With Name Change Comes New View from Windows

Opinion: In renaming Longhorn, Microsoft has taken an OS best known for security features and put the spotlight on something completely different.

Windows Vista, huh? About the time when "Longhorn" was starting to sound like a workable permanent name, Microsoft releases a dopey video—I am still not certain of its significance—and a name that, well, does it really matter what the name is?

"Vista" is not a word I commonly use. As a kid, the neighbors had a Vista Cruiser station wagon. Here in California, what other states call "scenic overlooks" are called "vista points" by Caltrans. There is also a community of about 71,000 in San Diego County that is named Vista.

My friend Alex Slawsby, a former IDC analyst, responded to my IM just after the name was announced with the results from a Google search. At least thats where I think he found Vista Windows, described as offering "greater security and strength" with an "easy to change design." These windows are also supposed to be "easy to clean" and offer something that clearly differentiates these Vista Windows from Windows Vista: "Easy removal."

Another analyst, whose name I will not reveal to protect the guilty, said Windows Vista is a tad delicate for an operating system that most customers will buy for its security features. His suggested names: Windows Machismo or Windows Dragon. Another friend suggested Windows Titan. There were other "manly" names, of course, but I will spare you.

/zimages/6/28571.gifSales of Windows Vista will be an important measure for Microsoft. Click here to read more.

A quick search of Dictionary.com found this definition of "vista":

1. a. A distant view or prospect, especially one seen through an opening, as between rows of buildings or trees.
b. An avenue or other passage affording such a view.
2. An awareness of a range of time, events, or subjects; a broad mental view: "the deep and sweeping vistas these pioneering critics opened up" (Arthur C. Danto).

The first thing that struck me about that definition was the "distant view" weve had of the new operating system, first introduced in 2001 for shipment in 2004. For a while, the vista only seemed to become more and more distant. More recently, its become fixed as Longhorn lost features in order to be finished for release during the second half of 2006.

In the meantime, Microsoft will release at least two major betas. Beta 1, which the company says is due by Aug. 3, is primarily aimed at developers. Beta 2 doesnt have a date attached to it, at least not publicly. I am expecting it to ship to a much wider (and larger) audience early next year, about six months before final release.

/zimages/6/28571.gifMicrosoft quantifies Longhorns benefits. Click here to read more.

Beta 1 is not for general users. Ive played with the pre-release version of the operating system formerly known as Longhorn that Microsoft has been giving developers. It works pretty well but is short on features. The purpose of the first beta, according to Microsoft, is to give developers the ability to begin developing drivers and apps for the new OS.

The first beta will be distributed primarily to subscribers to Microsofts technical services, such as MSDN, the companys developer network. People who really want a copy should find Beta 1 easy enough to find.

Beta 2 will be distributed much more widely, and Microsoft said it will include many more user features than are in the pre-beta Ive seen or Beta 1. While much will be said about the features of Beta 1, the new operating system wont really be reviewable until Beta 2 is released.

While some new security features are already in "Windows Vista," they are not something the user should see once they are configured. That lack of visibility is probably what drove Microsofts naming decision. Instead of dwelling on something users would just as soon forget, like Windows security hassles, the Vista name addresses something they will see every time they use their PC.

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Im talking about metadata searching, which gives users a better way to find programs and files on a Windows Vista system. Type a few letters into the remodeled Start menu, and the desired item appears. Common searches are implemented through "virtual folders" that are automatically updated as content is created or added to the system or network.

"Windows Vista" may not be the best name in the world, but it does express what Microsoft hopes users will find in the new OS: not just solutions to problems but a new way of looking at things. Indeed, a system where metadata makes information much easier to locate does present a new vista for users. And thats a big part of what Microsofts new operating system will be about.

Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. He can be reached at david_coursey@ziffdavis.com.

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