The Many Names of Microsoft’s Mobile OS

By  |  Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 10:52 am

I’ve given up making fun of Microsoft’s product-naming habits–oddly-clunky, frequently-changing monikers are just part of what makes Microsoft Microsoft. The company knows its branding practices are fodder for humor (here’s a famous self-parodying video it made) and yet it doesn’t change them. Either it likes it this way, or can’t help itself, or both.

But as I mulled over Windows Phone 7 Series–which looks neat–I was moved to try and document the many names Microsoft has given its mobile version of Windows and devices that ran it. It’s not easy, in part because there have been times when the OS and the devices had different names, and times when they shared branding. And Microsoft has wavered between playing up the notion of a distinct mobile version of Windows and treating Windows as one universal platform. But here’s a quick chronology of everything I remember.

1996: Windows CE (which ran on devices called Handheld PCs, or H/PCs).

1998: Palm PCs, running Windows CE 2.0.

Later in 1998: Palm-size PCs, after PalmPilot maker Palm complained about the name “Palm PC.”

2000: Windows Powered Pocket PCs. The OS still ran on a Windows CE-based OS, but Microsoft stopped promoting the Windows CE brand to consumers.

2003: The OS became Windows Mobile and was available in a Pocket PC Premium edition, a Pocket PC Professional edition, a Smartphone edition, and a Pocket PC Phone edition. The PDAs remained Pocket PCs, and were joined on the market by Windows Smartphones.

2007; Windows Mobile got upgraded to version 6,  available in Professional, Standard, and Classic editions.

2009: The OS remained Windows Mobile, but Microsoft started calling the devices that ran it Windows Phones.

2010: Windows Phone 7 Series. I believe that’s the name of both the OS and the devices–“Windows Phone 7 Series phones.”

That’s eight distinct approaches to naming in a little over thirteen years. Even if you don’t count the abortive Palm PC name or the 2007 editions of Windows Mobile, Microsoft has changed the name nearly every other year on average.

Did I say that was everything I could recall? I lied: In 1998, Microsoft announced Windows CE Handheld CE Professional Edition. I’m not counting it because it was a version for subnotebook-like devices, not PDAs or phones.

With Microsoft, frequent major name changes are usually a sign of a product that’s not quite working. (Word, by contrast, has been Word since 1983.) I predict that the “Series” in “Windows Phone 7 Series” will fade away at some point–maybe whenever Windows Phone 8 shows up. But if Microsoft still makes a phone OS in 2015 and it’s still called Windows Phone, it’ll be evidence that the company has finally figured this mobile thing out…


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6 Comments For This Post

  1. Steven Fisher Says:

    I think you’re reaching when you say it’ll be evidence Microsoft has figured the mobile thing out. It could just be evidence that Microsoft has finally realized that simple names are better!

  2. David Hamilton Says:

    Ummm – is the 7 in ‘Series 7’ a version number like it sounds, or a label like in ‘Windows 7″?

    I.e will the version of Windows powering WP7S actually be 7.0? It should be, as its predecessor (albeit a totally different codebase) was 6.5…

  3. Dwain Says:

    It makes you wonder what their marketing team looks like doesn’t it lol. Personally the Windows Phone 7 sounds good enough to me, adding the “Series” is a mouth full. Who cares if there’s going to be a “Series” of phones. Simply change the number as you go along and that’s that. Windows Phone 7.2 Windows Phone 7.5 etc.. But then again I’m no marketer 😀

  4. Robert Says:

    The name sounds pretty simple to me – it is a series of phones based on Windows Phone 7. Why include “series”? It implies a change. It differentiates them from other Windows Phones. It implies that they are trying to make a clean break with Windows Mobile and it’s reputation.

  5. David Hamilton Says:

    Perhaps they meant to name it “Windows Phone 7 – Serious!”, but the print company misheard…

  6. Layla Cook Says:

    I am always on the lookout for new models of Nokia phone and also iPhone.;`”

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