's word processing software.

When Hanson saw Interface Manager and was tasked with developing a marketing campaign, he immediately recognized that the main feature of the product were the windows that you saw on the screen and used as the new tools to perform your work. As such, to Hanson the logical name for the product was "Windows" and the rest is history, as they say.

So now we have "Windows Vista," a name that really seems to be taking the company in a different direction as far as product naming schemes go. Not only is the "Vista" name something new, but something else appears to be missing. As you'll notice when you visit the operating system's official site and take a look at the initial product logos, the Microsoft brand name is missing. The product is referred to as just "Windows Vista."

Visit this TechRepublic discussion page to see what folks are saying about Windows Vista.

Other interesting Vista stuff

  • According to an article in the Seattle Times, Microsoft may have some legal wrangling to deal with over the "Vista" name. While the company did apply for a trademark on the name "Windows Vista," John Wall who founded a business software and services company in 1999 called Vista is investigating whether the name violates the trademark his company has held for six years.
  • A brief item posted on the official Windows Vista site indicates that beta 1 will be available August 3rd 2005. As I mentioned in the previous newsletter, beta 1 won't be all the new OS will be. This beta, which is aimed at developers and IT professionals, won't have the look and feel that the final version is going to have, but most of the technologies under the hood will be in place and ready for a test drive.
  • While it may seem like eons ago that Longhorn became part of out vernacular, it was actually on October 27, 2003, which is only 1 year, 9 months, 7 days between that date and the August 3rd beta 1 release date. For those of you who have been counting the days, that's 646 days. If you want to see how much the proposed operating system has changed since the time, see the article Gates trots out.
  • Windows XP was officially released on October 25, 2001. If, and I said if, Windows Vista were released on that same date in 2006, it would be a span of five5 years, which is in point of fact the longest gap Microsoft has ever made us endure between major releases of the Windows operating system.

For an early look at Vista, see our collection of screen shots from Windows Vista Beta 1 that give you a peek at the next version of the Windows client OS.

As always, if you have comments or information to share about Longhorn's new name, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear.

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About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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