The Ten Worst Microsoft Product Names of All Time

By  |  Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 11:31 pm

2001: HailStorm. Hail isn’t exactly a form of weather resplendent with positive associations: It kills crops, damages cars, blinds drivers, and is downright painful–and occasionally deadly–to people unfortunate enough to get pelted by it. Yet that’s the codename that Microsoft chose to associate with the plans it unveiled in 2001 to deliver an array of Web services and to store consumers’ personal information for use with Microsoft and third-party offerings.

The notion of Microsoft controlling so much private data proved instantly controversial; the company changed HailStorm’s name to .NET My Services, and then put the whole idea on hold And yet HailStorm wasn’t so different from services that Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and others offer today. I can’t help wondering whether it would have fared better if it hadn’t had a name that suggested a violent weather disturbance descending from the heavens to afflict us mere mortals.

What it should have been called:
Microsoft Passport–a name Microsoft gave its online ID service even before it announced HailStorm–wouldn’t have been bad. Today, however, Microsoft Passports are known as Windows Live IDs (presumably to distinguish them from all those Windows IDs that have died).

2004: Windows Genuine Advantage. Understandably, Microsoft hates it when people pirate Windows. So it added multiple copy-protection measures such as activation and validation to Windows XP and Windows Vista. Collectively, they’re known as Windows Genuine Advantage, which the company touts as a benefit to properly licensed users. But WGA asks paying Microsoft customers to jump through piracy-detecting hoops. Worse, it’s been known to accuse them of stealing Windows and shut off functionality.

What it should have been called: Snarky answer: Windows Genuine Disadvantage. Serious one: Windows Anti-Piracy Technology.

Plays for Sure2004: PlaysForSure. This logo program for services and devices that used Windows Media DRM may have been the single most inaccurately named item in the history of personal technology. The name exuded hubris, but PlaysForSure tracks often FailedToPlay on PlaysForSure-enabled devices–and, of course, they didn’t play at all on the world’s most popular MP3 player, arch-rival Apple’s iPod. For Pete’s sake, they didn’t even play on Microsoft’s own music player when it appeared. By the time Microsoft shut down the PlaysForSure-powered MSN Music service, it had already rolled PlaysForSure into the blandly named Certified for Windows Vista program, which doesn’t promise much of anything.

What it should have been called:
MusicCripplingWindowsMediaDRM. Or just plain Windows Media, which is what PlaysForSure was beneath the patina of marketing hype.

Microsoft Office Logo2006: 2007 Microsoft Office System. When Microsoft announced Microsoft Office 2007 in February 2006, it started calling the overall Office platform the “2007 Microsoft Office System,” even though individual versions, such as the alarmingly wordy Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2007, kept the year at the end of the name. At the time, a Microsoft representative explained the distinction to me, but I barely comprehended it even then–it was as if the company wanted Windows 95 to be called 95 Windows in certain instances. Then there was the superfluous “system” on the end, which reminds me of how the Disney company insists on calling Disneyland the “Disneyland Resort.”

What it should have been called: Microsoft Office 2007. Actually, that’s what everybody outside the city limits of Redmond does call it.

Windows Live2008: Windows Live Essentials: In September 2008, Microsoft announced that it was stripping three of Windows Vista’s applets–Windows Mail, Windows Photo Gallery, and Windows Movie Maker–out of Windows 7. They would live on, but as free downloads, known collectively (along with other apps such as Windows Live Writer) as Windows Live Essentials. But doesn’t the fact that Microsoft unbundled these tools from Windows prove that they’re not essential? Bonus annoyance: Microsoft’s decision to identify these downloadable freebies’ under the Windows Live rubric (which usually applies to Web services) makes it even harder to define just what Windows Live means.

What it should have been called: I’m not sure that anyone gains anything by giving these applets a collective name. But something along the lines of Windows Bonus Material or Windows Extras would work.

Runners Up: Six More Unfortunate Microsoft Names

Chkdsk. Even in the DOS era, it was unclear why the name of this venerable disk-checking utility skipped all its vowels; even with the eight-character filename limit it could have at least been Checkdsk or Chekdisk. Today, there’s no excuse for not calling it CheckDisk.

All Microsoft products called Messenger. Not that it’s inherently bad name. But there’s Windows XP’s Windows Messenger; there’s the unrelated command-line utility called Windows Messenger Service, famous mostly for being a security leak; and there’s the old MSN Messenger, which was renamed Windows Live Messenger in 2005. That’s at least two Messengers too many. To its credit, though, Microsoft didn’t change “Messenger” to “Message Explorer.”

Microsoft Office Word. And Microsoft Office Excel, Microsoft Office PowerPoint, and Microsoft Office Access. With Office 2007, Microsoft stuck in a superfluous “Office” in the middle of some of the best-known names in the history of software. Nobody noticed. Basic rule of thumb: If your customers don’t realize that you’ve changed your product’s name, you’ve failed.

OneNote. Merriam-Webster tells me that “one-note” means “monotonous.” Microsoft’s handy note-taking application deserves better.

The Road Ahead. Published in 1995, Bill Gates’s best-selling book famously didn’t predict the rise of the Internet, thereby utterly failing to live up to the visionary promise of its title.

Windows 95: Yes, seriously: By the time it finally shipped, 1995 was two-thirds of the way over, leaving the blockbuster new version of Windows sounding slightly stale from the get-go. And it ushered in the era of consistently inconsistent Windows names, from additional year-based ones (Windows 98, 2000), to inappropriately highfalutin’ modifiers (Windows Millennium Edition, Windows Vista) to mysterious acronyms (Windows XP).

Are there other tech-product names you find annoying and/or inaccurate–from Microsoft or from other companies? Or maybe even names you think are really good? Sound off in the comments.



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11 Comments For This Post

  1. Chris Says:

    “which later went straight from Netscape Navigator 4.0 to version 6.0” There was actually a reason for the jump from 4.0 to 5.0. Netscape 5.0 was under development but later got scrapped even though they were well on the way through the project. They then created what became the Gecko rendering engine to replace the existing one. So 5.0 was scrapped and they proceeded with 6.0.

  2. Mike Dunham Says:

    Slightly OT because it’s not a product name, but I’ve always been frustrated by the default “C:Program Files” instead of just “C:Programs”. There is NO REASON for that random space in the middle of the file path.

    Same with “C:Documents and Settings” – two directories (“C:Documents” and “C:Settings”) would have made much more logical sense, and eliminated the spaces.

  3. Simon Says:

    What about Windows 7? Given that it is, in fact, really Windows 6.1…

  4. Jochen Says:

    omg, bob! i remember this silly guy way too well …..

  5. ediedi Says:

    ha! chkdsk brings back memories…
    more on-topic: ‘System restore’, the first thing to turn off after installing windows, when in fact it was a ‘System backup’, restore being only the eventual reverse process.

  6. Relyt Says:

    How about the “Taskbar Notification Area” AKA the System Tray. Even Microsoft calls it the system tray, so why it it’s official name the taskbar notification area?

  7. jollins Says:

    I agree with Simon. Windows 7 qualifies for this list too if Word 6 was placed on it for version number manipulation. Windows 7 sounds like a nice, clean name, but its a stretch to call it the 7th version of Windows.

    How is it the 7th version? Does it go Windows version 1-2-3-95-2000-Vista-7? Obviously a few products get skipped regardless of how you count it.

  8. Michael Says:

    Windows 7 comes from the build number of the Windows NT family.
    Windows NT 3.x = Windows NT 3.x
    Windows NT 4 = Windows NT 4
    Windows 2000 = Windows NT 5
    Windows XP = Windows NT 5.1
    Windows Server 2003 = Windows NT 5.2
    Windows Vista = Windows NT 6
    Windows Server 2008 = Windows NT 6
    Windows 7 = Windows NT 7

    So, Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003 are all considered minor updates from each other, but Vista & 7 are major upgrades? Silly, I know, but that is where it comes from.

  9. P Smith Says:

    Windows CE + Windows ME + Windows NT = Windows CEMENT

    I think that pretty much sums them up: mixed up, hardened and set in their concrete ways. And just like poorly laid concrete, Microshaft (or at least, Windoze) needs to be broken up.

  10. Ron Says:

    Pre-Windows, MS-Dos 6 was the best OS I ever messed with. When Windows 2.0 finally entered, had it installed for about 4 hours, and got rid of it. Next best bet was 3.1 for Workgroups, pretty good!! NT4 was good also, but with alot of competition from IBM’s OS/2. Though I heard nothing but complaints about Windows 95 and 98, I liked ’em… even ME (people wouldn’t believe me). The most solid citizen was 2000. . BOB, (what the heck was that) then I jumped to XP Pro… then jumped right over Vista (what a complete waste) to now Windows 7. So, that’s my history (big deal, right). I think they need to watch, very closely, LINUX (which I’m sure they are).

  11. Kris Says:

    Microsoft Works

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