–Dan Kelly, Attorney

I ran across information today that Microsoft is coming out with a new operating system this fall:  Windows 8.  8?  What goes into that branding decision?  I’m intrigued by the fact that Microsoft and Apple are again heading in opposite directions.  Apple eschewed the moniker “iPad 3” for its latest generation of the iPad, opting instead for “The new iPad,” or just iPad.

To be fair, this is a bit of comparing apples and oranges, given that Windows is an operating system and iPads are devices.  Nevertheless, Apple’s decision to abandon a generational numbering scheme for the iPad garnered some commentary at the time that it was rolled out.  I wonder if Microsoft’s continued use of “generational” numbering (very loosely construed) will draw comments.

Wikimedia commons has an interesting family tree of Windows products here, reproduced below:

One wonders at the naming processes and stories behind each generation.  I’d venture to guess that some generations had heavier naming input from developers and engineers, while others probably had stronger input from marketers and naming consultants.  Maybe this surmise offends marketers and naming consultants.

Interestingly, when it comes to the Mac operating system, Apple has been much more consistent with a relatively straightforward generational numbering scheme, as detailed here and illustrated here.  Apple basically just counts each iteration of its operating system.  Microsoft, to the degree it counts, counts badly.

As an aside, Gen X’ers and older will also appreciate that the Mac OS used windows (lower-case) well before Microsoft did.  Prior to the Windows operating system, the Microsoft OS was MS-DOS — a very much windowless system requiring line commands to be entered at a prompt, like this:


(If you are tilting your head sideways, cut it out.  It is not an emoticon.)  For you younger types (who are not computer programmers), go ahead and figure out how to run a computer with that staring you in the face and no mouse, trackpad, or other pointing device to aid you.  It is loads of fun!

Back to the main point.  To be fair, it is not necessarily easy to see at the outset of a naming project whether or how a product will evolve over time, but when it comes to computing devices and software, it has long been a safe bet that these will evolve over time.   There is value in building the possibility of evolution and expansion into the name, or at least the naming process.  The vision at the front is also worth recording in a brand standards manual or naming brief so that the next marketing director will have  a clue about the long-term vision and direction.

It is also worth considering the long-term requirements for protecting multi-generational names from a legal standpoint.  For example, while Apple maintains an iterative generational numbering scheme and has just two US trademark registrations for MAC OS, it has taken to naming iterations of the current OS X with feline names, like Lion, Mountain Lion, Leopard, Tiger, etc. with each protected by its own federal registration.  As a practical matter, it may be difficult to maintain trademark protection over these names as each version is superseded.  For the most highly valued publicly traded company in the world, a few thousand on a disposable trademark registration is probably not terribly significant, but the rest of the business world may have to judiciously budget for these things.

Computers and computing devices have seen numerous revolutions in the past fifty years or so, but few of them in naming and branding.  Here’s hoping for a naming revolution that does more than count (and count badly).