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Microsoft name juggling

by Tommy Andersen
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Microsoft is a massive software company. They’re a household name and have been around since the 80’s. They have a a lot of products and services out there, each with their own name. So it makes sense that some of their trademarks and naming choices aren’t always perfect. However it seems that they are, more than most, juggling names around, reusing old names for new things – confusing both IT professionals and end-users alike.

Here are some of the weirder name juggling choices Microsoft have made over the years.

Microsoft Surface

When I attended the University back in 2009, I remember taking part in a UI test on a Microsoft Surface. I cant recall the purpose of the test anymore, however I clearly remember this impressive huge interactive table, where you could touch and shove things around.

This was called a Microsoft Surface (Later Microsoft PixelSense). So when Microsoft introduced their Surface years later, I figured cool, a “huge touch-screen-table thingy!”. It took a while for me to realize that they just reused the name for something completely different – a laptop/tablet.

That is terribly confusing. Granted, the Surface name was only used in beta, before it was launched as PixelSense, however “Surface” it’s still a much better name for at touchable table, then a tablet-top, in my opinion. And for years, every time someone said they were buying a Microsoft Surface (which wasn’t actually that often), I instantly though, oh cool – a table touchscreen.

Microsoft Office

This is properly the most annoying case of name juggling or reusing that Microsoft have made to date. Not a week goes by without me having to explain this to a client – almost apologizing on Microsoft’s behalf. Honestly what were they thinking!

Microsoft Office is a well know brand. Very likely their most widely known out there – only surpassed by Windows.

So when Microsoft decided to launch their cloud offering, containing Exchange as a service as well as web-editions of some office applications, file-sharing (don’t get me started on that whole Skydrive, Onedrive thing) and a number of other features, they decided to reuse the Office name again. I imagine the Marketing group meeting at Microsoft HQ went something like this:

Guy 1: Hey, let’s just call it Office .
Guy 2: Erhm. We already have a software suite called “Office”.
Guy 1: Then lets call it Office 365, since it’s Office – all year!
Guy 2: Sure, that’s not confusing at all, given that our users can’t even distinguish between Office 2007 and Windows 7 and regularly call both Windows 2007.
Guy 1: That sounds perfect. I don’t foresee any kind problem with that. It’s a go then.

So they went ahead and called it Office 365, which meant that every IT guy had to spend the next 5 years explaining to they users. No, it’s not the same as you Office. Yes, it’s from Microsoft, but it has nothing to do with your Office applications. Unless you have a subscription through Office 365, then you can get your Office 2016 or whatever through Office 365.

And now, depending on how you subscribe to your Office software through Office 365, the software is actually even called 365 in the desktop version also, making it even more difficult to explain.

I suspect that we’re heading to a place where the only way to get Office applications – for web or desktop use – is through Office 365 as a service. Completely eliminating the classic Office pack. Then they can just call it Microsoft Office. No suffix. No confusion. But until then…sorry users.

Skype Vs. Skype for Business

Last (but not least) let’s talk about Skype.

First of all there’s Skype (classic). This was launched on 2003 and quickly became popular with hundreds of millions of users world wide. Long story short – it ended up with Microsoft in 2011.

Prior to that, Microsoft had tried to get traction with their own VOIP software targeting business users. Originally known as Office Communicator, they re-branded it as Microsoft Lync in 2010. Lync had some success, typically within larger companies.

So for a couple of years after 2011 Microsoft had two VOIP platforms. Skype and Lync. So by 2014 when they announced that Lync would become Skype for Business, IT people where thrilled. Finally one single platform under the Skype name. However that only happens on paper. As it turned out, it was just another name juggling and re-branding exercise. They basically took the Skype name and forced Lync down it’s throat. While this may be perfectly logical from a Marketing point of view, promoting their lesser known Lync software by label-slapping the Skype logo on it, it’s been a headache for IT people and end-users ever since.

So for the following years we had 2 Skype versions. Skype for Business and regular old Skype. But since they were completely different software platforms, users from one couldn’t even speak with the other – and though there are some workarounds for that today, it’s still two very different applications that really don’t mix very well.

And the funny (read: tragic) thing is that now, 5 years later. Skype for Business is still running as a lync.exe process when you start the application. They haven’t even renamed the applications executable.

The good news is that Skype for Business is on the way out. Microsoft announced that they are planning to move the SfB functionality into what is currently Microsoft Teams.

From Office Communicator to Lync to Skype for Business and now Teams. Lets hope that Microsoft finds a place for this VOIP bastard in the near future. And hopefully without juggling any more names around. If not may I suggest “Microsoft Surface phone” or perhaps “Office Ring”…


Stop reusing names. There’s plenty of Words in the dictionary.

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