Trademark trouble may be behind Microsoft's last-minute decision to rename its next-gen user interface.
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Time to reprint the marketing brochures. Even as the Windows 8 launch gets underway, Microsoft has been forced to ditch the operating system's Metro interface nametag.
Officially, Microsoft is saying that Metro was just a codename, and that the switch was planned--even thought it has yet to announce a replacement. "We have used Metro style as a codename during the product development cycle across many of our product lines," the company said in a statement.
"As we get closer to launch and transition from industry dialog to a broad consumer dialog we will use our commercial names," Microsoft said.
There's just one problem with that explanation. Metro is not only the name of Windows 8's interface, it's also the name of the interface on Windows Phone, where Metro first appeared in Microsoft's product line. Launched in late 2010, Windows Phone is well past the development stage.
"Metro is the name of the new design language created for the Windows Phone 7 interface," Microsoft states on its website. The company has said Metro was inspired in part by European transport hubs' minimalistic signage, which generally features clean, simple lines to depict movement and direction, and lower-case typography.
A key part of Metro is Live Tiles, blocks of homescreen real estate that display real-time information from social networks, messaging, e-mail, and other services.
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Metro's sudden demise, in name only, has prompted speculation that Microsoft's hand was forced by the threat of legal action from a company that already owns a trademark on the Metro name. A possible suspect, according to a number of reports, is German retail giant Metro AG. The company has not commented.
Whatever the reason, Microsoft is working on a new name for its next-generation interface, elements of which have also showed up in Xbox Live and other online services from Redmond. Microsoft is "working on a replacement term" and will "land on that by the end of the week," according to an internal memo obtained by tech blog The Verge.
Windows 8 tablets and PCs are due to hit stores on Oct. 26. Developers can download the final version of Windows 8 through their MSDN subscriptions starting Aug. 15. IT departments with Software Assurance for Windows can download Windows 8 Enterprise Edition through the Volume License Center, beginning Aug. 16.
Volume license customers without Software Assurance can purchase Windows 8 from Volume License Resellers as of Sept. 1.