More brand-name confusion in Redmond

More brand-name confusion in Redmond

Summary: One of the biggest branding mistakes Microsoft ever made was to call its free e-mail client - the one included with every copy of Windows since 1998 - Outlook Express. To this day, sensible people assume - incorrectly - that there's a connection between Microsoft Outlook, which is a member of the Office family, and the free Outlook Express.With Windows Vista, Outlook Express is getting a complete rewrite and a new name: Windows Mail. Meanwhile, the e-mail (and so much more) client in Office 2007 will keep the Outlook name. Brand confusion eliminated, right?Errr, not exactly.

TOPICS: Windows

One of the biggest branding mistakes Microsoft ever made was to rename its Internet Mail and News product Outlook Express. To this day, sensible people assume - incorrectly - that there's a connection between Microsoft Outlook, which is a member of the Office family, and the free Outlook Express.

With Windows Vista, Outlook Express is getting a complete rewrite and a new name: Windows Mail. Meanwhile, the e-mail (and so much more) client in Office 2007 will keep the Outlook name. Brand confusion eliminated, right?

Errr, not exactly:

Microsoft has started beta testing software that will take its Web e-mail onto the desktop.

This week, Microsoft served up the first test version of Windows Live Mail Desktop, a free Windows program that will let users manage multiple e-mail accounts. The software is designed to work with Windows Live Mail, the successor to Hotmail that is also in beta testing.

So, sometime in 2007, anyone who upgrades to Windows Vista will have a new desktop e-mail client called Windows Mail. Unfortunately, Windows Mail won't work with Windows Live Mail. For that, you'll need to switch to Windows Live Mail Desktop. Oh, and if you decide to stick with XP and not upgrade to Vista, you can download Windows Live Mail Desktop to replace Outlook Express, but you can't use Windows Mail.

Glad that's all cleared up.

Topic: Windows

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  • Outlook Express


    First off, I love your column. I wanted to mention that Outlook is related to Outlook Express, at least it used to be. You used to have to install Express in order for Outlook to work, so somehow they used the same codebase or at least shared libraries. I think you're right though, the name being so close makes people it is connected. Microsoft has never been good at naming things.
    • I don't remember that...

      >> You used to have to install Express in order for Outlook to work ...

      I don't think so. Outlook Express was never available for installation by itself. It was originally included with IE4, which was an update for Widnows 95 and Windows NT 4.0. It was included as part of the base operating system in Windows 98 and Windows 2000.

      Outlook first appeared in Office 97. You can read the system requirements for Office 97 here:

      The two programs never shared any code, to my knowledge, except for the fact that they both used IE's HTML rendering engine.

      PS: Thanks for the kind words!
      Ed Bott
      • Here's the confusion (I think)

        I think I know where the confusion lies. Basically, ever since Outlook has existed, Outlook Express has been available. For some strange reason, Microsoft didn't see fit to build a newsreader into Outlook, but did have a menu option that implied it did. But when you clicked that menu option, you were kicked over to Outlook Express. Simple, but confusing as heck for users that were already uncomfortable with the name similarities. At least that's the way I remember it...
        Jason Clarke
  • Time for a new CNI

    As long as they are shaking things up in Redmond, they need to fire the CNI (Chief Naming Idiot).

    We live in a world where "intentionally adding confusion" is known as "branding."

    Why would you create product lines called Windows Live and Office Live that are not related to Windows and Office?

    Why would you call it Software Update Service when it was just for Windows, and then Windows Update Service when you add other software, and then Windows Server Update Service when it's mostly used for updating desktops? (They actually said that last change was going to clear up confusion.)

    We went from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2000 to Exchange 2003 to Exchange 12. Huh? Well, that's just the beta. It will probably be released as Exchange Live Express.
    • Live means internet connected.

      If Microsoft wants to show the company is taking delivery over the internet seriously as an alternative way of delivering functionality, the name has to be repeated often and connected with existing products.

      Dumb moves can have smart reasons.

      But I would have thought that the .Net confusion would have taught them a lesson about how widely a name can be spread.
      Anton Philidor
    • naming Windows

      I never got over how they crossed streams in naming Windows. After Windows 3.1, they started nameing the consumer version was by year and the business version was letters -- Windows 95, Windows 98 & NT whatver for business. (NT did NOT stand for "networking" Microsoft said, although everyone knew it did. Homes weren't really networked back then.) Consumer and Business was written on different code base and the name difference kept confusion at a minimum. Tnen came Windows ME around 2000 (which sort of stood for millenium -- a year but also meant "personal" -- very cute. But it wasn't a CLEAR year designation. Confusion started creeping in. THEN Windows 2000 was released -- and it was the businness successor to NT, and aimed at corporations. So, why was it named for a year? Then Windows XP came out, home and pro versions. So, there's no consistencey.

      Also, when XP came out, Microsoft release Office XP which HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH Windows XP. but it scared people into thinking they had to upgrade to Windows XP to run Office XP. I've run Office XP on Windows 98. So, why not call it by the year -- like Office 2000 and now Office 2007? Why skip the year and tie the name to an operating system for no good reason? IF you were going to do that, Vista would be the one to do it with. I could really see calling Office 2007, Office Vista because of the underlying code issues. but, Office XP was just a stupid name choice intentionally (I believe) designed to confuse consumer to drive sales.
      • AND....

        with Office XP -- the indvidual components like Word, Excel, Outlook were named Word 2002, Excel 2002, Outlook 2002 in their standalone retail versions. The suite should have been called Office 2002! Insead it was called "Office XP". Why? All the other Office suites were named after years. But for some unknown reasion -- but we can guess -- the bundled suite was named some strange name -- different fro the components. The reason was Microsoft was pushing Windows XP and wanted people to think they needed the new OS to run the new Office suite. "Hey, let's call it Office XP even though it has nothing to do with Windows XP."
  • Manage multiple email accounts

    MS is trialling a program to manage multiple email accounts. How advanced they are. I have been usng an old program Turnpike 5 for over 6 years which does that as did earlier versions. It has not the bells and whistles that MS will put in their product but it also does not have the vulnerabilities for which MS is famous.
  • M$ has a history of email incompatability

    Reminds me of the days when microsoft was trying to force people to use outlook and exchange server when they created the incompatability that outlook express could not propely read embedded documents generated by outlook without running exchange server and correctly configuring outlook to not send out documents in an incomptable manner. Microsoft again screwing over the customers and attempting to force unwanted and unnecesary upgrades.
    • trying to force people to use outlook
  • branding: get over it

    You wrote "To this day, sensible people assume"...

    Sensible people? I remember studies of how many people don't know who the current Pres or VP is, or where New Orleans was on a map...etc. Are these the sensible people you refer to? My mom, nearly 80, isn't confused by Office Outhouse V. Outhouse Excess...but whatever. The new naming issue is simple as well "Live" anything is online. Once you got that, the rest is easy. Windows Mail? Offline -> next email client in Vista. Windows Live Mail? Online, use it with ...what, a Desktop. What kind? "Live", (online), of course. Would it be downloadable to XP to replace it's mail client? Yep. Would it be downloadable to replace Vista's mail client? Yes. Where's the confusion? Must be more of those "sensible people"...;^)