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Breaking the code in wacky product codenames

Oct 20, 20104 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsOpen Source

Codenames for new IT products can be so odd. How they were chosen is often just as weird.

According to AMD, we’re about to set sail for the Northern Islands on Bulldozers powered by Fusion. And Intel will build us a Sandy Bridge if we would like instead. Computer and project naming has a weird history, and it can be a tad confusing at times. AMD and Intel aren’t the only ones: many a software vendor also loves to use codenames.

I remember back to my high school days and the top AMD CPU was an x86 chip known as the AMD Athlon (how many of us thought Athalon?).  Among the Athlon’s predecessors  was the K6-III chip, which was part of a group named after dinosaurs from The Land Before Time (the code name for K6-III was “Sharptooth”). And after the Athlon,  the newer chips also had codenames  came out based on themes.  different names: Palomino and Thoroughbred were, obviously, based on  horses, but then came Barton (a popular British name), along with Thorton (a Barton that ran like a Thoroughbred). Then came the Athlon 64 chips: first named “Hammer”, then later after cities.  I guess the codename folks ran out of cities, because AMD’s current line is called Phenom.

AMD acquired ATI a few years ago: pre-AMD, ATI products were a named somewhere between marketspeak and code numbers (Wonder/Mach/Rage, now Radeon and Fire). Radeon products that were mostly developed pre-acquisition are R#’d (R100-700). The current lineup is called Evergreen: with Juniper, Cedar, Hemlock, and Redwood as members.

Intel has more recently gotten into the creative code-name game, too.  Most of Intel’s CPUs  of the last 40 years are descended from the 8008 CPU: the 8086 CPU giving us the standard x86 architecture; x85 microcontrollers; x87 math coprocessors; an 8089 that did control tasks. Mid-90s, the names started to get a tiny bit more creative, with the Pentium (regular, II, and III) chips.  But codenames grew a little more creative from 2000 onward.  The Pentium 4 codenames came from cities, all of them in Oregon (Willamette/Northwood/Prescott/Cedar Mill).  Intel has a large chip design/fab in Oregon – were the names inspired by designers’ home towns?

The current chips (Core microarchitecture) split its codenames between Anglo and Israeli design teams: hence there are names such as Conroe, Allendale,  (towns in Texas and South Carolina, respectively) and Yonah (a transliteration of the Hebrew pronunciation of Jonah – yeah, the one with the whale), and Merom (town in Indiana).   I mentioned Sandy Bridge earlier – a creative departure from Intel’s love of towns. It apparently was going to be just “Bridge” but there’s supposedly an Israeli political group with that name.  But creativity ran dry after the Sandy Bridge because  Intel Atom chips are named after assorted American small towns (Silverthorne/Lincroft/Diamondville/Pineview).

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the assorted names Microsoft has used for Windows. Codenames date back to at least Windows 3.1, aka Janus (though you could add “Wolverine” TCP/IP to it). Windows NT was just “NTOS” until 3.5, aka Daytona. Windows 95 and 98 were respectively named Chicago and Memphis; no direct relation to Daytona. Technology from Project Cairo was implemented in 95 and NT 4.0, also called Cairo.

Some of the best codenames came from aborted projects: Nashville/Cleveland; Neptune; and Odyssey. Windows 2000 had no codename (its Itanium version reused the Janus monkier). The successors of Windows 2000 are named in regards to the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort of British Columbia: Whistler being XP, Blackcomb being 7, and Vista being a bar in between. (An operating system named after a bar? Maybe that explains it.) Let’s not forget Longhorn for Windows Server 2008 and Vienna for Windows 7.

Another curve: because of quirks in driver development, Windows 7 is treated as Windows 6.1 (5.0 being 2000, 5.1 XP, and 6.0 being Vista). Windows Home Server is modified from existing builds: the current one is called Quattro (an Italian reference recalling Vienna?), the pending one Vail (back to the ski-resort motif).

I’ve seen grief expressed on Reddit and Slashdot regarding the community forking of Sun-Oracle’s StarOffice (paid) / (free) into LibreOffice.  That’s a lot of names for a project but it’s still not as confusing as trying to build a computer – remember when 3.5″ floppy disks were called hard drives?