Why always "Windows XP" and "Windows Vista" and not just "XP" and "Vista"?


When the Internet Explorer folks announced that they were going to call their next version of Internet Explorer Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP and Internet Explorer 7 in Windows Vista, many people responded to the awkward name by suggesting that it be shortened to Internet Explorer 7 XP and Internet Explorer 7 Vista. Why the longer names?

Lawyers.

Microsoft's own trademark guidelines† specify that the product names are Windows XP and Windows Vista and not just XP and Vista. The trademark is on the entire phrase, not just the last word. Furthermore, the trademark guidelines specify that products may not append just XP or Vista to their names; they have to say X for Windows XP or X for Windows Vista.

In an earlier era, you had to be careful to say Windows NT and not just NT for the same reason. You see, the name NT is a registered trademark of Northern Telecom, and part of the agreement with "the other NT" is that the Windows product would always be used with the word Windows in front.

If you took a close look at the Windows 2000 box, you may have seen the phrase "Built on NT Technology." I don't know how hard it was to do, but I suspect a good amount of negotiations with Northern Telecom took place to allow Microsoft to use that alternate formulation without the word Windows in front. Indeed, if you looked really closely at the box, you'd have found a trademark acknowledgement for Northern Telecom deep in the fine print.

Lawyers by training are very cautious people. After all, a new lawsuit against Microsoft gets filed approximately once every thirty seconds.¶ They're probably also responsible for all your Office# shortcuts on the Start menu being named Microsoft Office This 2007 and Microsoft Office That 2007 instead of This 2007 and That 2007, or even (shocking!) just This and That. It's a daring move, and lawyers don't like to be daring. Nobody ever got sued for playing it safe.††

Nitpicker's corner (guest appearance)

*Just burning off a footnote marker because I don't like asterisks.

†I myself violate some of these guidelines because I try to write like a human being and not a robot. Only robots say Windows-based programs.‡

‡That statement is not literally true. Here's a reformulation of that statement for the benefit of robots:§ "People who say Windows-based programs sound like robots."

§That statement is also not literally true. Here's a reformulation of that statement for the benefit of people who take a robotic approach to reading: "Here's a reformulation of that statement for the benefit of people who take a robotic approach to reading:"

||Burning off another footnote marker because I don't like parallel lines either.

¶An exaggeration, not a statement of fact.

#s/Office/Microsoft® Office™ System/**

**I have not researched whether that's the correct way of writing it.

††Okay, maybe somebody somewhere has gotten sued for playing it safe. It was just a catchy sentence, not a statement of fact.

Comments (53)
  1. Spike says:

    "§That statement is also not literally true. Here’s a reformulation of that statement for the benefit of people who take a robotic approach to reading: "Here’s a reformulation of that statement for the benefit of people who take a robotic approach to reading:" "

    Have you been reading Douglas Hofstadter?

  2. Nathan_works says:

    And no one ever got fired for buying Microsoft Windows™ products.

  3. John Topley says:

    I always hated that Windows 2000 was "Built on New Technology Technology".

  4. Somebody says:

    " §That statement is also not literally true. Here’s a reformulation of that statement for the benefit of people who take a robotic approach to reading: "Here’s a reformulation of that statement for the benefit of people who take a robotic approach to reading:" "

    Since nobody has built a robot which simulates all of the thought processes involved in reading, I don’t think "a robotic approach to reading" is the correct phrase here.  The "robotic approach" is undefined and ambiguous.  A more proper phrase might be something like "a pedantic approach to reading".

  5. David Walker says:

    Raymond, you must have had some pent-up Nitpicker’s Corner jonesing there!  :-)  

  6. AC says:

    Really hilarious how you demonstrate the lawyers’ pedantic behavior with the overly long Nitpicker’s Corner.

    Well done!

  7. Adrian says:

    Decades ago, while helping polish up the documentation for the software product I was working on, we got a little carried away acknowleging trademarks of other companies.

    For example, did you know that "pop-up" is (was?) a trademark of Kimberly-Clark (the Kleenex company)?  Since we had used phrases like "pop-up dialog" we acknowledged K-C in our list–just to be safe.

  8. Roger says:

    Which just proves that Shakespeare was right.

  9. Sean W. says:

    Shakespeare was right:  First thing we should do is kill all the lawyers† ;-)

    I’m surprised you didn’t touch on the various copyright and trademark symbols, though.  I marvel reading some of the Microsoft® MSDN™ pages and Microsoft® Windows® XP™ user’s manuals and counting the number of times I see a Microsoft® brand name followed by one or more copyright and trademark symbols.  I can understand putting it on the first instance of a name like Microsoft® Office® XP™, but seriously, after the eleventy-zillionth time, I’m pretty sure the reader knows that a name like "Microsoft®" is somebody’s property.  It’s even worse when it’s in technical documentation, because I’ve learned that as a general rule††, the number of ® or ™ or © symbols is inversely proportional to the information content of the document:  It can either be written by techies or written by lawyers, but it can’t be written by both.

    † There is nothing wrong with lawyers, and my comments and my quotation of Shakespeare are in no way intended to disparage their profession or to suggest that they’re ruining the country.  Lawyers are a noble and historic people, without whom there’d be no-one to perform the vital tasks of coffee-temperature validation and post-hospital-vehicle association.

    †† Your results may differ.  Mileage may vary.  Rule void where prohibited by law.

  10. Rick C says:

    I think "Somebody" is demonstrating a pedantic approach to reading.

  11. James says:

    Thats what makes many things Microsoft(R) creates intensely boring. They may be brilliant and even ground-breaking sometimes, but the hideous legalese together with marketing 101 style approach to naming and promoting products permeates everything like gasoline. Everything looks like it was done by committee.

    To this day I cringe whenever I see anything starting with .NET.

    It’s ironic that Microsoft has plenty of people  that understand the problem:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4313772690011721857

    And its tragic that those people are appear powerless, locked within the belly of the great beast.

  12. Ulric says:

    ho.. I bet you’ve been waiting a long long time for that ironic opportunity for using all these footnote markers :P

  13. lawyers, guns, and money says:

    Finally, a Nitpicker’s corner worth it’s weight!

    And to think – before I got into computers I wanted to go into law as an occupation.  Now that I know it’s not like they show on TV, and that it’s just highly paid nitpicking, I’m so glad I avoided that turn of events.

    But then again, isn’t programming just another form of highly paid nitpicking?  

  14. MadQ1 says:

    You don’t like Asterix? How about Obelix?

    Sorry, I don’t know why I did that. I just couldn’t help myself. At least some European readers should get it. It’s a bad joke, though, so they won’t laugh. It’s all so depressing. Oh woe!

  15. Sitten Spynne says:

    The return of the nitpicker’s corner just made my day :)

  16. Koro says:

    Damned funniest post in a while!

    Btw, finally got your (autographed) book!

  17. Not a gaul says:

    @MadQ: The sky will fall tomorrow.

  18. John Topley says:

    "Finally, a Nitpicker’s corner worth it’s weight!"

    Not wishing to nitpick, but "it’s" is a contraction of "it is" and never denotes possession.

  19. Eric Lippert says:

    It’s not Scrabble.  There is no such thing as Scrabble.  It’s "Scrabble Brand Crossword Game".

  20. lawyers, guns, and money says:

    > Not wishing to nitpick, but "it’s" is a contraction of "it is" and never denotes possession. <<

    Heh – good catch.  Now see if you can solve that whole 2nd Amendment comma thing:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/16/opinion/16freedman.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

    I know that SCOTUS has already heard the oral arguments on the case, but maybe one or two of the justices are reader’s of Raymond’s blog.

  21. JenK says:

    Speaking as another survivor of the lawyer wars, thanks for the laugh!

    -Jen, who used to work on a team that fined you a dollar if you said "DOS" when you meant "MS-DOS"

  22. Larry Lard says:

    This is Raymond’s funniest post in /weeks/.

  23. keithmo says:

    A single asterisk is bad, but double asterisk is acceptable?

    [I also don’t like double asterisks but I felt forced to use it or the self-appointed footnote symbol police would get on my case. -Raymond]
  24. Bob says:

    Not that it really matters anyway – 90% of all Windows users (give or take 100%) wouldn’t know their operating system version from a hole in the ground, and its common for people to describe their OS version as "Internet Explorer" and their web browser as "Microsoft" and their word processor as "Windows".

    Also – of course someone could trademark "NT" – in the same way that someone could trademark "apple" yet you can still buy apples in the store without paying a cent to the computer company. Trademarks can be a little tricky, but generally speaking they’re a "mark" used to identify who is doing "trade" within a specific industry. So if you use "I" as your mark of trade you can trademark it – but you won’t get a cent from anyone unless they attempt to use your trademark in a manner that is confusing and misleading after you register it.

  25. Marc says:

    Why does everything have the Windows prefix these days? Instead of Microsoft Internet Explorer, it’s Windows Internet Explorer. No Outlook Express, now Windows Mail. Windows Calendar, Windows Live Messenger, – is it so they can be bundled with Windows and not be confused with rival’s products?

  26. Luke says:

    <i>Also – of course someone could trademark "NT" – in the same way that someone could trademark "apple" yet you can still buy apples in the store without paying a cent to the computer company.</i>

    or paying a cent to <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Corps_v._Apple_Computer">Paul McCartney</a>.

  27. Mark says:

    Marc: perhaps, but a lot of this trademark stuff is also protection of trademark.  Consider the futile chase that Portakabin are leading (http://adammacqueen.blogspot.com/2007/09/portakabin.html), and other eponyms like saran wrap or escalator.

    Losing MSN for Windows Live also helps the flagship product seem bigger than just an OS, and makes them both more able to compete online.

  28. footnote symbol police

    The orphaned footnote police get first crack at you on this post.

  29. Hobie-wan says:

    Just like there’s no such thing as Legos. They are Lego bricks.

    Not that anyone other than Lego Group pays attention to that. = ]

  30. John says:

    I’m surprised somebody could actually trademark "NT".  Maybe I will go after the letters "I", "Q", and "X" and also the numbers "3", "7" and "11".

    <StephenColbert>Trademark please! *grabbing motion*</StephenColbert>

  31. jon says:

    If you ever wanted an example of this taken to ridiculous extremes, have a look at http://windowsvistablog.com/blogs/windowsexperience/archive/2008/05/14/put-windows-live-on-your-windows-mobile-phone.aspx

    $5 to the first person who can count how many times the words "Windows Live" appear in that post.

  32. Triangle says:

    ||Burning off another footnote marker because I don’t like parallel lines either.

    Is this Microsoft’s official stance on the double-line footnote marker?

  33. MadQ1 says:

    Steve D: I can’t believe you had the gaul to say that!

  34. RoaldFalcon says:

    I am ashamed to say that I actually would have bought the lawsuit-every-30-seconds thing if it weren’t for the footnote.

    See, nitpicking is sometimes important for us ignorant fools among the audience!

  35. Roie M says:

    Wasn’t an old version of Office called "Office XP", though? (Two versions ago, if memory serves). I remember the "ex-Paperclip" ads, which I’m almost certain didn’t mention Windows at all.

  36. WindowsURl says:

    @jon: The url you posted had an obsessive 4 mentions of windows all by itself.  I didn’t even bother to visit the article.

  37. Worf says:

    Now if the lawyers would help make sure that all the names are consistent, that would be a big help.

    Like the Windows Embedded line. You have Windows Embedded CE, but it’s other product is Windows XP Embedded. A few people at work then added Windows CE Embedded, and Windows Embedded XP. Arg!

    Or the directory names. "Windows CE Platform Builder" and "Platform Builder for Windows Mobile".

    To find stuff almost requires permuting all the combinations… especially in documents written by many people. Least Microsoft could do is send us a nice sheet in large letters, a banner, etc with the official names so we can do it right from the get-go.

  38. Steve D says:

    @Not a gaul, @MadQ:

    You’d have to go way past *, **, *** and even **** before you need to use an Obelix (whether measured by weight or MPQ*). Not even Raymond on a good day would burn through that many footnote markers.

    Note that MS-DOS(R) has its own homage to Asterix.  Ever notice that C> is just an ‘overturned menhir’?

    PS: Asterix is well known in Australia so may have made it to the USA also.

    * MPQ = Magic-potion quotient

  39. Tanveer Badar says:

    Consider the possibilites.

    ‘Microsoft® Windows®’ or ‘Microsoft® Winnt®’ directory as your system directory. Or the ‘Windows® Explorer’. Heck! ‘Windows® Notepad’.

  40. arun.philip says:

    So here I am, all drowsy in the office and I read "a new lawsuit against Microsoft gets filed approximately once every thirty seconds".

    Very interesting.

    Aha, also a footnote marker, which probably leads to a citation. Juicy stuff for the afternoon.

    And then, slam bang, I get dunked in a morass of footnotes. Raymond’s nitpicker corner makes a return appearance.

    So I start looking for the place in the text where he’s put in a *. Nowhere, turns out its and orphan (thanks Maurits).

    Okie, on to the †. That sounds like a valid statement Raymond might put in the NP corner.

    Next comes the ‡. Scroll up to the text and strain my eyes trying to spot it. Bah, turns out the "footnote" is referenced by the very statement preceding it.

    And it just gets worse. More cross referencing than a Wikipedia article!

    I’ve heard of spaghetti code, but this is something new. Maybe I need to write a paper entitled "Footnotes considered harmful" a la Dijkstra?

  41. NOR says:

    Raymond, without citations, it would appear that you are violating NOR.  Please refer to http://xkcd.com/285/ for advice regarding editing your footnotes.

  42. pcooper says:

    Tanveer Badar: I think you mean the ‘Microsoft® Windows® Operating System’, with ‘System Directory for the Microsoft® Windows® NT™ Operating System’ as the system directory. It would come bundled with ‘Microsoft® Windows® Explorer™ for the Microsoft® Windows® Operating System’ and ‘Microsoft® Windows® Notepad™ for the Microsoft® Windows® Operating System’.

  43. Yuhong Bao says:

    who used to work on a team that fined you a dollar if you said "DOS" when you meant "MS-DOS"

    Probably because DOS could refer to DR-DOS.

    BTW, when did this start? Because MS’s older products used "DOS", but newer products that were created in the Windows 3.1 era or later used "MS-DOS". I guess probably when MS-DOS 5.0 was released.

  44. Yuhong Bao says:

    who used to work on a team that fined you a dollar if you said "DOS" when you meant "MS-DOS"

    Probably because DOS could refer to DR-DOS.

    BTW, when did this start? Because MS’s older products used "DOS", but newer products that were created in the Windows 3.1 era or later used "MS-DOS". I guess probably when MS-DOS 5.0 was released.

  45. James Bray says:

    I have to admit that phrase always irks me.

    AFAIK, the "NT" of Windows NT stands for New *Technology*.  So "Built on NT Technology" literally means "Built on New Technology Technology".

    Bizarrely annoying I think.  But then maybe I should just get a life :-)

    James

  46. Mark says:

    James Bray: it allegedly stands for N-Ten (the virtual system it was orignally designed for).  However, this is not a redundant acronym anyway: NT is a brand name.  Would you complain at something based on MIT technology?

  47. Isaac Lin says:

    Yuhong Bao: The OEM version bundled with the IBM PC was called PC-DOS; as far as I know, Microsoft’s generic version was always called MS-DOS.

  48. I know it’s been said already in comments above, but I really love the excessive footnotes! Quite humorous. Personally I’ve never liked dealing with trademark laws; they often seem more complicated even than copyright.

  49. Yuhong Bao says:

    "The OEM version bundled with the IBM PC was called PC-DOS; as far as I know, Microsoft’s generic version was always called MS-DOS."

    Back before DR-DOS came by, not only there were PC-DOS and MS-DOS, there were Compaq DOS, Zenith DOS, and so on, all of which was derived from MS-DOS. MS referred all of these versions as "DOS". However, by the time MS-DOS 5.0 was released, DR-DOS has appeared and most of the other branded DOSes was dead, and PC-DOS diverged from MS-DOS after 5.0. Hence by then MS was always using MS-DOS.

  50. SuperKoko says:

    @James: I find Microsoft software and technology names quite consistent and easy to remember.

    Similarly, version names are humanly understandable (though I would’ve swapped Windows 2000 and Windows Me).

    This is much better than naming products with mineral/animal/people names.

    It’s easy to see that Microsoft Office 2000 is older than Microsoft Office 2003.

    But, I don’t know whether Debian Woody is older than Debian Sarge.

    Giving more than one name to a product is even worst (e.g. version number + code name).

    I want a one-to-one mapping between names and things.

    Neither a many-to-one mapping such as Debian does nor a one-to-many mapping such as Intel Pentium IV. The latter is the worst thing in the naming field I’ve ever seen.

    In my opinion (but that’s an opinion), poor naming is mainly due to marketing, not lawyers. That’s especially true for version naming.

  51. James Bray says:

    @Mark: actually, I just checked on Wikipedia (which is the Gospel Truth of course :-)) and apparently the origins of the NT designation appear to be in dispute:

    "It is popularly believed that Dave Cutler intended the initialism ‘WNT’ as a pun on VMS, incrementing each letter by one, similar to the apocryphal story of Arthur C. Clarke’s deriving HAL 9000’s name by decrementing each letter of IBM. While this would have suited Cutler’s sense of humor, the project’s earlier name of NT OS/2 belies this theory. Another of the original OS/2 3.0 developers, Mark Lucovsky, states that the name was taken from the Intel i860 processor—code-named N10 (or ‘N-Ten’) —which served as the original target hardware.[10] Various Microsoft publications, including a 1998 question-and-answer session with Bill Gates,[11] reveal that the letters were expanded to ‘New Technology’ for marketing purposes but no longer carry any specific meaning."

    Of course its Wikipedia, which is only one up from TV :-)

    And whilst I would (obviously) purchase something based on MIT technology, it would still irk me for the same reason :-)

    James

  52. TheASMan says:

    Yeah and NT also stands for NeuroTypical what autistics call nonautistics.

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content