Microsoft Sucks at Naming Products

Microsoft is bad at naming things. Their recent renaming of the “Windows Store” to the “Microsoft Store” is just the latest in a long line of confusing and silly product names.

Just look at the names of consumer versions of Windows: Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10. Microsoft can’t stick with a naming scheme for long.

The Windows Store Is Now the Microsoft Store

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As you may have recently noticed, the Windows Store app on your PC—the one that offers app downloads—is now named the Microsoft Store. Of course, the “Microsoft Store” is also the name of a chain of physical stores Microsoft operates where they sell laptops. Just imagine if Apple suddenly renamed the “App Store” on iPhones and Macs to the “Apple Store”. Apple would be mocked everywhere, even on late night TV. The only reason people aren’t laughing at this new name is because no one cares about the Windows Store.

Whenever someone refers to “the Microsoft Store”, it’s now unclear whether they’re referring to the app store on Windows or the physical stores Microsoft operates. Sure, Microsoft wants to blur these lines because it will begin selling hardware in the Store app on Windows and because that same Store can be used to purchase Xbox games, but naming it the same thing as their physical stores is just dumb and confusing.

Microsoft Won’t Stop Renaming Things!

The “Microsoft Store” suddenly replacing the “Windows Store” isn’t an isolated incident. Like other companies that should know when to quit, Microsoft keeps renaming products with perfectly good names.

For example, Microsoft renamed its Beam video game-streaming service to Mixer less than two months after it first appeared in Windows 10’s Creators Update. Both Beam and Mixer are fine names, but if you want a name to be recognizable to your customers, pick one and stick with it! Don’t rename a product a few weeks after putting it in front of users. (Google is guilty of this too.)

This pattern is repeated throughout Microsoft’s history. Microsoft Passport became .NET Passport and then transformed into Windows Live ID before Microsoft settled on the sensible name “Microsoft account”. Windows Mobile was replaced by Windows Phone 7 Series, but then Windows Phone turned back into Windows 10 Mobile. MSN Music led to Zune, which then morphed into Xbox Music before it was renamed Groove Music and then finally axed. Microsoft flails around wildly, renaming services over and over as if that alone will make them successful.

Windows 10’s Update Names Are Terrible

Windows 10’s update names are terrible and have no consistency to them. Here’s a list of the Windows 10 updates that Microsoft has launched since Windows 10 was released:

This is a baffling collection of names. We’ve received messages from confused readers who wonder why a certain feature isn’t available on their PC when we say the feature is in the Fall Creators Update. Those readers were actually using the Creators Update and don’t realize it’s a different thing.

“November Update” is even worse. When you see a headline like “Microsoft will no longer release security updates for the Windows 10 November Update”, you might worry because you just installed an update in November, 2017. But no, the November Update was released in 2015, so you don’t have to worry about that.

RELATED: Microsoft Should Name Windows 10 Updates After Dogs

Even Microsoft employees get confused by this. Just look at this post on the official Skype blog referring to the “Windows 10 November Update (2016)”. The November Update was released in 2015, but Microsoft employees can’t keep that straight!

Microsoft should just name these updates after dogs. It may sound like I’m joking, but cats worked for Apple and at least they’d be more memorable than the confusing collection of names we have now.

What Does the S Stand for In Windows 10 S?

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Why is the new edition of Windows 10 that can’t install traditional desktop apps named “Windows 10 S“, anyway? At the time it was announced, Microsoft said that Windows 10 S represented the “soul of Windows”—a soul that apparently does not include running whatever applications you like without shelling out an extra $50 to Microsoft.

This doesn’t really make sense in the broader Windows 10 lineup anyway, where you have Windows 10 Home, Windows 10 Professional, Windows 10 Enterprise, and Windows 10 S. One of these names is not like the other.

Even more confusingly, the S in Windows 10 S doesn’t have anything to do with the Xbox One S, which was also released recently and doesn’t make any sense as a name, either. Maybe adding an “S” to things is just trendy around the Microsoft offices right now.

Windows 8’s Names Were Even Worse Than Windows 10’s

Windows 8 was a fun collection of nonsense names, too. In fact, compared to Windows 8, Windows 10’s version names are amazingly consistent and clear. Here’s what Windows 8’s major updates were named:

  • Windows 8
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows 8.1 Update
  • Windows 8.1 August Update
  • Windows 8.1 Update 3

At the time, Windows 8 was so poorly received that Windows 8.1 was advertised as a whole new release of Windows. It even had its own product keys that were incompatible with Windows 8. Microsoft eventually changed its mind, though, and we’re now supposed to look back on Windows 8.1 as a minor patch to Windows 8 instead.

Microsoft was going to release an “Update 1” for Windows 8.1, but they changed their minds because they didn’t want to promise there would be an Update 2. So Microsoft just called it “Windows 8.1 Update”, a ridiculous name on its own.

That unpromised “Windows 8.1 Update 2” officially became the “August Update”, and Microsoft complained that the talk of an Update 2 was “rumors and speculation“. But, despite Microsoft’s insistence that there never was an Update 2, Microsoft quietly released an official “Update 3” later. If there really never was an official Update 2, then how did we get to Update 3?

None of this drama really matters, except for the part where users end up confused by the names and don’t realize which update came out before which other update.

There Are Several Different Xbox Ones

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And what about the Xbox One, anyway? Microsoft went from the Xbox to the Xbox 360 to the Xbox On (never mind that the original Xbox had come to be known colloquially as the “Xbox 1”, further confusing everybody). Now there are several different Xbox Ones: The original Xbox One, Xbox One S, and Xbox One X. They include different hardware and support different features. That’s even sillier.


Other companies aren’t the best when it comes to names, of course: Witness Google’s endless stream of chat apps named things like Google Talk (called “Chat” in some areas), Hangouts, Google+ Messenger, Allo, and Duo, or their confusingly named Google Play Music All Access service that also includes YouTube Red, a name that sounds too much like a certain adult website. But Microsoft is particularly terrible, especially considering they’re trying desperately for some of these poorly-named services to be successful—unlike Google, who appears to just throw spaghetti at the wall until something sticks.

Microsoft has improved since the days of Windows 8.1 Update and Windows Phone 7 Series, so that’s some small solace. But they still have a long way to go.

Image Credit: Antonaio Gravante/Shutterstock.com, Roman Pyshchyk/Shutterstock.com, Pieter Beens/Shutterstock.com, Jeramey Lende/Shutterstock.com.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry.Connect with him on Twitter.

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