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Windows 8.1: What's in a Name?

Yesterday Microsoft released some of the first details of its Windows 8 upgrade, code-named Windows "Blue."

Here's now what we know: The update now has the official name of Windows 8.1. And we also know that Windows 8 and Windows RT users won't need to shell out any more money for the update, which may or may not bring back the start button.

We also have this vague description from Microsoft's Tami Reller on what the offering will be: "Windows 8.1 will advance the bold vision that we set forward with Windows 8 to deliver great PCs and tablets with an experience that does allow you to simply do more," she said during a presentation yesterday.

Even with Reller's presentation, it's still unclear what Windows 8.1 is. In the past, when Microsoft rolled up updates and new features for its OS, these used to be called service packs. But seeing that this will be called Windows 8.1 and not Windows 8 SP1, one might be inclined to believe that this is not the same thing -- that it's something different than a service pack.

However, this is Microsoft -- the company that avoids product name consistency like the plague.

And the few glimmering details we do have (either by rumor or directly from Microsoft) does make it sound like Windows 8.1 will just consist of rolled up updates and new features. So I'm leaning more towards this being more Microsoft naming shenanigans and an attempt by the company to jazz up what is essentially a service pack.

This is a rare occurrence where the naming switch does make sense for the sole purpose of at least getting the public to take another look at Windows 8.

Let's face it -- Microsoft is desperate to move some Windows 8 units. It clearly sees that releasing something called Windows 8 Service Pack 1 won't light a fire under an apathetic consumer base. And calling it Windows 8 "do-over" doesn't really work as well. So what can Microsoft name this to convey both to the public that it's a new and improved Windows 8?

Luckily, Apple has already laid the groundwork. For more than 10 years now, Apple has been rolling out new updates to its OS X operating systems with a yearly refresh that, in some cases, has been drastically different than the previous year. But instead of calling it a new OS, they stick a new version number on it (along with throwing a large cat code name on it).

We've been conditioned to understand that Apple's latest version upgrade, OS X v10.8, is almost a completely different product than its previous OS X v10.7 because of a change in one decimal number.

I could see that Microsoft would want to take a page of the market branding that Apple has already established, especially since Redmond desperately needs some help in this department. And it does want to convince consumers that Windows 8.1 is worth giving a shot, even among those who gave Windows 8 vanilla a shot and have already wrote it off.

However, a name that consumers can get behind can only carry you so far, and a product rarely lives or dies by its brand name (Ok, the Microsoft Kin may be the exception to that).

What we really need to see are the nitty-gritty details of how Microsoft has addressed the legitimate concerns users have with its latest OS. Thankfully, we won't have to wait too long for the missing pieces to drop in during next month's Build conference. And for those looking for a way in the door, Microsoft released some more tickets this morning.

What do you think, is Windows 8.1 Microsoft's attempt to spruce up the service pack name? Let me know in the comments below.

Posted by Chris Paoli on 05/15/2013 at 1:15 PM


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