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August 24, 2005

Product Naming: Apple vs. Microsoft in the Name Game

Apple and Microsoft have long diverged in their creative approaches to product development and product promotion. Apple, most observers will agree, trades on that elusive, intangible cool that seems to apply to their computer and, it seems, in the way they play the name game. Suffice to say that Apple is more considerate than its rival, who seems to feel free to name first and field lawsuits later.

Two cases in point have come up recently that have cast Microsoft in a negative light. The first is Microsoft's clear intention of rebranding RSS (Really Simple Syndication) technology into, simply, "Web feeds" linked into Internet Explorer 7. RSS open source technology is favored by bloggers and Web-based news publishers to keep readers informed when new entries have been posted to web sites. According to Dave Winer, one of the pioneers of RSS, changing the application's name for use in IE7 is "childish and self defeating," adding that "Like it or not Microsoft, the technology is called RSS. If you try to change that, for whatever reason, you will get routed around." Joe Wilcox, senior analyst at Jupiter Research, recently pointed out in the same Macworld article that there is no harm in renaming a brand that is known "specifically to some industry or group" while others say that this renaming follows a trend Microsoft has shown in the past in taking industry standard software and striking a claim. Microsoft has already had its fingers burned in this regard, after paying out $1.9 billion last year to Sun Microsystems for its implementation of Java.

Microsoft's woes do not end there. The name Vista, which Microsoft already publicly linked to the new Windows on July 22, is in fact already being used by at least three software companies who are unwilling to share it. One is a business software company founded in 1999 and owned by John Wall, a well known technology executive in Seattle who also founded Wall Data. Wall recently told the Seattle Times that "We are going to consider our options and talk to them." Meanwhile, both VistA Software Alliance and World Vista, two non-profit groups who create software used in the administration of veterans hospitals, have denounced the new Windows brand. VistA has been in use for over 20 years and according a recent article in Macworld "provides the electronic records for millions of veterans in 163 hospitals, 135 nursing homes and 850 clinics." Microsoft is releasing its new version of windows just as VistA is launching VistA-Office EHR (electronic health record), causing further consternation to VistA 's developers.

While other software developers who are trading on the Vista name may be pleased with the association with Big Bill, it is the strategy that rankles. The name " Vista " has already been announced as the brand name for the new operating system, which will be available in the fall of 2006. RSS is already implemented in IE7 beta. A look at how Microsoft manages these issues leads one to wonder if Microsoft simply uses names at will and worries about damage control later. Do the brand managers at Microsoft believe that they are simply so far ahead of the game that the rules don't apply to them?

Apple, for its part, has handled these problems with a shade more elegance. A blog on Geek.Com recently gave notice that Apple has quietly applied for trademarks on the following names "iWork", "Pod"; "ZeroConf" (another industry standard that is likely to be dropped), and "ProBand." Interestingly, it has agreed to phase out its use of the "Rendezvous" name after settling out of court with a company called Tibco . Apple's new, two button mouse is produced under an official agreement with Viacom to use the copyrighted "Mighty Mouse" name. Both and the product's web page include the following fine print: "Mighty Mouse © Viacom International Inc. All Rights Reserved."

It seems that Apple treads with greater care on competitor's toes, and has earned a great deal of consumer goodwill in the bargain. One day before the April release of the new Macintosh OS, which is nicknamed "Tiger", online retailer Tiger Direct filed papers looking for a restraining order and an injunction , despite the fact that Apple had been advertising the system for some weeks before Tiger Direct made its appearance. Only days later, Bob Young, CEO of Lulu.Com and owner of the Hamilton Tiger–Cats (a professional Canadian football team) offered Apple the opportunity to use his team's moniker free of charge, saying that Tiger Online's lawsuit was "a load of codswallop." He added that "Nobody and no company should have the exclusive use of the word 'tiger.'"

Now THAT'S customer loyalty!

Please comment on Microsoft vs. Apple's brand naming approach.

Posted by William Lozito at August 24, 2005 5:00 PM
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This is a very insightful article that highlights some key differneces between how product naming is managed by Microsoft and Apple.
Apple does a much beter job naming products.

Microsoft aren't the only ones attempting to rename RSS. Google's new Desktop Sidebar features "Web Clips." See

Whilst searching for online travel deals, I came accross this search engine called I found the name interesting as I am a brand marketer. I came across the namedevelopment blog site, and am interested to hear your thoughts on the name Bezurk ..... I kinda like it as it sticks in your mind and is not literal in meaning

Very Informative Article!

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