The guessing game begins over SkyDrive's new name

The guessing game begins over SkyDrive's new name

Summary: After losing a trademark lawsuit over its SkyDrive cloud storage system, Microsoft agreed to change the name. Since that announcement, the company's been mum over what the new brand will be called. I've got a suggestion, one with lots of X appeal.

TOPICS: Cloud, Microsoft

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.

Microsoft must stop using this brand

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. 

Xdrive pioneered online storage in 1999

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 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 domain were greeted with this message:


Visiting today, however, takes you nowhere, returning a 404 error. Curiously, the last time'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, 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.

Topics: Cloud, Microsoft

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  • The New Sky Drive

    I vote for Bott Net.
    • Xdrive second edition

      Well since Xdrive has had a previous life I think it would have to be a Second Edition Xdrive.

      OR. SeXDrive :-)
    • How about use the Box in XBox...

      ...and make Skybox. Kind of like drop box.

      or how about steal from Apple, and call it AirDrive??
      • Did you read the article about the name infringement?

        The lawsuit was over the name 'Sky', so Skybox would still be a problem. Of course you can no longer call the blue/gray/cloudy space over your head Sky without chance of lawsuit.
    • Nein!

      Sorry, that name is ver-Bott-en.
    • your own...

      ... open door to a one way relationship with the NSA
  • You posit a good conjecture, Ed, for Skydrive's name replacement.

    Your logic is impeccable. But I did get a little chuckle from you unrestrained hubris.

    "But that got me thinking, and I suddenly realized the perfect replacement name for SkyDrive is hiding in plain sight."

    Perfect replacement? Perfect? Grin.
  • I don't think XDrive as a ring to it either...

    Microsoft needs a name people can associate with the cloud. Not some obscure service from the dot com boom.

    My pick would be something along the lines of "AltoDrive," though, I predict Microsoft defaulting to something like "WindowsDrive."
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • "WindowsDrive"

      Given that the IT world, especially the consumer porton, is no longer Windows-centric, 'MicrosoftDrive' would probably be a better choice.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Not 'Microsoft', and definitely not 'Windows'...

        Sadly, the 'Windows' brand is no longer "cool" or popular, especially amongst the young. This is even more so with the 'Microsoft' brand, which seems to be regarded almost with contempt by my fellow teenage university students.

        I'll happily bet that Ed is wrong about 'Xdrive', too. Firstly it's a clumsy mouthful - that "ksdr" sound in the middle will never flow smoothly from the lips.

        Secondly, it sounds the same as "Ex-drive", where "Ex" means "has-been". This is too near the knuckle for Microsoft, and is just asking for bad (and negative) puns in headlines all over the technical press.

        Nope, I think this is one of those rare occasions where Ed is as wrong as can be.

        "OneDrive"..... now THAT is spot on and sounds great.
        • @Thack

          And you don't think that will stir up something with "Ubuntu One". Think that is a dead one also.
        • Thack: "the 'Microsoft' brand ... regarded almost with contempt"

          If students at uni are contemptuous of "the 'Microsoft' brand", would it matter what SkyDrive gets modified to? After all, beneath the surface it's still Microsoft.

          I sincerely hope that today's uni students would not be fooled by mere marketing ...
          Rabid Howler Monkey
    • No way

      "Microsoft needs a name people can associate with the cloud."

      No way. "Cloud" was one of the worst names of our time. It's vague, non-descriptive, and fuzzy. Personally, I'd rather we stop using that term and use terms that are more descriptive.
    • MS Drive

      I think you could be on to something... too bad Microsoft can't hear you.
      Crashin Chris
    • The problem with 'x' drive is the end user

      Companies have UNC paths mapped to drive letters, you throw in x:drive and you've just confused most of your end users. As someone mentioned - OneDrive makes more sense - one drive for every device, one Microsoft, Xbox One, etc...
  • here is mine

    I believe X Files is even better choice. :)
    • X-Files?

      Wouldn't FOX network have "issues" with that? Or, the creators of that TV Show for that matter?
      Crashin Chris
      • Of course, they will

        That's the beauty of Microsoft decisions, they are so disconnected with reality that it makes for nice reality show -- that truly competes for the viewer's attention with anything Fox could produce. This is why Microsoft will get sued.
  • I think Xdrive would be a good fit.

    If they were able to leverage it to also encompass Xbox Live's cloud save so you would have more than 512 mb it would be a perfect fit. 512 mb gets full pretty quickly if you use cloud save exclusively.
  • If they're going to spend money

    why not just buy the rights to the SkyDrive name? I'm actually surprised one can trademark "sky" to begin with.

    Unless they come up with a totally awesome name, people will call it SkyDrive forever anyway. How many people still refer to modern UI apps as "metro" - I know that I still do, and everyone knows what I mean, too. Xdrive is OK, but not really compelling IMO.