Hey Microsoft, Pick One Thing to Copy & Stick With It

Microsoft is so funny sometimes. The company is constantly running around working hard to show the world who it's afraid of this week (usually, it's Apple).

For instance, I've argued that as good (in a manipulative, deceitful kind of way) as the "Laptop Hunter" ads are, they really put Apple on a pedestal and in the driver's seat, both at the same time. I think that the look(s)-and-feel(s) of both Windows XP and Windows Vista were designed from a catching-up-to-Apple point of view.

Features like MovieMaker have been me-too additions to Windows desperately intended to match iLife features. Zune was an iPod-wannabe. The Zune Marketplace was an App Store gambit.

And on and on. This is all old stuff, but there's one area where I think Microsoft would be best-served by picking one thing (to copy) and sticking to it, and that thing is names.

Looking back to Windows 95, I think Microsoft's marketing and naming process was great. Windows 95 was a great name for the OS, and it was an even better way to make it seem like an entirely new beast from its predecessor, Windows 3.x, and its competitors (Mac OS 7.x at the time). Moving ahead, Windows 98 was, I think, a logical step more or less forward, but the naming scheme was tainted by the fact that Windows 98 itself sucked.

So, Microsoft went to Windows NT (which stood for New Technology), at least on the enterprise side, and even the awful Windows Me (Millennium Edition) still kept its own naming schemes, but that's when things changed, at least to those of us on the outside. In 2000, Apple released Mac OS X, and it seems to have scared Big Redmond to death.

Microsoft's reaction to Mac OS X was to name the next version of its OS Windows XP. It was such a blatant effort to glom on to Apple's sudden cachet, it was hard to see why the mainstream tech press didn't ridicule the company to no end.

Windows Vista was no better -- I believe the company was jealous of the way Apple had been able to use proper names (big cat names in this case) to brand Mac OS X. No longer was it Mac OS X 10.x, it was Panther, Tiger, or Leopard. Microsoft wanted that kind of marketing coolness, and picked...Vista.

And now we get Windows 7, a return to the original scheme of simple version numbers the company abandoned with the release of Windows 95.

Good lord, folks, pick something! Stick to it! Have some pride in what you do! All this casting about making you looking like you have a big meathead running around making all the decisions.

Of course, Windows 7 could be more than just a return to the company's roots and an attempt to distance itself from its Vista-dominated past -- it could be the first in a series of numeralized Windows. First Windows 7, then the exciting Windows 8, followed in 2013 (Quetzl'coatl notwithstanding) by Windows 9...

Look, I don't really care what it's called because it's still going to be a crappy operating system that has to run on crappy hardware from crappy PC makers of all sort, but Microsoft could improve its image...drastically...by picking a convention and sticking to it. It would help make it seem as if the company is no longer spending all its time chasing its competitors, even though all of those competitors are smaller and less profitable.

That kind of confidence would benefit the company and help keep it from losing even more share to Apple.