In what has to be its biggest embarrassment in a long time, Microsoft has been forced to drop all references to Metro, the square-tiled interface on both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 7.x, all due to a failure of due diligence.
Multiple sources claim, and I have gotten my own confirmation, that Microsoft's Legal and Corporate Affairs team distributed a memo to all internal and external parties banning the use of the "Metro" term. Windows 8 went RTM on Wednesday, August 1, and will go retail by the end of October, so this is a hell of a time to change a name you've driven into the consumer's head.
The memo claims that Microsoft has been threatened with legal action for infringing on "Metro" trademarks currently held by German retailer Metro AG. Color me surprised that such a generic name can be trademarked, and that the French subway system didn't have it locked down.
So now, they are using terms like "Windows 8-style UI" and the "New User Interface" when discussing the company's full Windows 8 product line-up. A spokesperson for Microsoft issued the following statement:
"We have used Metro style as a code name during the product development cycle across many of our product lines. As we get closer to launch and transition from industry dialog to a broad consumer dialog we will use our commercial names."
There's been chatter that Microsoft wants to ditch the name because it's been slapped on everything and there may be confusion. The "Metro" UI can be found in the phone, Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Server 2013, and the tiled look is used in Office 2013.
There is discussion on some blogs that Microsoft wants to downplay the Metro name, lest it cause confusion like it did with .Net more than a decade ago. Microsoft invented the .Net framework in 2000, and rather quickly, slapped .Net on the end of every product it released for some time thereafter.
The latter seems like a good excuse, but a source within the company suggests that it's really the trademark issue.
"They told us about the Metro mess, though the screwup on checking the name wasn't spelled out per se, and frankly, everyone's either simply dismayed or genuinely annoyed that whoever was supposed to be doing due diligence on the name blew it so badly," the source said.
Microsoft will have a new official name to replace Metro this weekend, the source added.
"Considering that the damned thing is already gold and RTM, the Windows/WinPhone teams have an uphill battle here," the source said.