Microsoft's Metro mystery

Most people in the IT industry know what the “Metro” interface is. It’s been hard to avoid for the past year or so since Microsoft started talking in earnest about Windows 8 and Windows Phone. Metro, as we all know, is Microsoft’s new tile-based user interface.

So now, barely three months before what is expected to be the official launch of Windows 8, news emerges that Microsoft is abandoning “Metro”. Why? Well, according to website theverge.com, there’s a possible trademark dispute in Europe. While it doesn’t know exactly who the trademark dispute could be with, one potential candidate is German-based company Metro AG which, according to Wikipedia, is the fifth largest retailer in the world.

Stock image of a highlighter and dictionary againThe website has seen an internal Microsoft email that confirms “discussions with an important European partner” have prompted the decision to “discontinue the use” of Metro for Windows 8 and the vendor’s other products.

This is obviously a tad embarrassing, but the good news, according to the memo, is that Microsoft will have a replacement name for Metro imminently. Very imminently. Like today, or tomorrow. In the meantime, Microsofters have been told to call it the “Windows 8 style UI”. I sincerely hope that the replacement, whatever it is, turns out to be a lot snappier than that.

Microsoft could just called it “Tiles”, I suppose, given that it is a far more accurate description of the UI than Metro ever was. But it’s hardly the most exciting name, seeing as it tends to be evocative of bathrooms and kitchens. If you were being facetious, you could call the situation Microsoft finds itself in a bit of a “tile puzzle”.

Quite why Microsoft should give in so quickly on the Metro name is another puzzle. Sure, trademark disputes can be expensive and irritating, but there must have been a bit of leeway in retaining Metro because the consumer electronics operation at Metro AG, which has stores trading under the Media Markt and Saturn brands, isn’t exactly its main operation.

Although the legal action was threatened by Metro, I can’t help wondering if Microsoft’s alacrity in dropping the name from its UI is more to do with the confusion it could create with its own brand image. Imagine, for example, if Microsoft had called the UI Tesco and then been threatened with legal action by Tesco. I think Microsoft would be only too happy to change the name because it wouldn’t want its product to be confused with a Tesco one. Somehow, I think the same reasoning might apply here and probably provided the impetus for Microsoft’s speedy capitulation to Metro (AG that is).

This was first published in August 2012

Join the conversation Comment

Share
Comments

    Results

    Contribute to the conversation

    All fields are required. Comments will appear at the bottom of the article.