Bad Product Names
What's in a name? A whole lot more than some people anticipate.
- By Paul Desmond
Someone dropped the ball on the acronym due diligence when it came to Windows Update Services (WUS), the follow-on to Software Update Services (SUS). Bob Hrbek, an engineer at HP, puts it well: "Why not just SUS 2.0? Nobody wants to run around telling folks they're a WUS expert."
Bob Withers was a principal software specialist at Digital "many years ago" when the company was working on a product code-named "Local Area Clusters," typically abbreviated to LA Cluster. "The product almost went out the door with that name, until I and several others pointed out to the marketing folks that the name could be pronounced as ‘lackluster,'" Withers says. Nice catch, Bob. Want a job with Microsoft?
3270, 3174, Hike
I cut my teeth in this business covering IBM enterprise systems—the "big iron," as we liked to call it. In those days, nobody worried about coming up with imaginative product names—all you needed was a number. You had your 3270 terminals connected to 3174 cluster controllers, which hooked up to 3745 front-end processors and finally a 390 mainframe. If it wasn't for the sharp blue blazer I got to wear, I don't think I would've lasted beyond the introduction of the 3172 controller and 2216 channel adapter before 86-ing the whole gig.
As Redmond Managing Editor Keith Ward points out, computers aren't people and hence, shouldn't be named as such. That goes double when they cost nearly $10,000, as young Lisa did when she debuted in 1983. But once wasn't enough—Apple succeeded the Lisa with the Lisa 2, but came up with a name for another computer that made a whole lot more sense alongside Apple: Macintosh.
"Or anything from Funk Software," says Jay Butler of Safe Systems Inc. in Atlanta, Ga. Funk is named after its founder, Paul Funk. He launched the company in 1982, long before Fat Boy Slim came out with "Funk Soul Brother" but well after Wild Cherry hit No. 1 in 1976 with "Play that Funky Music"—so apparently he knew what he was up against. I'm all for getting funky now and then, but I still would've gone with Paul's Proxy.
Here's another that fails the acronym test, a Linux kernel that comes with a "security tools distribution," or STD. As James Kamienski, a senior systems admin in Pasadena, Calif., puts it, "There is really no good way to ask someone if they have STD."
Frankly, the name Linux never bothered me much, but Robin Turner, a server administrator at the Kennedy Space Center, complained about the pronunciation confusion. Good point: Is it linn-ucks, line-ucks or lee-nucks? For the record, Linus Torvalds pronounces it "linn-ucks," even though he pronounces his first name "lee-nus." Controversial from the start.
It's hard to separate the bad name from the bad idea—there's so much bad to go around. Shouldn't Bob be your brother, your father or, in this case, your dog? "Bad, Bob. Bad." It looks like the inside of a house—must be a computer game. What's that? It's really the computer interface you say? But … why? Because we're all too stupid to deal with Program Manager? If I start in the bathroom can I flush the whole thing down the toilet? "Bye, Bob. Bye."
Heffnetcheck? H.F.Network Check? EF Hutton? Phppht? Beats me how you pronounce it. I know, it stands for "hot fix network check." And it's a quality product, even landing in second place in the patch management category in our recent Readers' Choice awards. Still, I wonder how many IT pros are afraid to put HFNetChk on their short list for fear the boss will think it's a sloppy typo or—worse—make them pronounce it.
"You want to buy what?"
"Have some pride, man. Clean the spittle off your chin and come back when you sober up."
It was the late 1980s and Network General had been selling its Sniffer protocol analyzer for some time. But it was a rather hefty beast, so the company decided a portable version would be in order. A fine idea. Then, apparently, it sent its marketing department out for an afternoon of heavy drinking. Only after the product made it out the door and the name was plastered all over press kits did the "uh-oh" strike.
Paul Desmond, the founding editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine, is president of the IT publishing firm PDEdit in Southborough, Mass. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.