• Would You Buy a Product Named Longhorn?

    April 9th, 2005

    What’s in a name? Years ago, developer names for products were not generally meant for public consumption. They were created to serve as in-house pet names, Of course, that doesn’t mean the names didn’t leak from time to time, but the actual name of the shipping product was often far different. Take the Mac IIci, for example. Not a terribly sexy name, but one that anyone using Macs way back when would recall. To the folks who designed the product, however, it bore such names as Aurora II, Cobra II, Pacific and Stingray.

    Now to be sure, the IIci wasn’t a terribly flashy personal computer. It was just a small beige box, really, based on the previous model, the IIcx, which, by the way, was known as Aurora and Cobra.

    But imagine if Apple called IIci the Mac Stingray? Would that have made it more successful? Probably not, because it didn’t have looks to match. Sure, it was a pretty good computer, with respectable speed when running System 7, and it was pretty easy to add RAM or an expansion card. In fact, upgrading a IIci was about as easy as any professional Mac that succeeded it. But I’m getting far afield of the original topic, which is the logic behind product’s name, or lack thereof.

    As you know, auto makers work long and hard to figure out what to call their products. It has to not only evoke the look and feel of the vehicle, but be memorable as well, so would-be buyers will rush to the showroom to acquire one. So we have the Corvette, the Charger and the Mustang. Famous names all, but more and more auto makers seem to be following Apple’s guide-book of a decade and a half ago, by using names that have, frankly, little meaning attached to them. What’s distinctive about, say, the M45, or the RL? What do they tell you about the cars that bear those names? Do you dream of having an RL in your garage, as opposed to a TL or a CTS?

    What’s sexy about the name A6? Then again, an XJ is one cool cat, but that’s just because that name is preceded by the word Jaguar.

    In the PC box world, Dell sticks with such product names as Dimension, OptiPlex and Precision. Does the name make you lust for one? Well, at least it’s not as irritating as the HL-P5085W. What’s that? Well, it’s actually a rear-projection TV from Samsung, known to some as the “Captain Kirk” TV, because of its unique looks. But nothing in the title evokes anything of the sort, or anything at all, and I would never have remembered that model designation if I hadn’t recently reviewed one.

    Today, however, Apple lets the cat out of the bag with such memorable designations as Jaguar, Panther and Tiger. We remember those names a whole lot quicker than, say Mac OS X 10.4. As to 10.5, I only wonder what feline Apple will choose next time, and how far it can go before choosing another species. A Mac OS version named Hyena doesn’t cut it for me.

    That takes us to the long delayed Windows upgrade, which everyone knows as Longhorn. Long what? Now if you live in the southwestern United States as I do, you might realize it’s the name of, as the dictionary says, “any of the long-horned cattle of Spanish derivation formerly common in southwestern U.S.”

    Do you really want to buy an operating system named after cattle? Or maybe Microsoft is telling us something, that its users are nothing more than cattle locked in a barn, with nothing to do but graze. Can you imagine customers lining up in droves saying they’ve got to have a copy of Longhorn? Or would they just prefer a sirloin steak?

    Now it may just be that Microsoft’s product people may simply be unable to do any better, just as they are unable to figure out how to deliver a major operating system upgrade on time. Some even feel Longhorn is Microsoft’s answer to Copland, an operating system with a long gestation period, but whose promised release date moves farther and farther into the future, as features are shed along the way. Of course, Apple’s Copland never saw the light of day, while I’m certain there will be a Longhorn, even if it bears a different name when it finally ships.

    Now if you’re a rancher by trade, perhaps Longhorn holds some meaning to you, and having a computer operating system bear that name may just be the ticket to encourage you to order a copy. But I often wonder just what the folks at Microsoft were dreaming when they came up with that title.

    Frankly, I’d prefer a GS430? What’s that? Well, it’s a neat new luxury car from Lexus that carries sporty pretensions. But you’d never guess that by its name alone.

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