Windows Media Player Name Game

Just don’t ask Microsoft’s lawyers, “What’s in a name?”

Microsoft, under pressure to comply with a year-old mandate from European antitrust regulators, can’t fulfill the terms of the ruling until it comes up with a name for a version of Windows that doesn’t include Windows Media Player.

Microsoft offered EU regulators eight naming options to replace “XP Reduced Media Edition,” a name they had rejected out of hand. Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake would not comment on what sort of names Redmond had proposed to the EU. She said the company had generated them internally.

“Obviously, Microsoft coming up with Reduced Media Edition was their very arrogant slap in the face of the EU,” said naming consultant Laurel Sutton. “They were specifically requested to come up with something that didn’t sound inferior.”

Sutton, a principal of Catchword Brand Name Development in Oakland, Calif., said Microsoft might as well have called the media playerless version “Windows Inferio,” or “Windows MT” — as in, “empty.”

Sutton said Reduced Media Edition sends the wrong message. “The main problem with the name is that… it doesn’t make it sound like they took the media player out. It says ‘reduced media,’ which clearly conveyed that this operating system will not play certain types of media.”

On Friday, the Commission confirmed that it had asked Microsoft competitors and customers for their feedback on the company’s compliance with the rulings.

In March 2004, then-Competition Commissioner Mario Monti slammed Microsoft with a $613 million fine for abusing its monopoly position in the market for computer operating systems. Microsoft paid up.

It also ordered Microsoft to license its server protocols, which Microsoft has done, and to provide a version of Windows without Windows Media Player for the European market.

Microsoft is fond of using evocative — if random — monikers internally for products under development: The code name for its next-generation version of the operating system is Longhorn, while its components have been called Indigo, Whidbey, Whitehorse and Kodiak. But actual product names tend to be baldly declarative.

Sutton said Microsoft seems to lack a naming strategy. While some products, such as Outlook and PowerPoint, are interesting and suggestive, others, like Word and Office, are basic and descriptive.

In addition to Tanquerey Ten gin and Dockers Mystique pants, Catchword named the Microsoft Business and Technology Center and ClearLead, a lead tracking product. She emphasized that Microsoft product managers were great to work with. The naming goal Catchword was given for ClearLead, she said, was, “We want something not too descriptive but not too suggestive.”

Sutton’s favorite tongue-in-cheek replacement for Reduced Media Edition was Legal Edition. But seriously, she added, names like Open Media, Media Player Choice or Media Unlimited could meet the EU’s criteria. Microsoft should give the product a positive spin. “Now, consumers have options. They can download any media player. I think that’s what the EU would prefer,” she said.

Drake said the software sans Media Player is ready to ship to computer makers. “It’s ready to go out, but we’re waiting for a decision on what the name will be. It’s all dependent on the name at this point,” she said.

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