Windows 8 Blue continues Microsoft's tradition of confusing names

Windows 8 Blue continues Microsoft's tradition of confusing names

Summary: Some people find the Windows naming system confusing, and Blue continues the trend. But examine NT's history and it all makes sense, if only on the Planet Zog.


The next Windows 8 update, leaked this week, is code-named Blue, and this may even turn out to be its marketing name. We already have Windows Azure, the cloud computing service, and Azure would both run and connect to Blue, perhaps followed by Windows Indigo and Windows Ultra Violet.

Or maybe Microsoft could release Blue as Windows 8 SP1, or Windows 8.1. That really would be confusing because the version name — as distinct from the marketing name — is Windows 6.3.

The one thing we know for certain is that it will continue Microsoft's record of picking confusing names for its NT (New Technology) line of operating systems. Sometimes deliberately.

Historically, Windows NT was developed by Dave Cutler, former star programmer with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and developer of its VAX VMS minicomputer operating system. Indeed, wags duly noted that incrementing VMS by one letter resulted in WNT.

Dave's new operating system was targeted as a 32-bit replacement for the floundering 16-bit OS/2 being co-developed by Microsoft and IBM, in which case it might have been OS/2 3.0 NT. After IBM and Microsoft fell out, it was quickly rejigged as a Windows-replacement system instead.

Windows NT 4
Windows NT 4. (image: Microsoft)

Microsoft made a hash of NT's version naming right from the start by launching it as Windows NT 3.1. This gave it parity with what was then the current DOS-based (old technology) Windows 3.1. It skipped versions 1.0. 2.0, and 3.0 before progressing to Windows NT 3.5 and NT 4.0.

While NT was matching Windows' numbering, the Windows team decided to switch from version numbers to years, so instead of Windows 4, we got Windows 95 in 1995. This was followed by Windows 98 and 98SE [correction] (Second Edition).

The NT team also switched to date numbering and grabbed Windows 2000. This left the DOS/Windows team with a quandary that it solved by releasing Windows ME (Millennium Edition), or Me. Happily, this was the end of the line. Smart companies were already migrating to NT4 and/or Windows 2000, and the rest weren't dim-witted enough to persist with DOS-based Windows forever.

Microsoft now needed to make Windows 2000 look a bit jollier and more like something consumers would buy, but Windows 2001 was a bit too close to Windows 2000. It therefore came up with Windows XP, which was short for eXPerience.

Windows 2000 followed NT 4.0, so it was really NT 5.0, and Windows XP became version 5.1 to reflect its new UI.

Windows XP united the market, replacing both Windows 2000 and Me. However, it was widely derided in the press and proved absurdly vulnerable to waves of malware, so it was as good as dead by 2003. Or maybe not. Microsoft patched it up with Service Pack 2 in 2004, and smart companies stuck with it until 2009-10.

The naming problem was now acute. Fill in the next term in this series: Windows NT4, Windows 2000, Windows XP. With no logic to follow except inconsistency, someone picked Vista. This was released as NT 6.0, reflecting the fact that Microsoft had redone the internal plumbing.

Enter Steve Sinofsky. He had run the Microsoft Office team, which had stuck with year names (Office 2003, Office 2007, Office 2010, etc). He decided to go back to simple version numbering, and since he was developing the version of Windows after version 6 (Vista), he called it Windows 7. Just don't look at the version number, because it's actually version 6.1.

screenshot_win8-01_page (200 x 112)
Windows 8. (Image: Microsoft)

Windows 7 was a huge success, so the next version had to be called Windows 8. The introduction of a new touch-oriented interface (Metro, as was), programming system (WinRT), new software distribution system (Windows Store), etc, would have justified a new version number, so Windows 8 could have been version 7... .

But it wasn't. Microsoft simply incremented version 6.0 (Vista) and 6.1 (Windows 7) to 6.2 (Windows 8). This explains why Windows 8 Blue might appear as version 6.3.

All this makes perfect sense, but only on the planet Zog.

If Microsoft had called Windows NT 3.1 by its (more or less) correct name, NT 1.0, then everything would be fine. After v1 (NT3.1), v2 (NT 3.5), v3 (NT 4.0), v4 (Windows 2000), v5 (Windows XP), v6 (Vista), and v7 (Windows 7), then Windows 8 would be version 8.

Still, I won't mind having a Windows Blue version. It's no worse than OS X Ocelot, Podgy Penguin, or Hungry Horace.

Correction, 10.13am PST: "98SE (Special Edition)" corrected to "(Second Edition)".

Update, 3.47pm PST: In a post today at Microsoft's Official Blog, PR supremo Frank Shaw commented on "a set of plans referred to internally as 'Blue'. NB: Chances of products being named thusly are slim to none".

Topics: Windows 8, After Hours

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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  • Windows 8 Blue continues Microsoft's tradition of confusing names

    I totally agree. Windows Blue will be here real soon as the old Windows 8 has totally failed to capture the market. Blue is just anoither way for Microsoft to rake their customers over the coals for another $40.00.

    These new yearly up date are just a form of a revenue stream that forces you to stay locked into the Windows platform...............
    Over and Out
    • Rake Customers

      just like Apple does with its yearly releases . . .
      • smh

        Ahh Apple doesn't update the OS yearly and this article is not about Apple so try to stay on topic.

        So called "techies" are such big a## babies. If someone doesn't use what THEY prefer then it's a problem and you have to read some idiots snide comment.

        Use what you want to use and let people use what they want to use. Want to purchase from Apple.. It's YOUR choice. You like Windows 8? It's YOUR choice. Think Linxux and Android is the way to go?... Use it.

        I'm just sick of reading smug a## comments where everyone knows what's best for everyone else.

        What I eat doesn't make YOU use the bathroom and vice versa.
        • Well put. And further...

          ...what confusion about names???????

          Does anyone really really care what new code name MS is using for the latest service pack?

          Only the tech heads. Well good for them. Make a mountain out of a mole hill.

          Unreal. When it gets down to the point where you think the naming process of some kind of an OS uppdate matters to anyone in life...well, that con only come with not having a life.
          • Wow

            Love my job, since I've been bringing in $5600… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online.(Click Home information)
          • Very true

            When I tried to reflashing my iPhone with iOS 5 this fall, I found out that whilst they like S versions, the model number changes. So my 4s is actually a 5 to apple. Does that affect me at all no.

            Same with Linux nightly builds or MS build numbers. I really don't care. For now I like that MS are sticking with numbers. But then.. They could call the next windows "radioactive death trap"... Sure it'd be a pr disaster but it's really not going to affect how it runs or you use it.

            I thought blue was just the new term for "testing branch"?
    • My Viewpoint, troll some where else.

      Its been few days that you are trying to sell the theory that Blue will cost $40. Why don't you find something more interesting or go troll somewhere else.
  • Wndows Blue

    is a code name, the product itself is Windows 8. And by the way My Viewpoint, you wont be charged so you can sleep easy now.
    • Xenon8.....your WRONG you will be charged for it

      The cat is out of the bag and everyone but you seems to know it. Mary jo posted that the final number hasn't been desided on now maybe you can sleep easier now :-)
      Over and Out
      • Oh you again.

        You are an annoying little pipsqueak. Where does is say Microsoft is going to charge $40?
        What do you care. You won't be buying it.
        Anyway isn't it way past your bedtime sonny?
        • Loverock and Owllllne1 are the annoying little pipsqueaks

          here at Zdnet.

          I find a great many pro Microsoft posters here on Zdnet to be smug and to be totally arrogant that their opinion is the only one.

          My Opinion
          Over and Out
      • Windows Blue Price

        Windows Blue price will be the same as the current Windows 8 price, unless you already own Windows 8, than its a free upgrade.
    • Ya, and funny thing too... real people who live on planet earth and who live and breath in real time will care what a service pack is "called".

      What a stupid thing to make into some kind of a big deal. Who cares if the UI is called metro, modern or something else. Who cares if a service pack is called Blue, number two or woop-dee-doo.

      Some people around here have no grip on reality at all.

      The public dosnt care, and why should they?? Even a little wee bit, why should they care?

      They dont, they shouldnt and neither should anyone else.

      Its confusing??? OH COME ON.

      If thats causing you some confusion you need a break from IT. What causes the might get confused when someone referes to the service pack as the Windows Blue Update and think its something from another OS, or maybe some here before unknown of service pack?????

      This is so silly.
      • Maybe not

        However, what they (and I) *will* care about is the COST.

        So, is Windows Blue just a service pack for Windows 8? If so, why would anyone pay for it?

        If not, what are the compelling features and improvements (*not* bug fixes) which make it WORTH paying yet more money for?
  • Microsoft Is About To Get Busted..

    ...for abusing UEFI-secure boot as a way to prevent PC users who want to use secure-boot from booting any OS other than Windows.
    Le Chaud Lapin
    • Yeah...

      That "Disable Secure Boot" switch that's required (by Microsoft!) to be in BIOS for a computer to meet Microsoft's certification program is sooo hard to flip.
  • Windows 98SE

    You stated, "...This was followed by Windows 98 and 98SE (Special Edition)..."

    Your article is very well-written, however, Windows 98SE was 'Second' Edition.

    (or, could that have been version 5.98.2?)
    • Actually...

      Since Windows 95, 98, SE and ME were not built on the NT kernel, a better way of looking at it would be NT 3.5, 4.0, XP (5.0), Vista (6.0), Windows 7, Windows 8. Admittedly, Windows NT 3.5 is misnamed and, even worse, that counting scheme continues from Windows 3.1 but skips over Windows for Workgroups. However, it all boils down to Microsoft's inability to count.
      • XP was 5.1

        5.0 was Windows 2000.

        As for the 9x series (95, 98, 98SE, ME), they all had a 4.x version from the DOS branch of Windows which had nothing to do with the NT branch except for the look alike interfaces and a relatively good level of compatibility for software between the two.
    • Correct!

      Many thanks for the correction, gatewoodj@ -- much appreciated. I've updated the text.
      Jack Schofield