I was reading about the next Windows release after Vista, codenamed Windows Vienna, and started thinking about how important naming is when it comes to marketing of any sort. For once, I won’t mention the technical superiority or inferiority of any OS and instead, talk about just the naming aspects.
When speaking of Microsoft’s operating systems (not counting DOS), it was initially the name “Windows” itself that drove sales and widespread use of Microsoft’s operating system. Newer version numbers, such as Windows 2.0 or 3.11, didn’t have quite the same impact and it was the substitution of the version with the year that marked the next jump for Microsoft when it released Windows 95.
This trend continued with Windows 98, 2000 and 2003 Server, but now, the focus seems to be on using names to market their products. Names such as XP, Millennium and the recently released Vista. In every case, they had something new and flashy to offer every few years that made ordinary folks feel that they must have it and dole out more money to give to Microsoft.
While Microsoft was out enjoying its increasing wealth and power, Linux and open source were slowly making their way in servers and PCs of hobbyists, places where brand names and flashy titles have little meaning. I would say that one of the major reasons it took so long for Linux to come into the mainstream was its name being associated very early on with underlying technology that nobody could understand. Companies with commercial interests, such as Red Hat and SuSE, preferred to market their own names, rather than that of the OS which advanced with the same boring version numbers that people had been seeing since the DOS era.
Even after the “incorporation” of open source during the last few years, all we got were more version numbers. Granted that most releases of various distributions have had internal codenames (such as Valhalla for Red Hat 7.3, Sarge for Debian 3.1 etc.), but these weren’t used for marketing purposes and neither were they suitable for this. It may also be argued that the different distributions could be construed as different models of Linux, but it really isn’t the same thing.
It is only very recently that things have started to look up with distributions such as Ubuntu using distro names (such as Hoary, Dapper etc.) more openly, but even these don’t seem very catchy or attractive to the end-user. The upcoming Ubuntu Studio, a multimedia creation derivative of Linux, may be a good start.
With Microsoft coming out with a new OS every couple of years and having a flashy name for it, Linux distributions face quite a challenge if they continue to use plain old version numbers or obscure and difficult names. The impact of a major change is attributed largely to how you market the change and the name plays a vital part in this. I think its time that this was done for Linux and more efforts were put into coming up with names that would attract the average user.
Rather than play with codenames, Linux needs to focus on user experience, application compatibility, and UI consistency to receive wider adoption in the desktop space. It’s still got some distance to go.
I say this as someone who uses Linux exlusively at home and operates an enterprise-calibre network at work primarily consisting of Linux boxes.