Reports: Microsoft May be Ditching 'Metro'

Possible copyright violations of the name are cited.

Is "Metro-style" about to lose its "Metro"?

It's looking that way, if media reports are correct.

The "Metro" name, which is associated with the forthcoming Windows 8 operating system, may be dropped by Microsoft.

Microsoft today gave an indication that its Metro nomenclature, used to describe both a design style and a user interface (UI) in Windows 8, could be scrapped in the near future. A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed a statement that was provided today to veteran Microsoft observer Mary Jo Foley, who reported the potential change. Foley's unnamed sources suggested that Metro could be banned, possibly because of "copyright" issues.

In its statement, Microsoft oddly describes Metro as a "code name" and suggests it could be changed by the time Windows 8 is launched as a product.

"We have used Metro style as a code name during the product development cycle across many of our product lines," the Microsoft spokesperson stated via e-mail. "As we get closer to launch and transition from industry dialog to a broad consumer dialog we will use our commercial names."

No further details were provided by Microsoft. Windows 8 is scheduled for general availability on October 26.

Windows 8 has a Metro (UI) and a desktop UI within the operating system. The Metro side displays a flat, tile-based interface that's similar to what users find on Windows Phone, and it's optimized for touch. In contrast, the desktop UI of Windows 8 is supposed to have more of typical chromed border look for apps, and they have ribbon-style menus. However, during a recent presentation of the next Office 365 apps, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer blurred the distinction between the two UI styles.

"We've transformed in this process Office also to embrace some of the same design concepts and principles that we've showed you in Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 and in Metro," Ballmer said, early during the talk, according to a Microsoft transcript.

However, Microsoft has shown very few of its own Metro-style apps so far. The one standout exception is the currently available OneNote MX, which is a Metro-style Windows 8 app that's part of Office 2013.

The distinction between the Windows 8 UIs is important -- at least for developers. Mozilla and Google have both complained that they must build their browsers for the desktop side of Windows 8 only. Their browsers won't have access to the same APIs on the Windows RT (Windows on ARM) side of Windows 8 as Microsoft's Internet Explorer 10 browser will have, Mozilla and Google have indicated.

Michael Cherry, research vice president for operating systems at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based independent consultancy, pointed to the roots of Metro at Microsoft. The design concept is supposed to be based on the sort of clear signage found in airport terminals and other passenger depots.

"To me, Metro provided a guiding principle to the simplification of the message such that it was easily recognizable what was expected of you," Cherry said, in a phone interview. "And it was very comforting and confirming…on where you wanted to go."

He added that it would be a shame for Microsoft to drop the Metro name because of these guiding roots. He's even designing his own Metro-style Windows 8 app along those lines.

Cherry also speculated that Microsoft may want to reshape the marketing associated with Metro due to future availability of Metro-style apps.

"I think the one reason that they might want to downplay the [Metro] name is that they want to downplay this difference that there's two pieces," Cherry explained. "Say, for example, when I look at Windows 8 right now, I try to ask myself, 'Now, why would I use it if there aren't Metro apps that I can use.' Whereas, if they [Microsoft] can get us out of this mindset about Metro, then they can go back and say, 'Well, there a lot of Windows 8 apps'."

Another possible reason for the shift in nomenclature has to do with Windows 8 coming to Windows Phone.

"Windows Phone is going to be using, to a large extent, some of the same components [as Window 8]," Cherry said. "Instead of being built on [Windows] CE, it's going to be built on Windows 8. So again, they may be trying to get us to think about this as Windows 8 apps."

He added that Microsoft could even start to downplay the "desktop" term as well.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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