Home Your Tech Home Tech Windows 8: Metro name switched metroff, now: Windows 8

Windows 8: Metro name switched metroff, now: Windows 8

With the launch of Windows 8 to MSDN and TechNet users in less than three days from August 15 (US time - August 16 in Australia), and then October 26 at retail, the decision to stop using the Metro “code name”, for whatever reason, came at just the right time – along with a stack of other Windows 8 news from Acer and the Surface tablet.

Comments by two top Acer executives against Microsoft’s Surface and expanding hardware program, instead of Acer coming up with its own supercool ultrabook/tablet hybrid, are in the news regarding Windows 8, Surface tablets and the Metro interface name that is no longer, alongside news that the Xbox team WAS involved with the creation of Surface after all – with those Surface and Acer details on page two.  

First up is more Windows 8 “Metro” news, which was Microsoft’s code name for its (retro 1980s Volvo-ish?) boxy UI. The Metro code name is now no longer, with Metro apparently having already been trademarked by German supermarket chain Metro AG, as we previously reported in early August.

It’s an issue because Metro apps were the Windows 8 apps that ran on Windows tablets and computers running both ARM and Intel/AMD processors, while desktop apps were the ones that ran on Intel/AMD-equipped Windows 8 tablets and computers only.   

The details are below, but Microsoft will reportedly soon unveil ‘Windows 8’ as the replacement name for Metro in all places where Metro was used, such as Metro app, Metro UI or Metro design.

Removing Metro means needing to specify an app works on both Windows RT and Windows 8 (Pro, Enterprise, Server) through the “Windows 8 UI” that is common to both RT and 8 versions, and specifying that desktop apps only work on Windows 8 models while directing people to the Windows RT version of the app if one is available.

Microsoft must have decided it’s not an insurmountable issue – just change the name to Windows 8. Clearly, Microsoft has moved on towards the far more important "launching of the new OS" itself, with its new Surface hardware/software platform a potentially very strong new iCompetitor. This is what Microsoft SHOULD be focusing on, rather than fluffing about “gilding the naming conventions lily” now that it has decided to ditch the Metro "name" for good.  

In addition, Microsoft’s Windows 8 Store was always called the Windows 8 store – not the Metro Store, and anything in the Windows 8 store was always supposed to work on either Windows RT or 8 because of the Metro and now Windows 8 UI.

Maybe the German Metro AG supermarket wanted to open its own digital store selling Metro branded products, including apps and anything else at some point in the future, and given this obstacle, it must have too expensive or too much trouble to license or share the Metro trademark.

So, Microsoft is mouthing Metro no longer, as it announced a few days ago in issuing 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 dialogue to a broad consumer dialogue we will use our commercial names”.

Although this Google search for “Microsoft.com Windows 8 metro” brings up plenty of results showing Microsoft still using the word Metro on various Microsoft sites, news reports say Microsoft has been “urging” its third-party Win 8 software developers to “remove all mentions of the word 'Metro’ from their applications”.

Presumably, this will all be cleaned up sooner rather than later and certainly well before the October 26 Windows 8 GA or general availability launch, if not magically before the August 15 Windows 8 RTM.

The news of a replacement for the word “Metro” has been followed up by CNET’s Mary Jo Foley, whose sources say Microsoft has simply chosen “Windows 8” as the replacement for Metro.

Other reports say there is talk of Metro UI also being replaced by the term “Modern UI”, but given the simplicity of “Windows 8” and the way it has worked for each previous Windows version being referred to by name for software design, compatibility etc, “Windows 8” instead of “Metro” makes the most sense – and even more so when you look up something like “Netro” as a replacement (a play on Metro and .net, for example), you see there’s plenty of other companies already using that term too.

That's also despite Microsoft dubbing the interface for Vista and 7 as "Aero", but that few actually referred to when talking about app design.

Conveniently, Ms Foley’s sources say the official term for Metro-style application is now Windows 8 application, and instead of Metro user interface and Metro design, the “official terms” are Windows 8 user interface and Windows 8 design.

The caveat is that Microsoft is still to announce it officially for the change to be truly official, and as no-one is predicting or expecting that Microsoft to still come up with some stunningly cool name instead by August 15 or October 26, plain ol’ Windows 8 makes sense at this late stage.

It also makes the link with Windows 8 Phones, which those sources say are also going to be described as having a Windows 8 design and UI.

Given the same code base for the Windows 8 OS and Windows 8 Phone OS, most Windows 8 apps will likely be instantly and easily ported to smartphone size, there’ll surely be plenty of “universal” tablet/smartphone “Windows 8 apps” – just as we see for many apps on the iPad.

Then there’s the those Acer comments on Microsoft’s Surface tablet and hardware ambitions, and why Acer doesn’t compete instead of complaining, alongside claims the Xbox team WAS involved in Surface Tablet development despite what was previously a prominent claim to the contrary – please read on to page two!

With Windows 8’s launch on October 26 comes Microsoft’s own Windows RT Surface Tablet running with an ARM processor – just like iPads and Android tablets, promising tablets that can run “Windows 8 apps” while offering what will hopefully at least match the iPad’s 10-hour battery life, or come as close to as possible.

While very few people in the world have tried an ARM powered Windows RT tablet, let alone the Intel powered Windows 8 Pro Surface Tablet that’s coming 90 days after the October 26 launch, which means a late January 2013 launch for that model, there's clearly excitement by some users that it's on the way - along with disappointment from some OEMs that Microsoft has finally become a true competitor - just as Google has done to its OEMs by buying Motorola.

Yes, Microsoft acknowledges that creating its own PC tablet hardware puts the company in direct competition with its manufacturing partners, and noted that this would ruffle some feathers, as has happened with Acer, whose executives have publically stated concern about - as we are about to discuss.

Other OEMs have obviously been much more discreet in whatever disapproval they may or may not have, but the facts are that Microsoft has had to take the Windows 8 tablet bull by the horns and show everyone exactly what it thinks a Windows 8 computer should look like.

Apple does this with all of its devices, and given the success, it’s no surprise to see Microsoft copying the strategy, even though it has been doing something like this ever since the original Xbox.

While this has brought up all the legitimate concern of the restrictions of secure boot and Microsoft’s previous Palladium and trusted computing ambitions from years gone by, this is the very sort of control Apple exerts in its own way with iOS, and has helped to make iOS and Apple's devices such a success, so much so that Apple is starting to lock down Mac OS X.

Thus, it is no surprise to see Microsoft copying the iOS lockdown with Windows RT, and has started locking down Windows 8 Pro through the Windows Store, while, as with Mac OS X, still letting end users install software downloaded from anywhere on the Internet.  

Before we get to the Acer comments, PC companies such as Toshiba, Sony and Acer have made some very thin, light and powerful notebooks and pre-ultrabooks over the years, with great success.

Since Microsoft's tablet efforts in the early 2000's, many versions of the tablet PC have been tried, right up to Samsung’s excellent Series 7 Slate which is arguably the best Windows tablet available - no doubt Microsoft also wonders whether Samsung will be able to create as good a Surface clone as it has been able to create excellent "clones" of Apple's iDevices.

Samsung's Series 7 slate was the first tablet that I really loved using, and it wasn't until Microsoft’s Surface was announced a few weeks ago that I and many others were blown  away by the Surface looking like it could be the most fantastic hybrid blend of true tablet and true ultrabook PC yet, complete with two models of awesomely integrated keyboard unlike anything previously seen on the market.

True, that was in the presentation only, but that is the promise, and it’s a shame we have to wait until early 2013 to get the first true Intel-powered version of the full tablet/ultrabook hybrid, but it is coming – and is set to challenge every other OEM out there, including Google and Apple, for hardware sales and software/OS supremacy.

At the same time Microsoft is reported to be hiring for work on the “next generation Surface” coming presumably sometime in Q4 2013, around 13 to 14 months from now, making a mockery of reports from two Acer executives attacking Microsoft over its new Surface tablet, as the reports of Microsoft looking to hire more people for Surface 2 show the company is very serious indeed about hardware.

So, what did Acer's executives say?

The comments come from Acer’s chairman and CEO, JT Wang, and Campbell Kan, head of Acer’s Global PC Division, with Mr Wang stating in an interview that the Surface tablet “”will create a huge negative impact for the ecosystem and other brands may take a negative reaction”, later counselling Microsoft one hardware design and presumably manufacturing too, that “It is not something you are good at so please think twice."

Acer’s Campbell Kan stated in an interview that: “If Microsoft is going to do hardware business, what should we do? Should we still rely on Microsoft, or should we find other alternatives?”.

Given that Acer makes Android tablets and has, like other OEMs, sold Linux PCs but without Windows-like levels of sales success, Acer has already tried looking for other alternatives without much profitable success.

Unless Acer goes full-on Linux and does something spectacular that becomes a massive iPad-like hit, the best Acer can do is to make the very best Windows 8 RT and Intel/AMD tablets as it can, alongside the very best Android tablets that it can - rather than weakly complaining!

I was thinking of Microsoft’s success with Xbox (despite some billions in learning lesson losses), with its PC peripherals division and its Surface PC, which evolved from the first version into a much cooler flatscreen touch-screen on a coffee table type affair in the second version, despite not yet being cheap enough to be in everyone’s homes.

The Acer, Windows 8 and Surface comments and analysis concludes on page three, please read on!

As Computerworld’s Mike Elgan wrote of criticism that hardware is something Microsoft isn’t “good at”, the claim is ridiculous, with Mr Elgan noting that: “Microsoft makes the best advanced-interface gaming appliance on the market. Microsoft makes the best large multitouch appliances on the market. And Microsoft has a killer track record in designing, making and selling hardware.”

It’s a detailed article, that’s worth reading if you want to see exactly why Mr Elgan thinks Acer is wrong about Microsoft’s Surface.

Mr Elgan astutely notes Acer’s fear of Microsoft making absolutely awesome tablets that finally take off the way iPads have, rather than the much more lacklustre take-up of Android tablets, albeit in the face of strong popularity for the inexpensive yet still nicely spec’d Google Nexus 7 tablet.

Mr Elgan is a little hard on Acer, and while he did note Acer had already been disloyal through Linux and Android PC and tablet efforts funded by the sales success of Windows-powered computers over the years, Acer did some great stuff with its Travelmate and TimeLine series and initial Windows tablets.

Unfortunately for Acer, that’s all in the past. Clearly, it's what Acer has learned from history to ensure it ends up on the right and profitable side of it in the future that is what matters. Not learning these lessons and bitterly complaining will only end up having Acer remembered like the old Wang Corporation that was, a company that once shared a name with Acer’s chair and CEO, JT Wang - let us hope this is not a bad omen for the big Taiwanese company!

It's not just Acer that should be worried, but everyone – OEMs, Google, Apple and anyone else.

No-one is guaranteed a place at the consumer and business tablet table, and five years after the game-changing launch of the original 2007 iPhone, the game has changed more than anyone could have imagined.

While Apple is going very strong, the once slumbering giant that is Microsoft is stirring as never before, more alert than ever, and alarmed that its response has taken so long.

But arrive it has, and compete it will. In the free market, no-one is too big to fail – not Acer, not Apple, not Google and not Microsoft, and unless Acer gets its act together and innovates its backside off, it’s all too easy to predict that Acer might be first to go Duncer while dancing into some future bankruptcy through a lack of innovative products and a failure to compete.

Then, after all this Acer nonsense comes the controversy over claims from a former Microsoft employee that the Xbox Team had no involvement with the creation of either Surface Tablet, despite oodles of experience in building hardware gleaned from all those years of Xbox, Xbox 360 and Kinect development.

According to Business Insider (BI), the claim was simply false, with even the BI article author mistakenly thinking Microsoft was just a recent “hardware startup” because, said the author, PC hardware “is very different than making a gaming console”.

To take that attitude, however, is to discount everything Microsoft knows about the PC business and writing software that works with the widest range of hardware possible.

BI says an internal Microsoft source explained that the “corporate vice president at Microsoft, who is in charge of manufacturing and supply chain, and builds all of Microsoft's hardware, was "intimately involved" in production of the Surface”, with that person also reporting to “Don Mattrick, who runs the Xbox group”.

It's crazy to think that Microsoft wouldn’t use existing hardware experience, knowledge or hardware-division employees. Indeed, it doesn’t make sense, so the news that the Surface WAS built with the Xbox team's support bodes very well for the Surface PC actually living up to what was promised at the Surface Tablet launch event.

As with the iPad, both of Microsoft's Surface PCs, in ARM and Intel flavours, will be offered in different storage capacity variants, if not 3G and Wi-Fi variants too – just as we see with iPads.

There will not be a zillion versions of the Surface tablet. There will initially be two main types, with storage and connectivity variations, and that’s it.

Other companies will make their own ultrabook/hybrid tablets, but the Surface will be the default that everyone will design to first – or at least, in theory.

And, because the first Xbox was really little more than a modified Intel-powered PC, Microsoft HAS been in the specialised, dedicated computing business for some time.

Indeed, the Xbox 360 is capable of many amazing feats beyond gaming, including Internet TV delivery, Media Centre capability, and both voice and gesture control va the Kinect.

That means the day that Microsoft was going to make its own PC has long come and gone, as it started doing this with the very first Xbox. 

However, Microsoft making the first "Windows PC" as we effectively know it was just a matter of time, and that time has finally come, from October 26 for Surface RT tablets running ARM, and Surface Windows 8 Pro Intel tablets in Jan 2013.

That said, there will reportedly be plenty 40+ ultrabook/tablet hybrids come Windows 8's launch, according statements from Intel earlier this year, amongst a much bigger number of more traditional non-touch ultrabooks, notebooks, larger laptops and desktops as well - and that doesn't include any of the design wins that AMD has up its sleeve and to launch with partners come late October. 

Microsoft would have worked with many, many OEM partners to see what their designs looked like and what they were up to, and presumably used some of that knowledge in comparing what it could do, with what Apple was doing and its OEMs, too.

So, with all of that knowledge, all of its own hardware, decades of working closely with Intel and all of its own technical experience, Microsoft hasn't been a "hardware startup" for a long, long time, and could have put together its own brand of PC long, long ago - it simply didn't need to at the time.

However, in a world where software is cheaper than ever, and hardware is too, Microsoft's old way of doing business has had to change with the times, and if Microsoft is going to be in control of its own destiny, it must take firm charge of it, as the Surface annoucenment demonstrated.

Yes, there was that crashing Surface tablet at the launch event, before anything had been done with it, but it's only if Surface tablets post-launch do the same thing that there'll be a real problem, and surely, Microsoft is doing all it can to make Surface RT tablets as rock-solid as possible, so our expectations of "Windows stability" is as re-imagined as Windows 8 is itself.

Therefore, there’s much riding for Microsoft with Windows 8, Windows RT and Surface Tablets, let alone all of the Windows devices from all the offended or otherwise OEMs out there,

Finally, five years after the iPhone interface that has changed the game so much, Microsoft is in a position to truly compete, with the removal of the Metro name set to be a tiny footnote in future Windows history.

Can Microsoft finally break through the iCeiling and truly ride the tablet computing wave, rather than just meekly scratching the "surface" of true utility as it has done before the introduction of Windows 8?

Windows 8 software and Surface hardware is the integrated platform that Microsoft finally has created, and despite Apple’s ongoing massive and growing success, there’s still hundreds of millions more Windows users than tablet users out there.

These are users that Microsoft hopes will upgrade from an earlier verison of Windows to any new Windows 8 device, whether or not they already own other iDevices or Androids.

2013 will be the make or break year for Microsoft despite the Q4 launch of Windows 8, and while strong sales in Q4 2012 will bode very well for 2013, and even if 2013 seems a little late, it starts in just four months.

If all goes to Microsoft’s plans, 2013 and 8 will be very lucky numbers for Windows 8 adoption, and as always, those best able to innovate and compete will survive and thrive while the rest will face the reality of the market.

I don’t know what will happen to Acer or any other OEM, but with ultrabooks and the Surface combined, the future for Windows hardware looks brighter than it has for quite some time.

Now the predictions and expectations have to become reality, and it all starts on August 15 in the US, when the first and ongoing RTM copies of Windows 8 are downloaded and installed all over the world, and the October 26 launch after that.

It will surely be accompanied by Microsoft biggest marketing campaign ever – and it will amp up the competition between the big PC and tablet brand names, Google, Microsoft and Apple to the max, sure to make 2013 the most spectacular year of ultra-hybrid, long-life, high-definition. ultra-wireless and ultra-mobile computing yet!


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.