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Sinofsky’s On To Something: Codenames Must Die

Brandon LeBlanc had this to say about the brand change of Windows Live Mail to Windows Live Hotmail (emphasis mine):

While I’ve grown extremely tired of these ongoing brand changes within Windows Live that further adds to its branding confusion as a whole - I think this branding change for Windows Live Mail to Windows Live Hotmail is a smart move and I am glad Microsoft has chosen to do this.

Microsoft has a codename problem. Practically every software/hardware company on the planet uses codenames for products in development, but Microsoft codenames have become an obsession by themselves. Wikipedia has a 13-page article on Microsoft codenames. It does not have such an article on any other company. Mary Jo Foley did a popular month-long series on Microsoft codenames this past December.

Microsoft has a rich history of codenames, unique to it of any company in history. That legacy needs to end.

Occasionally, a company has a codename problem, with the codename causing brand confusion, especially when the codename is better than the product name. Nintendo faced this problem for half a year after it announced its codename: Revolution console would be named the Wii, a problem that only went away when the thing was a huge success.

Microsoft has this problem all the time. People are still referring to Windows codename: Longhorn today, even though the final name of Vista was announced 18 months ago, and that Vista is nearly a completely seperate project from Longhorn. Windows Mobile 6.0 is probably going to be called “Crossbow” for the next year or so. Many analysts and Microsoft employees have complained of products that have better codenames than final brand names. The next version of Windows is on its third codename, first BlackComb, then Vienna, now Windows 7.

And therein lies the beginning of a solution. Windows 7 is the first version of Windows Microsoft will develop under a non-word codename. Steven Sinofsky took over as head of Windows development last week, and his first action was to kill off “Vienna”, bringing the same conventions used by the Office team (Office 2007 was Office 12) to Windows.

It was a smart move, one that will hopefully prevent the media from obsessing over a codename and confusing the customers in the long run. Microsofties probably love choosing codenames, with their rich history at the company, but I think it’s an idea whose time has gone. Microsoft products need boring codenames that put the focus back on the product, codenames that are forgotten as soon as the product is given a real name.

My suggestion: Borrow from the car industry. The car industry has been using many car names that mean absolutely nothing, especially the luxury car industry. Cars hit the market with names like RL, 530i, 325Ci, LS 430, GS 300, 9-2x, STS, CTS-V, RX, E320, and SLK. It is one of the most bone-headed decisions by the industry, but it could work extremely well for software codenames.

Windows 7 is a good start, but it doesn’t go far enough. The media will still latch on the “7″ name, and if the product name stinks (Windows Grass), the “7″ name will be even harder to forget, confusing customers. All Microsoft codenames should follow a serial number designation, with Windows 7 being WGC, for W=Windows family, G=7, and C=client operating system. From there, programs for Windows 7 would be appended onto the WGC designation, and future versions would be variations on the name. The same thing would work for Word 14, which could be called OLW (O=Office family, L=14, W=word processor).

Microsoft needs to take the emphasis off codename (which inspires product teams to come up with cool, memorable names), and not release brand names until the name is 100% the final one. Calling it Windows Live Mail, then Windows Live Hotmail, only shows indecision, and they need to find something and stick with it.

Customers, especially those testing out beta products, need to know from the beginning that the product has no name. This could have been simple, if Windows Live Mail had been codenamed Live/mail/0[beta], and only announced its name as “Microsoft LM0 - Windows Live email” throughout the beta process.

The codename, as well as any preliminary product names, should be designed to send a message to the user, the media, and the development community that “This is not the final product name”. Confusion is bad for business, and Microsoft has enough communication problems as it is. Make the change, simplify things, and get back to the business of making great software.

February 8th, 2007 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Live, Mail, Corporate, Hotmail, MSN, Windows, General | 7 comments

Windows Live Hotmail Announced

Microsoft is about to announce that Windows Live Mail is being renamed Windows Live Hotmail. The reason I’ve been given is that it is an effort to end the brand confusion, that customer feedback showed so much loyalty and familiarity with the Hotmail brand name that they had to keep it. Microsoft says they want to keep the focus on the great new UI and all the new features, not on a new name or anything like that.

I think it’s a great idea. Hotmail is a hugely famous brand, a part of the internet’s history, but that isn’t the only reason I like the idea of keeping it. There have been a lot of complaints lately about the Windows Live branding, and associating the famous Hotmail brand with the Windows Live name, will clear up confusion, not just about email, but will help associate the entire platform with the old MSN platform, helping users make the link in their heads.

Good choice by Microsoft.

UPDATE: Mail Call, the official Windows Live email blog, announces the change, at just about the same moment I posted this (you’d almost think I was waiting there, or something). Here’s what Richard Sim, senior product manager, had to say:

We also found that many users were extremely loyal to the Hotmail brand and perceived the beta as an upgrade to Hotmail. In fact, our most loyal users have been very happy with Hotmail for years and while they loved the improvements in the beta, some were a bit confused by name change.

As we prepare to launch the final version of our new web mail service, we recognize the importance of ensuring that our 260+ million existing customers come over to the new service smoothly and without confusion. By adopting the name “Windows Live Hotmail”, we believe we’re bringing together the best of both worlds – new and old. We’re able to offer the great new technology that Windows Live has to offer while also bringing the emotional connection many existing and loyal users have with Hotmail.

Brandon LeBlanc has some good thoughts about this, good enough that I feel inspired to write a seperate post about something that’s seems to be bugging more than just me.

February 8th, 2007 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Live, Mail, Hotmail, Windows, MSN, General | no comments

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Comparing The Super Bowl Site In Google Earth and Windows Live Maps

Cross post: This article is posted both at InsideMicrosoft and InsideGoogle.

Rob did a cool thing and compared the way Dolphin Stadium and the city of Miami are portrayed in 3D in Google Earth and Windows Live Maps. Take a look:

Dolphin Stadium:

Google Earth:

Windows Live Maps:


Google Earth:

Windows Live Maps:


Google Earth has a baseball field because the Florida Marlins play there, too. Portraying a field like that, where the actual field design changes often, is tricky at best, and a terrible idea in this case.

Google Earth’s 3D buildings are either cartoony or gray. That would work on a map view, but overlaid on satellite images, it just looks fake. Windows Live’s buildings look like photographs, because they are photographs texturing a 3D object.

Considering that Google’s is a huge, long-developed piece of software (sometimes costing money), and Windows Live’s is a browser plugin, it is amazing that Windows Live’s 3D buildings look better than Google’s. This is because of a decision by both companies: Google decided to put in gray buildings and invite the SketchUp community to make them realistic. Windows Live decided to create a system that could analyze a building, create a 3D model of it, and put photos of the building on the building.

Obviously, Microsoft’s system is working better than Google’s, and Microsoft’s scales better. Microsoft will have every major building in the U.S. in 3D and texturized long before Google will.

February 8th, 2007 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Maps, Live, Google, Windows, General | 3 comments Explained

Rob Dolin hopped on his blog last night and explained why he created As part of a Microsoft Search Mashup days event, where Microsofties meet up and brainstorm on cool things to do with search.

Since I’m using public API’s, I figured I might as well grab a domain ( and some web space and maybe even work on some of these in my spare time since I’m really excited by possibilities around mashing-up search and social network data.

P.S. I don’t know if any of these ideas will ever get coded and shipped by the Spaces or Live Search teams, but if there’s something you think is cool (or something you think would be cool with a few tweaks), I’m all ears and I think a few other people are too ;-)

Sounds great to me. If the APIs are really as powerful as it seems, and you can build something like TestMash, then I really hope someone does it. What I really hope, though, is that attention paid to what Rob’s done at TestMash makes its way into a real, advanced search engine for Windows Live Spaces. Right now, Spaces doesn’t have much of a search engine, which doesn’t jibe with what the rest of Windows Live has, and doesn’t even match the awful offerings from MySpace.

Spaces can really differentiate itself from MySpace with an amazing advanced search engine. I know Windows Live Spaces isn’t exactly hurting for users, but this is an opportunity to really improve the product, and I say take it. Keep in mind: Google powers MySpace search, so if you can show them up, that would be worth it all by itself.

February 8th, 2007 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Live, Spaces, Windows, Search, General | no comments

Windows-Based Keyboard Used In Super Bowl Halftime Show

prince-windows-keyboard.jpgMicrosoft (or at least MicroMiel) is proudly trumpeting that Windows-based keyboards were used during Prince’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl. While any company involved in the musical instruments at that big event would talk it up, I think the real surprise is:

There are Windows-based keyboards?

Yes, indeed, Open Labs makes keyboards (that’s musical keyboards, not QWERTY keyboards, ya dope) that run Windows XP under the NeKo and MiKo brand. These monster “keyboard workstations” use some pretty powerful Intel processors (often 2.4GHz Core 2 Duos or 3 GHz Pentiums) and can cost between $2,500-$4,000. God, I hope they’re worth all that, but I suspect there are a lot of musicians that swear by them.

Good thing there aren’t any Windows-based phallic guitars. Methinks the maker of that particular piece of hardware isn’t issuing as many press released.

February 8th, 2007 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Windows, General | 4 comments