Update 13-October: Microsoft has now made it official. The name of the next release of Windows will be ... Windows 7.
I’m reading more and more about Windows 7 lately as PDC approaches and Microsoft begins revealing more snippets of information about its most secretive product ever. In most of that coverage, I've noticed an assumption that Windows 7 is going to be the final name of the product. I’ve been guilty of leaping to that conclusion myself.
But a reader asked the other day why Microsoft is calling it Windows 7, and as I worked on my response to that question, it struck me that it’s entirely possible, even likely, that the next release of Windows will get a new name before it hits the streets. (Keep reading, and I’ll give you a chance to compare your prediction with mine.)
I have to remind myself occasionally that Windows 7 is still a code name at this point. It might turn out to be the final name of the released product as well, but Microsoft has not officially announced details about its name, price, packaging, or availability.
In fact, at least one highly credible online source appears to have thought a great deal about the name of the next Windows. For the very first post on Microsoft’s Engineering Windows 7 blog, which launched in August, Windows head honchos Steven Sinofsky and Jon DeVaan refer to their next release as “the ‘Windows 7’ project,” with the product name in quotes. The same paragraph contains two additional awkward references to “the next major release of Windows” and “the next Windows product.” These guys are engineers. They are extremely precise in their language, and I don’t think it’s an accident that in kicking off this blog they carefully used vague substitutes where you might expect to read a product name.
As I’ve written before, the release currently known as Windows 7 follows in a long line of Microsoft point-one releases:
- Windows 95, as the first 32-bit OS for Microsoft, was deservedly assigned the major version number 4.0. Windows 98 was version 4.10, a great improvement over its predecessor that turned out to be a popular favorite until well into the new century. I still see Windows 98 machines in use occasionally.
- Windows 2000 was release 5.0, the first in the version 5 family. It was followed by version 5.1, aka Windows XP, which built on the W2K kernel but was much friendlier for home users. Windows XP is going to be popular for a long, long time, whereas Windows 2000 has almost vanished.
- Windows Vista was version 6.0, with a new major version number that reflects the big architectural changes that went into it. Windows 7, as dozens of leaked screen shots attest, is version 6.1. This numbering is almost certain to remain in the final product, primarily for the sake of compatibility. If the major version number is incremented to 7.0, many applications written to work with Windows Vista would fail to install, simply because of sloppy version checking.
Through the years, the Windows family has used numbers and years as product branding (separate from version numbers). Windows Millennium was the first baby step away from that, although at least the name was supposed to tie in with the year 2000 theme. Windows XP and Vista broke completely with that tradition for consumer products, although servers have stuck with the year as part of the name (Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008).
I think Sinofsky, Microsoft’s “new sheriff,” wants to take us back to those good ol’ days. Sinofsky previously ran the Office team, which followed a predictable philosophy of product naming. Each Office release (with the noteworthy exception of Office XP for Windows and v. X for the Mac, both released around the same time as Windows XP) had a year number: Office 95, 97, 2000, XP, 2003, 2007 for Windows; 98, 2001, v.X, 2004, and 2008 for Macs).
In fact, if Microsoft use Windows 7 as the name of their next release, they create a large technical support headache. When Windows users call a software company for support, they’re often asked to provide Windows and hardware configuration details, using a tool such as System Information (Msinfo32.exe). Imagine the confusion if the report says they’re running Windows 7, version 6.1.7000.
Microsoft clearly wants to turn the page on Vista. And what better way to do that than to choose a boring, predictable name? It’s a bit of a longshot, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the next release of Windows 7 gets a last-minute name change.
My prediction? I’m willing to go out on a limb and choose Windows 2009 as the brand that will go on retail boxes and in splash screens.
What do you think?