Perhaps Microsoft Freaked Out

Since about two years now, Microsoft has been touring its new full screen user interface that’ll soon be available in Windows 8. It’s called Metro… well, no longer. Long story short, only some weeks before final release they’ve now announced it’s not called Metro anymore, it’s called Windows-8-style. And they’re hard at work at updating their documents all over the place to reflect the change and erase any trace of the Metro word.

Microsoft is citing a trademark conflict with German retailer Metro AG as the reason behind the change. For one thing, it’s strange that the Metro AG trademark would extend to computing. For another, metro is a common noun used in hundreds of trademarks all around the world. It’s hard to imagine Microsoft’s legal teem would be intimidated at all by a retailer over a generic word known and used to identify many things all over the world. Even so, they surely could have bought a license from Metro AG. Remember, this is the company is using a common noun as the name of its operating system.

So how could all this make any sense? I think I just saw a clue today. Jon Brodkin writes for Ars Technica:

In an update to the “Naming your app” instructions, Microsoft now tells developers “Make sure your app name doesn’t include the word metro. Apps with a name that includes the word metro will fail certification and won’t be listed in the Windows Store.” (Hat tip to the Marked Up blog for discovering the change). Since the company Metro AG has apparently accused Microsoft of infringing its trademarks, the change in language is not unexpected in one of those puzzling, legalistic sorts of ways.

Now, this is clear and limpid: Microsoft is doing everything it can to make people stop referring to Metro-style apps as being Metro-style apps. Could they be doing that because of that strange trademark issue alone?

Here’s a crazy idea: What if that trademark issue is just a diversion? What if the terrible name (Windows-8-style) was chosen on purpose so that no one will use it1? What if Microsoft was simply afraid that the term Windows would get burried by Metro in our collective minds in a year or two2? Because when all the developers start talking about their new Metro apps being available in the Store, they won’t call those apps Windows apps, they’ll call them Metro apps, and so all the new cool things will be associated with the word Metro while Windows will become associated with applications of the past. I think someone or something at Microsoft is profoundly afraid of that, and their response has been to burry their new cool emerging brand under the Windows omniword.

Microsoft is taking a bold step with Metro, which is great. But it also looks like they fear their own shadow, which is sad.

  1. They expect everyone to say Windows-8-style, but seriously, who’s going to say that unless they’re somehow obligated to? That’s a horrible new name for Metro. ↩︎

  2. I’d guess they had that fear all along. That would explain why Microsoft talked about Metro-style apps, never forgetting to put the -style suffix as if to diminish the importance of it all. Metro-style apps were always meant to be Windows apps first and foremost. Now that Metro is gone, they certainly will. ↩︎


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