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Microsoft seems to use such generic names for their core products that it seems like it must be or have been part of a deliberate strategy. It is so common that I think it may have originated as a way to overawe some business customer or junior college striver -- who vaguely knows that SQL servers exist -- that SQL servers are Microsoft-specific products. Same with mail exchange server.


SQL Server (most general term possible, despite which they claim a trademark)

Exchange Server (see rfc's from the 1980's onward describing mail exchanges and calling them precisely that)

Windows (the generic term used with windowing applications since their invention)

Office (if you are inclined to protest that it's really Microsoft Office, go to the product splash page and look for the word 'microsoft')

Has anyone ever come across a discussion of this from someone involved in the early naming decisions or marketing, or have any knowledge if this is in fact a pattern intended to associate in the public's mind core general technologies with Microsoft products (while stretching the outermost limits of trademarkability)?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, GlenH7, Dan Pichelman, MichaelT, Bart van Ingen Schenau Oct 2 '14 at 13:57

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I wonder if they had this in mind when they named Internet Explorer? That name is not used generically but maybe they hoped it would be. –  finnw Sep 9 '10 at 9:37
@finnw well, for low-end user, the little-blue-'e'-icon is "the internet" so I think Microsoft got it right in a way –  Federico Culloca Sep 9 '10 at 9:45
I'm just waiting for: Microsoft and, Microsoft the, Microsoft ., Microsoft god –  adolf garlic Sep 9 '10 at 20:21
@Roger Pate: annoyingly (to me anyway) the default browser for Windows XP is labelled as "Internet" rather than "Web". But then, I'm a die hard "The web is NOT the Internet" type. –  Matt Ellen Sep 19 '10 at 16:55
A similar tendency in the Perl community is to name libraries by what they do -- CGI::Application, Text::CSV, etc. –  Sean McMillan Aug 11 '11 at 14:06

11 Answers 11

The practice dates back to the 80s when Rowland Hanson was the head of marketing at Microsoft. He devised the naming practice of putting Microsoft in front of a generic word that described the function of the application. This was done as a way to immediately convey what an application was for as well as a way to work Microsoft into the name.

More information in the context of Microsoft Windows: Windows Vista: What's in a Name?

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Hence Internet Explorer which lets you 'Explore the Internet'. What does 'Firefox' do?. It doesn't apply for acquisitions - Excel, Visio, etc. –  JBRWilkinson Oct 14 '10 at 9:03

It's very clever - it makes them seem like the default choice.

So Microsoft becomes synonymous with word processing (MS Word), GUIs (windows), SQL etc They are subconsciously the obvious choice, you have to make a conscious decision to trust WibbleBlah for your new word processor over whatever Microsoft make.

It's as if Ford called their products the car, or the truck.

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Ford have built the Ford Ka, which is pretty close. –  AlexC Feb 25 '11 at 19:33

It's not new with Microsoft. Let's go back to the days when IBM ruled the earth.

The most obvious nowadays is the Personal Computer, along with the Personal Computer Disk Operating System.

To go back in time, consider one of their earlier minicomputers, the System/36 that primarily ran programs written in Report Program Generator (RPG, anyway). The IBM 360 was a perfectly good name for a computer in those days, but it came (originally, anyway) with Basic Operating System, Tape Operating System, Disk Operating System, or Operating System (which everybody wound up using after a while). Many programs were written in Basic Assembly Language and run with Job Control Language. IBM was also active in computer languages, promoting such languages as Programming Language One and A Programming Language. (Some of these may be more familiar as acronyms.)

I don't know if this is necessarily a characteristic of a market-dominating company, but it sure looks like it (for a sample size of two).

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Final Cut Pro

Garage Band




(don't mention Dreamweaver or ColdFusion they are bought products)

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When i was a kid, i had seen that Photoshop icon and i thought i can buy some photo using this program. Photo + Shop –  Sarawut Positwinyu Sep 11 '11 at 8:43
After reading these examples I did not understand what the thesis is. –  Job Sep 11 '11 at 14:49

I truly believe that renaming Avalon to Windows Presentation Foundation is responsible for at least 25% drop in confidence and enthusiasm regarding this technology.

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Depends, if you are trying to lure iPad developers perhaps. if you are trying to convince your bosses at the bank not to use "Microsoft Foundation Classes" for the next project then "Windows Presentation Foundation" is a much easier sell –  Martin Beckett Sep 19 '10 at 16:53
I agreed that Avalon sounded much cooler, but I doubt that this is the reason for drop in enthusiasm - many people may have move to Silverlight, since it seems to have more of Microsoft's attention, or other platforms. –  JBRWilkinson Oct 14 '10 at 11:33

Microsoft upper management is very much run by MBA types which means names are probably analysed and manipulated so much that only a generic name can come out the other side. Just being a 'cool name' isn't enough. I think Apple go by feel a lot more, and then just do what Steve says.

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+1 Steve behavioural comment. –  JBRWilkinson Oct 14 '10 at 11:31

What gets me is using some generic word in a way that has nothing to do with the original meaning of the word.

.NET assemblies -- as far as I can tell, this has nothing to do with assembly language

managed code -- sounds as if the cat-herding problem has been solved

Visual Programming -- sounds like it's just like NI LabVIEW G and other visual programming languages

SideWinder -- that's a kind of venomous snake, right?

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Sidewinder is a missile, and the original Microsoft SideWinder was a joystick, marketed for combat flight sims, so the name makes perfect sense. –  Peter Boughton Sep 9 '10 at 17:20
sidewinder missile, sidewinder snake –  Matt Ellen Sep 19 '10 at 16:58
"Assembly" makes sense for .net; if a machine is an assembly of parts, then a .net assembly can be a collection of code. –  Gary Sep 19 '10 at 20:42
A generic word used in a way that has nothing to do with the original meaning of the word makes a good trademark. –  David Thornley Oct 13 '10 at 18:11
"Assembly" hardly makes me think about assembly language/assembler... You're reaching. –  MetalMikester Oct 13 '10 at 23:15

Because more generic product names might be more easily shared between people,
it's also a lot quicker to see what the application is about.

Compare Microsoft Door Bell to Microsoft Ring. (Don't see this as Bing, which is a catchy name)

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Whichever word you use to describe your product, you considered the authority on that product or service. Generic terms are used more frequently and have a distinct advantage to anyone who can be positively associated with that word.

As a reminder, Microsoft is short for "micro-computer software". Isn't that as generic as you can get?

Microsoft Office: PERFECT! Microsoft Word: PERFECT! Microsoft SQL Server: Okay. Microsoft Access: Poor. Microsoft Excel: Poor. Oracle: Poor! (Is Oracle a company or a product? Both? Neither?) Adobe Acrobat: Sucks. (Totally non-descriptive.) Adobe ColdFusion: Okay. (Cold fusion is a process that never happened. It sounds quite intriguing though.)

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Back in early nineties I applied for my first ever computer science certification short course of 3 months duration. The enrolled asked me for my preference of programming language : "BASIC or C" ?.

I thought for about 100 milliseconds and replied ... "BASIC obviously !!" . He tried to persuade me to learn C instead but the damage had already been done :)

So that's probably why they do it

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Product names composed of invented words, or misspellings of words, tend to annoy me. I prefer product names to be self-descriptive whenever it's practical.

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Google is an invented word, even if a derivative of googol. –  JBRWilkinson Oct 14 '10 at 11:28

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