Microspeak: Tented


Here's a citation for the Microspeak term tented from an old Microsoft job listing that is no longer available, maybe because the req has been filled.

You and your team will decide how the Office clients and services measure their success in performance sensitive areas like latency, memory/disk footprint, and battery life not only for the devices of today but also on the evolving ecosystem of hardware including new, tented devices that Microsoft is building.

What is a "tented device"?

No it's not a two-in-one laptop in the tent configuration.

It's also not a data center in a tent.

The term started in Windows 8. The hardware team was developing some new hardware devices. One was a tablet that would run Windows on an ARM processor. (That device would eventually be marketed under the name Surface RT.) Another was a tablet that would run Windows on a desktop-class processor. (That device was marketed under the name Surface Pro.)

These were top secret projects, with access very tightly controlled. They were so top secret that you weren't even allowed to say the product code names in the presence of people who weren't cleared for access, because the mere act of saying a code name discloses the fact that the project exists at all. The code phrase for saying that somebody has been cleared for access to the top secret projects was in the tent. If you wanted to know whether it was okay to discuss the top secret projects with Alice, you would ask whether Alice was in the tent.

This phrase in the tent had some catchiness to it, so people started applying it to any case where there was a top secret project. And since all cool words get verbed eventually, the term in the tent led to the verb tented.

  • "Is Alice tented for project X?" = "Has Alice been granted access to information about project X?" which basically boils down to "Is it okay to discuss project X with Alice?"
  • "This relates to a tented project." = "This related to a project for which access to any information is tightly restricted."
  • "This is a feature for a tented device." = "This is a feature for a device for which access to any information is tightly restricted."

Few projects rise to this level of secrecy, but in case you have one, there's a Microspeak term to describe it.

Bonus chatter: Some years later, I learned that the concept of being "in the tent" is recursive: There are tents inside tents! Even though you are tented for some project X, there may be a part of that project that is double-top-secret, and you need to be tented for that part of the project to know about it.

Comments (19)
  1. Don Reba says:

    Some years later, I learned that the concept of being “in the tent” is recursive

    Can you also tent the public for project X, meaning to unveil it?

    1. DWalker07 says:

      You likely wouldn’t bring the whole public into the tent — it would have to be a VERY big tent! You could just dismantle (or drop) the tent itself, and then everyone can see what the tent used to cover.

    2. cheong00 says:

      Or you can de-tent the project X? It’s easier to remove existing tent than to create extra large one. :P

  2. Steve says:

    So if you’re trying to eavesdrop on one of these conversations you are loitering with intent?

    1. DWalker07 says:

      Ha ha ha ha.

  3. nathan_works says:

    kinda like double-secret probation ?

  4. Kevin Fee says:

    So how do you ask if someone is in the tent now? I mean, just saying “Are you in the tent?” should result in them saying “which tent? I’m in *a* tent, but are you in that tent? Or are you in a different tent that I shouldn’t hear about?” Obviously you can’t use the code name to specify which tent you’re asking about. Gotta love when making something general makes it useless.

    1. ᵂᴬᴿᴿᴲᴺ says:

      There are internal tools that show you who is in the tent(s) with you and you can only see the tents that you know about. (You can’t go spelunking around to find stuff.)

      For example, I can see who else is in the “No Homer’s” tent and I know that guy in sector 7g isn’t in it.

    2. Martin says:

      I had this exact thought. Once you have more than one tent, you can no longer ask someone directly about their tent status, and you can not ask about a third party’s tent status with anyone you don’t already know is in the tent you are interested in.

    3. You clearly cannot ask someone, “Are you in the tent?”, because that person will just say “Sure!” In the old days, the only way to know was to ask the tent membership administrator, “Is Alice in the tent?” As ᵂᴬᴿᴿᴲᴺ noted, there are now internal tools that let you see who are in the tents you’re already in.

  5. Alex says:

    This is very similar to government classification and security rules. I really wonder who’s got the best practices here — commercial or government.

  6. Mark says:

    In my neck of the woods, tenting has something to do with pyjamas or bedsheets, and what happens when the occupier becomes aroused.

    1. Viila says:

      Well, I’m sure some of this secret hardware could elicit such a reaction…

  7. DWalker07 says:

    It sounds just like the Cone of Silence from Get Smart.

  8. Erik F says:

    Are you even allowed to tell people about the tent? Or is this like the first rule of Fight Club: “Don’t tell anyone about Fight Club”?

    1. When the concept was introduced, you weren’t even supposed to reveal the existence of a tent. It seems that that rule has been relaxed, seeing as we talk about it in public job listings now!

    2. Falcon says:

      “Someone talked about the tent!”

  9. Zan Lynx' says:

    It’s clever for those Surface type devices because Windows 8 and 10 also run in touch mode on things like the Yoga. Which when it is folded back makes a little tent.

  10. Lizard says:

    Sounds like working at Microsoft is an in-tents experience.

    Yeah, I’ll just see myself out.

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