Retail Trademark Forces Microsoft to Drop ‘Metro’

Microsoft has been forced to drop what is likely the most interesting name the company has ever used: Metro. European and Asian retailing giant Metro AG has a trademark for “METRO” in consumer electronics, and Microsoft has begun instructing employees and developers to refer to the Windows 8 interface as “Windows 8 style UI.”

Metro Code Name

Microsoft Book Describing “Metro”
Image Published Under Creative Commons

TheVerge broke the news that Microsoft was dropping its Metro branding, followed by a second report about the sexy replacement name “Windows 8 style UI.” You know, because that’s just super awesome and rolls off the tongue like so much microwaved silly putty.

ExtremeTech added to the story with the news that Microsoft’s move was being necessitated by Metro AG and its trademark. The look and feel of the interface itself will remain, but it will no longer be called “Metro.”

As noted in the image above, Metro started out life as a code name for Microsoft’s “design language” first used in 2006 for the company’s now-dead Zune website. Though technically a code name, Microsoft publicly branded the tiled look and feel for its Windows 8 touch screen interface and desktop start screen as “Metro” (shown below), calling it that in marketing materials, developer materials, and in all of its public demonstrations of the new product

Metro Interface

The UI Formerly Known as Metro

What’s interesting is that Microsoft didn’t do whatever it took to buy or license the METRO mark from Metro AG. It could be that the retailer wanted too much for such a deal, or it could be that either or both companies were simply freaked out about the surreal image of Metro AG selling Microsoft Metro devices like the Surface.

Whatever the case, Microsoft had a pretty cool name for an interface that didn’t use the oh-so-tired Windows name; and despite Stephen Sinofky’s belief that Windows is all that matters, Metro had within it the kernel of a chance to convince the world that it could grow beyond its Windows legacy into the cool world being shaped by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.

Instead, the company is going with “Windows 8 style UI.” It’s possible that’s a placeholder name until Microsoft can come up with something better—ExtremeTech jokingly said, “My money’s on ‘Courier,’ with an outside bet on “’Windows Live Mesh Tiles Plus’”—but we fear that’s not the case.

“Metro” was the most interesting thing that Microsoft had done in a long time. While we think the company’s approach of confusing tablets for a PC is a mistake, the touch interface itself was at least innovative and different from Apple’s iOS, something Google and its Android OEMs have struggled to achieve.

By punting on the Metro name and saddling the touch interface with a Windows name, Microsoft is missing out on a chance to step forward into the future.