By naming the next version of Windows "Vista," Microsoft may have stepped on the toes of another software company just down the road in Redmond.
That would be Vista, a business software and services company founded in 1999 by John Wall. He was not amused when Microsoft announced its choice yesterday, setting the stage for a massive rollout when its flagship operating system goes on sale in fall 2006.
Wall, a well-known technology executive in the area who earlier founded Wall Data, is examining whether the name violates the trademark his company has held for six years. He plans to raise the issue with Microsoft, a company notoriously protective of its own trademarks, and may take the issue to court.
"We're going to consider our options and talk to them," he said tersely.
But some naming experts applauded Microsoft's decision. They said it was wise to move away from odd letter combinations such as "XP" to an understandable word with positive connotations. Yet the name may matter less than Microsoft's clout.
"If they called it Windows Garbage, would people still buy it? Yeah, they'd buy it," said David Burd, owner of The Naming Co. in East Stroudsburg, Pa. "They've got something like 90 percent penetration in the world of operating systems."
A Microsoft spokesman said the company chose Vista from a list developed by the Windows team, based on attributes of the new software. Among its primary selling points are new tools for searching and viewing the contents of a PC; communications features; and a lighter desktop appearance with transparent objects.
"It's really about your view of the world," said Windows director, Neil Charney. "The core focus is putting you at the center and letting you focus on what's important to you."
The name will also be the foundation of a marketing blitz next year to persuade customers to upgrade their computers. A preview was on Microsoft's new Windows Vista Web site (microsoft.com/windowsvista) yesterday:
"In today's digital world, you want the PC to adapt to you, so you can cut through the clutter and focus on what's important to you," the preview says, explaining that Vista "enables a new level of confidence in your PC and in your ability to get the most out of it."
Charney said Vista emphasizes the "notion of bringing clarity to your world."
"We think that the new version of Windows really deserved a name that was more representative of what it specifically brings to customers," he said.
Investors are hoping Vista also revives Microsoft's stock, which fell 76 cents yesterday, closing at $25.68, after the company forecast moderate growth this quarter.
Vista works for David Galvin, director of worldwide marketing at Hewlett-Packard's consumer-desktop PC unit. "I like the name and think it is a good choice," he said via e-mail.
Past versions of Windows had numeric names that referred to their version number or year of release, or vaguely tech-sounding letters such as "NT." The last major release, XP, went on sale in October 2001.
Microsoft disclosed the Vista name Thursday to 11,000 employees at a sales conference in Atlanta and publicly confirmed it yesterday morning. Several Web sites and eWeek posted unconfirmed reports of the name Thursday night.
After several years of being cagey about the timing of the software's release, Microsoft yesterday said a test version will be released by Aug. 3. The "beta" will be distributed to about 100,000 enthusiasts to gather their feedback; invitations were sent to them about a week ago. A more refined test version, or beta 2, may be available more broadly by the end of the year but the timing depends on the beta 1 feedback.
Vista has been delayed by more than a year, in part because the company shifted resources to improve security of existing products after a call to arms by Chairman Bill Gates in 2002. To avoid being called late, Microsoft only this year confirmed that the product will be released in late 2006, although executives had earlier said 2005 was a target.
Charney said the Windows team came up with several words that reflected the experience of using the new product. They were hashed out across the company, tested and reviewed with the help of outside consultants.
Microsoft splits its major advertising and branding work between ad giants Young & Rubicam and McCann-Erickson. The final decision was made by Windows bosses Jim Allchin, Will Poole and G. Michael Sievert, a former AT&T Wireless executive hired this year to lead the product's marketing.
Vista is a tricky choice because many companies claim trademarks on various uses of the word, said Wall, whose Kirkland-based Wall Data was acquired by Cupertino, Calif.-based NetManage in 2000. He has had to defend his company's trademark on the use of the words "vista" and "com" together; the company also owns the Internet domain vista.com.
"It's further confusion to a confusing mark," he said of Microsoft's decision.
As of yesterday afternoon, no companies had raised any Vista trademark issues with Microsoft lawyers, spokeswoman Stacy Drake said. She said the company filed for trademark protection of the words "Windows" and "Vista" used together.
"The name Vista is commonly used by a variety of companies in a variety of industries," she said. "We are only using the word Vista paired with our trademark Windows so the two together — 'Windows Vista' — form the name of our next operating system."
Microsoft missed a chance to create a unique name, said Naseem Javed, founder of ABC Namebank in New York.
"From the end-user point of view, Vista is used everyplace," he said. "Just enter it in Google and you'll see a million hits."
Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are code names that Microsoft has used for several major versions of Windows, and the final names given to the products.
Chicago: Windows 95, released in 1995.
Memphis: Windows 98, released in 1998.
Whistler: Windows XP, released in 2001.
Longhorn: Windows Vista, due in fall 2006.
Blackcomb: Early code name for the version of Windows coming after Longhorn.
— Brier Dudley