What’s in a name?

If Redmond maintains the trend, rest assured you'll know what to call "Longhorn."

Medieval demonologists believed that to know the true name of a demon was to have power over it. Not to take an analogy between demons and operating systems too far, but Auntie was thinking about this the other day while musing on the latest bit of naming spin to come out of Redmond. The operating system formerly known as Whistler (and later as Windows 2002 and Windows .NET Server) has now settled down to life as Windows .NET Server 2003.

Now, I know this might come as a shock to some of you, but “Em C. Pea” isn’t really Auntie’s name. Somewhere between my college track meets and my multinational consulting stints, I realized that a nom de plume would serve me well. There are times when one’s life needs to be compartmentalized. So, alas, even though you might have been at the same table with me and Fabio at one of those fabulous TechMentor luncheons, you weren’t tipped off by our goopy endearments—though a few of you have written in with your suspicions.

But that’s just me. Microsoft’s marketers have no interest in hiding their latest and greatest operating system from public view. One presumes that every piece of that name was chosen with care, over many late-night, pizza-fueled meetings (or do the marketers still get Chateaubriand, even in these post-dot-com times?). With that in mind, what can we divine from the new name?

Windows, of course, is the franchise. Microsoft has spent a billion dollars (give or take) promoting and protecting that name for its operating systems. Despite the recent ruling by the judge in the Lindows trademark case (suggesting that, perhaps, “Windows” isn’t a term that can be trademarked), Microsoft has no intention of abandoning this franchise without a fight. Someday, perhaps, there will be another tectonic shift in Redmond, and a new OS will replace Windows. After all, in the beginning there was DOS (and there was also that dalliance with OS/2 a few years back). But expect the launch-event-to-end-all-launch-events when that day comes.

.NET is this year’s branding—and probably the branding for the next few years as well. With the inclusion of the .NET Framework and IIS 6.0, at least this product has a legitimate claim to the name (something that can’t be as easily said about the rebranding of the BackOffice servers). Of course, Microsoft would also love it if you decided that all your .NET applications had to host its server-side components on its own operating system, so a little naming judo in this area can’t hurt. Be prepared to explain to the V.P. why Oracle on Linux is a perfectly good place to store data even if your client pieces are .NET on Windows, though.

Server means that this is the real operating system, the one we serious IT pros have been waiting for. After all, we’ve already had the first fruits of Whistler on the desktop for a year, in the flashy form of Windows XP. But how many CIOs want to run mission-critical services on something with a flashy name like that? Might as well try to transport hogs to market in a Ferrari 456M GT (yes, I’ve been eyeing new cars again). For heavy transport, you want a Mack truck. That’s what “server” is supposed to say to you.

2003 indicates that once Microsoft learns a lesson, it never forgets. Remember Windows 95 and Office 95? They launched in August 1995 and didn’t ship in quantity until the end of the year—which means that by the time corporations could buy them, the name already had a vaguely obsolete sound. That will never happen again. Now, Microsoft products launch at the end of the year with the next year’s moniker to maximize their up-to-dateness. And salespeople will leverage that to the hilt: “It’s 2003—why are you still running a 2000 operating system?”

There’s one last consequence of this name game: Every computer book author in the world is busy with the search-and-replace feature of their word processor, trying to keep up with Microsoft as the new volumes work their way through galley proofs. Believe me, I sympathize with their annoyance every time I sign a check as Ms. Pea and the teller at my bank looks at me funny. This naming stuff is complicated, even for a simple gal like me.

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.

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