I was asked this question at PDC by Robert Scoble, and he posed the same question to everyone in his blog a few days ago. Without hesitation, my answer was “yes”. When pressed for a reason, I admitted that I had none, but my gut reaction leaned toward name-change. I decided to give it some serious thought, and dig into the concept further.
Building a brand is no easy task. Microsoft spent nearly $16B in the past 3 fiscal years (EDGAR Online) on marketing across all seven of it's business segments. Sixteen billion dollars in 3 years. And that's just on marketing MS spent another $14B on R&D for the same period. Think then, how much Microsoft has spent over the past 20 years, building the Windows brand into the behemoth that it is today? It would be irresponsible of Microsoft to ignore this investment, and I highly doubt that its shareholders would let them. But every investment expects a return which, in this case, is measured in more than just dollar signs.
Security and Trust
One of the Biggest Reasons to build a brand is to create feelings of trust among consumers. One does not need to look far to see such examples. Kleenex, Crisco, Arm & Hammer, Lysol, Post-It, etc. When you think of “Microsoft”, does the word “trust” come to mind? If you're like me, the more likely words are likely to me something like “patch”, “service pack”, “buffer overflow”, and “MSBlaster”. 2003 will probably be known as the year that shattered Windows, with exploit after exploit sending users into mass panic. It was this situation that drove me to create PatchDayReview.com, a website dedicated to try to make sense of all the patch madness.
Microsoft is working to streamline this process in Longhorn. Not only with the OS be more stable, preventing buffer overflows and other vulnerability exploits, but it also improves the installer and patch deployment technology, making these processes far less painful than they are today. With items like the much-maligned Next Generation Secure Computing Base, no-touch deployment, and secure execution environments, programs will run in ways that will not compromise the overall integrity of the system. With Microsoft working so hard to improve their security, the easiest way Microsoft can distance itself from the stigma of recent security woes is to change the name.
When I was at PDC, I attended a session on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. I was in heaven... it felt like the session was put together just for me. I was fortunate enough to get to listen to Lili Cheng, who works in the Social Computing Group at Microsoft Research (MSR). She said that studies showed an inordinate number of users feel sad when they use their computer. That's a powerful statement. Sadness is not an emotion you want to invoke when someone uses your product.
With Longhorn, MSR's Social Computing Group has been working very heavily with developers to improve the quality of user interaction. They are investing millions in finding out “what shapes and colors invoke positive responses” when using a computer. In fact, Bill Gates said that it will cost as much to develop the next version of Windows as it cost to put a man on the moon. In the 60's, lunar landing was America's single largest ambition. It took nearly a decade to achieve. When NASA started developing the next generation space vehicle in the late 70's, they didn't keep calling it a “Command Module”, they called it the “Shuttle Transportation System”, or Space Shuttle, a name worthy of the advances in the technology that the new vehicle embodied. In the same fashion, the easiest way Microsoft can distance itself from the negative emotions its current OS incarnation invokes is to change the name.
The Digital Decade
Much of Microsoft's internal marketing on Longhorn discusses it as the harbinger of the Digital Decade. MS is not kidding when they say they're betting the company on this one. They are expecting Longhorn to be the base from which Microsoft launches it's next 20 years of success, going back to its roots as a platform company. But the past 20 years have been fraught with as much peril as success. References to Microsoft Bob notwithstanding, Microsoft cannot seem to shake the demons of it's belligerent behavior. Even thought it settled its US antitrust problems, the latest temper-tantrum from Real Networks (“they made it impossible to compete, but we're still the best platform” <rolling eyes>) and the ongoing EU antitrust inquiry show that the past is still available to haunt them. But in the past 3 years, Microsoft really has changed. It's a different organization now, much friendlier, much more interested in bettering society through transparency, communication, and cooperation. I think Microsoft is in a position to enable these qualities in an operating system, because they are now enabled in the company. What better way to shake off the vestiges of the past, and show a new operating system written by a new Microsoft, than with a new name?
There you have it. I've made my case for a name change. I could go on and on. Oh yeah, and don't forget all those reasons that Scoble said. It's a move that would take a lot of guts, and to be honest, would be pretty ballsy. But it's one that needs to be made. Ring in the next 20 years of advances with the idea that computing will finally be better, and God forbid using a computer might actually make you happy.
So what Would I call this new Operating System? I haven't decided yet. I think terms like Operating System, User Interface, etc. are too cold for the kind of social computing platform that Longhorn will be. I think new terms need to be invented, and I think the new name needs to fit in with that mindset. When I come up with it, I'll let you know ;-) .