Microsoft's Mobile OS: Its Many Names

I've given up making fun of Microsoft's product-naming habits-oddly-clunky, frequently-changing monikers are just part of what makes Microsoft Microsoft. The company knows its branding practices are fodder for humor (here's a famous self-parodying video it made) and yet it doesn't change them. Either it likes it this way, or can't help itself, or both.

But as I mulled over Windows Phone 7 Series-which looks neat-I was moved to try and document the many names Microsoft has given its mobile version of Windows and devices that ran it. It's not easy, in part because there have been times when the OS and the devices had different names, and times when they shared branding. And Microsoft has wavered between playing up the notion of a distinct mobile version of Windows and treating Windows as one universal platform. But here's a quick chronology of everything I remember.

1996: Windows CE (which ran on devices called Handheld PCs, or H/PCs).

1998: Palm PCs, running Windows CE 2.0.

Later in 1998: Palm-size PCs, after PalmPilot maker Palm complained about the name "Palm PC."

2000: Windows Powered Pocket PCs. The OS still ran on a Windows CE-based OS, but Microsoft stopped promoting the Windows CE brand to consumers.

2003: The OS became Windows Mobile and was available in a Pocket PC Premium edition, a Pocket PC Professional edition, a Smartphone edition, and a Pocket PC Phone edition. The PDAs remained Pocket PCs, and were joined on the market by Windows Smartphones.

2007; Windows Mobile got upgraded to version 6, available in Professional, Standard, and Classic editions.

2009: The OS remained Windows Mobile, but Microsoft started calling the devices that ran it Windows Phones.

2010: Windows Phone 7 Series. I believe that's the name of both the OS and the devices-"Windows Phone 7 Series phones."

That's eight distinct approaches to naming in a little over thirteen years. Even if you don't count the abortive Palm PC name or the 2007 editions of Windows Mobile, Microsoft has changed the name nearly every other year on average.

Did I say that was everything I could recall? I lied: In 1998, Microsoft announced Windows CE Handheld CE Professional Edition. I'm not counting it because it was a version for subnotebook-like devices, not PDAs or phones.

With Microsoft, frequent major name changes are usually a sign of a product that's not quite working. (Word, by contrast, has been Word since 1983.) I predict that the "Series" in "Windows Phone 7 Series" will fade away at some point-maybe whenever Windows Phone 8 shows up. But if Microsoft still makes a phone OS in 2015 and it's still called Windows Phone, it'll be evidence that the company has finally figured this mobile thing out...

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