What's in a name? Microsoft defends 'Windows 7' moniker

Exec explains how he got to seven, reveals Windows 7's real number is 6.1.

The question whether Windows 7 will be a "major" or a "minor" update from Vista has plagued Microsoft. In May, for example, when the company went on a 24-hour marketing blitz to talk up Windows 7, executives pegged the OS as a major update. That, however, ran counter to what the company said shortly after Vista's release, when it laid out a development road map that said Microsoft would upgrade on an alternating major-minor basis, with the major updates -- think XP to Vista -- every four years, with minor updates in between. By such a map, Windows 7 would be a "minor" update, since Vista was a "major" one.

In fact, Microsoft has repeatedly talked about how Windows 7 builds on Vista. Just this Monday, Nash used words like "evolving" and "refining" to describe how the next OS compares to Vista.

Tuesday, however, he seemed to be saying something different. "Windows 7 is a significant and evolutionary advancement of the client operating system," Nash said. "It is in every way a major effort in design, engineering and innovation."

That left some scratching their heads. "No one at [Microsoft] wants to admit that in the grand scheme of things, it's a comparatively minor release, so no one's willing to be brave and stick up for calling it Windows 6.1 after all the months of letting the Windows 7 codename float around," said PatriotB. "It would seem like backpedaling of sorts, almost an admission that what we need is an improved Vista, whereas with artificially using the number 7 you get to convey a bigger departure from Vista than what really exists."

Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, weighed in as well. "A major release is where they potentially break things that used to work, add significant APIs that have to be used to take advantage of new features, and cause issues like application compatibility or require a change in hardware," said Cherry. "A minor release is just the opposite." By that criteria, Cherry put Vista in the "major" category and Windows 7 in the "minor."

"But we have to separate marketing from technology," Cherry said. "There may be all sorts of reasons that 'Windows 7' makes marketing sense because it allows Microsoft to distance themselves from any perception people have about Vista."

As for the name 'Windows 7', Cherry said he likes it, but perhaps not for the reason Microsoft does. "I long for a simpler system," he said. "I'm tired of the incredibly long product names that Microsoft sometimes uses. "I just wish they'd pick a simple schema [for OS naming] and stick to it."

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Gregg Keizer

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