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Microsoft Metro: What's in a Name?

The next Windows needs something memorable or catchy that can help Microsoft's new design aesthetic to outlive its legacy.

Microsoft has a reputation for branding blunders, but the latest confusion over Metro in Windows 8 could come back to haunt the company.

A big part of Microsoft's next operating system is the visual style once known as "Metro," defined by its solid colors, hard rectangles, and minimalist icons. But according to several reports, the "Metro" name is subject to a trademark dispute by German retailer Metro AG, so now Microsoft needs to pick some new marketing lingo for Windows 8's visual style.

Microsoft's official story is that Metro was always part of an "industry dialog," and the company is now transitioning to a "broad consumer dialog," but from the outside, the change looks like scramble to fix a major oversight. So far, Microsoft hasn't announced a new name for Metro, though it could be called either "Modern UI Style" or "Windows 8 user interface."

Neither of those names is memorable or catchy, and that could be a problem if Microsoft wants its new design aesthetic to outlive the Windows legacy.

Hypothetically, Microsoft could someday split the interface formerly known as Metro into its own operating system. Although I think the desktop-Metro hybrid approach is one of Windows 8's most interesting features, it's also one of the most polarizing. We regularly hear from readers who don't care for the new interface, and would prefer that Microsoft leave its classic desktop alone.

Yet, Microsoft needs to push forward with an interface that accommodates touchscreen, so in response to these criticisms, Microsoft could eventually give power users what they want: a special product for businesses and users who want nothing to do with the modern look. Meanwhile, the Metro interface could grow on its own as a separate product. (Microsoft is already partway there with Windows RT, the ARM-based version of Windows that supports only tablet-friendly apps and a bare-bones desktop.)

Should that day of transition ever come, Microsoft might want a new name for its modern user interface. Last year, sources told The Verge's Nilay Patel that Microsoft is giving serious thought to ditching the Windows brand name within the next four years, sometime after the complete convergence of phone, TV, and PC operating systems. But this drastic move would only make sense if Microsoft manages to leave the legacy version of Windows behind.

In lieu of Metro, Microsoft needs to plant the seed for branding that can last through that transition. But when it comes to names, perhaps we should know better from a company that has trouble making up its mind.

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