If Windows 10 is the 'last version,' it needs names

Microsoft should put names to editions of its evergreen OS

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With Microsoft saying that Windows 10 "is the last version of Windows," the company may have a naming problem.

The idea that Windows 10 would be a forever OS, at least in its nameplate, was not new last week when developer evangelist Jerry Nixon said Windows 10 would be the final edition. But Microsoft had not before put it in such stark terms.

"Right now we're releasing Windows 10, and because Windows 10 is the last version of Windows, we're all still working on Windows 10," Nixon told a room of developers last week at his firm's Ignite conference [emphasis added.

That's different, said Nixon. Before, Microsoft would talk about the newest edition but would keep quiet about the next, which it had already started.

"I can say things like 'Yeah, we're working on interactive tiles and it's coming to Windows 10 in one of its future updates,' Nixon said. "We are now not always just thinking about what's not here today. Now we can talk about things in a new way, and much more open way than we have before."

His point was that Windows 10 will be updated regularly -- and far more frequently than its predecessors -- to become, like Google's Chrome or Apple's OS X, a constantly-churning product. Microsoft has described this model as "Windows as a service" to note its always-fresh trait, like a cloud-based service, even though the OS resides -- as it always has -- locally on the device.

Without a new name every three years or so -- Windows XP begat Vista which begat Windows 7 which begat Windows 8 -- the OS will be pegged as Windows 10 for the foreseeable future. Each edition will be "Windows 10," just as all five sons of boxer and entrepreneur George Foreman's are also named "George."

That may present a problem. What's to tell apart 2015's Windows 10 from 2020's? At least Foreman gave his sons addenda, like Jr. and the Roman numerals III through VI.

Minus edition names, how will customers tell technical support what Windows 10 they're running? Without a name, how will they know whether their system runs what's current, or years down the line after countless OS changes, that an older program is compatible? How will OEMs, whose devices fuel Windows license sales and so fill Microsoft's coffers, hype their hardware if all they can trumpet is Windows 10 As It Is Today, or worse, something like Windows 10.5592v2?

Certainly, Microsoft expects that most consumers will stick to the tick-tock of updates, and so will always be on the latest, ameliorating the nameless Windows. Yet not everyone updates. And businesses may stifle the fast cadence for their workers' devices and their networks' machines, making it prudent for Microsoft to tag monikers at intervals.

That's how Apple does it.

Since 2001, then Apple introduced OS X, where "X," like Microsoft's nomenclature, represents "10," the Cupertino, Calif. company has not changed the title of its Mac operating system.

But it has given each self-designated edition a name, first of a large feline -- Cheetah in 2001, Tiger in 2005, finally Mountain Lion in 2012 -- then California place names starting in 2013 with Mavericks. (Apple's resident funnyman, Craig Federighi, who heads OS X and iOS development, joked that year, "We do not want to be the first software in history to be delayed due to a dwindling supply of cats" when explaining the jump to an in-state naming convention.)

Apple also appends a number to each edition, as in OS X 10.9, which was Mavericks, and 10.10, which is Yosemite. But users know the names more than they recognize the numbers.

Microsoft would be smart to follow Apple's example.

Keep the Windows 10 title as long as you like. Add a decimal point and a digit for the addicted, such as 10.1 and 10.2. But most importantly, slap on a nickname every once in a while, perhaps annually (as Apple does now) or every other year (as Apple once did) or even every three (a Microsoft tradition, sort of).

Although Microsoft could pick a large mammal for nickname sources, bears for instance -- Atlas, Cinnamon, Gobi, Grizzly, Kamchatka, Kodiak -- those lists are almost always too short to last, even if the extinct are allowed. And who wants a new OS that says "extinct" out of the box?

Fortunately, Washington State, home of Microsoft since 1979, has a plethora of excellent place names to pick from for Windows 10.

Microsoft could go the mountain and peaks route, naming editions Adams, Baker, Olympus (bonus, close to a beer), Rainier (double bonus, really a beer), Redoubt and Sahale. Naturally, some names would be better than others, with a few of the latter definitely out of bounds, like St. Helens (the OS that explodes) or Desolation (the really barren, depressing OS).

Washington's cities and towns would also be a great category to mine for catchy Windows 10 names.

Take Castle Rock, for instance, or Cheney, Kennewick or Kirkland, Palouse or Pasco, San Juan or Sprague, Walla Walla or Wenatchee. The state also has a host of place names that bespeak the Native Americans who lived and live there, from Issaquah and Snoqualmie to Omak and Spokane. And its rivers roll off the tongue as much as they roll to the Pacific: Chehalis, Columbia, Klickitat and Willapa.

Again, not every site would work for Microsoft. Hanford, say, once the Manhattan Project's plutonium extraction facility and now a nuclear waste dump, would only bring hoots of "This OS is radioactive!" The Scablands, the Eastern Washington remnants of a flood channel from an immense prehistoric lake, would violate the product naming rule "Never use scab. Or fester for that matter." And Tacoma? That's a truck from Toyota.

But Windows 10 Columbia? Who wouldn't be proud to run that?

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