Earlier this year, Microsoft made headlines when it lost a trademark infringement lawsuit to British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) in the England and Wales High Court. As part of the settlement, Microsoft agreed to stop using the SkyDrive brand for its cloud-based storage service.
According to a joint press release, the two companies agreed that Microsoft could "continue using the SkyDrive name for a reasonable period of time to allow for an orderly transition to a new brand."
The original judgment was handed down four months ago, and the settlement was announced one month later. Since then, Microsoft has been eerily quiet over its plans.
In the absence of information, it's only reasonable to speculate, right? Especially on a slow weekend. After poking around a bit, I think I've got a good idea on what the new name might be.
In her post on the subject, my colleague Mary Jo Foley suggested Azure Drive as an alternative. That's a pretty good guess, but it doesn't have the zing that SkyDrive does, especially for consumers. Azure is also strategically important as an enterprise growth center, so tampering with its brand identity is risky.
On Twitter yesterday, Darren Cohen (@FinsUpDNC) suggested calling it OneDrive. It's a good fit with the "One Microsoft" image the company is creating as Steve Ballmer's legacy, and it would be a great fit with the Xbox One launch later this month.
But that got me thinking, and I suddenly realized that a perfect replacement name for SkyDrive is hiding in plain sight. If you were paying attention back before the turn of the century, during the dot-com boom, you might remember a service called Xdrive. Here's their logo from back in August 2000. Geez, that X looks a lot like the Xbox logo, doesn't it?
I recommended Xdrive to my readers in a column I wrote back in 2000 or 2001. Xdrive was one of the very first players in online storage, and it was a big success story for a while. Back in early 2000, before the bubble burst, Xdrive boasted it had 1.5 million members, offering a then-staggering 100 MB of online storage for free.
Over to the right is a snippet from their website as it looked way back then.
That's a dead-perfect description of SkyDrive in 2013, wouldn't you say? Not to mention Google Drive and Dropbox and all the other online storage companies looking to win your business today.
Xdrive was purchased by AOL in 2005, and with its legendary reverse Midas Touch, AOL managed to turn that golden opportunity into nothing. Xdrive was shut down a mere three years later, with AOL's official announcement of the "sunset" delivering a thick layer of corporate bafflegab as explanation:
To effectively grow the XDrive online storage business we would need to focus on subscription revenues vs. monetizing through advertising revenue, and this business model is not in strategic alignment with our company’s goals.
The shutdown was complete in 2009. According to my research, AOL still controls the xdrive.com domain name and, presumably, the associated trademark.
Xdrive. Xbox. That's a pretty fortuitous connection, don't you think?
The biggest advantage that the Xdrive brand has is its trademark status, which is basically bulletproof. The brand was used for a pioneer of the online storage industry for a full decade, with no successful challenges to the name that I'm aware of. If Microsoft bought the brand, they would also be able to reinforce the Xbox identity. Win-win.
And the idea that Microsoft and AOL would do such a deal isn't crazy at all.
In April 2012, the two companies announced a very big deal, with Microsoft paying AOL more than a billion dollars in cash for 800 patents, with a non-exclusive license to the remaining 300 or so patents AOL owned. Many of those patents are from AOL's acquisition of Netscape, making them key building blocks of the modern Internet.
When AOL bought Xdrive it also snagged a key patent for a "Shared internet storage resource, user interface system, and method." Xdrive filed that application in early 2000 and the patent was awarded in 2002.
Here's how the description of the invention in that patent begins:
The present invention provides an “Internet hard drive” or “Internet hard disk” to and from which files may be stored and retrieved. Denominated commercially as “X:Drive,” the present invention allows users to store files of foreseeably any type on a resource available throughout the Internet. Once available to the Internet, the files stored on the user's X:Drive are available to the same extent as the Internet, namely worldwide.
Replace "X:Drive" with "SkyDrive" and, yeah, that's how online storage services work today.
After AOL completed the Xdrive shutdown in 2009, visitors to the xdrive.com domain were greeted with this message:
Visiting xdrive.com today, however, takes you nowhere, returning a 404 error. Curiously, the last time Archive.org's Wayback Machine took a snapshot of that site was April 27, 2012. That's just a few weeks after that blockbuster Microsoft-AOL deal.
Microsoft seems enamored of repurposing brand names lately. Hotmail was turned into Outlook.com, extending the reach of the name of its desktop mail client. And its first line of PCs picked up the Surface brand name, which had been used with tabletop devices.
In fact, if Microsoft isn't considering Xdrive as a replacement name for SkyDrive, something's wrong. As far as I'm concerned, Xdrive is the perfect new brand. Maybe I can even dig up that review I wrote 13 years ago and just republish it.