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It's time to stop calling Windows Phone 'WP7'

CNET's Jessica Dolcourt gives a public service announcement on what not to call devices running Windows Phone as its mobile operating system.

Windows Phone

commentary Let's get one thing straight. Microsoft's mobile operating platform isn't called "Windows Phone 7."

How do I know? Because Windows Phone 8 is right around the corner.

Yet "Windows Phone 7" is exactly how CEO Steve Ballmer introduced the platform and its first nine handsets in 2010, and it's how people have commonly referred to the operating system--including CNET.

It isn't that anyone who uses the phrase is wrong, it's that "Windows Phone 7"--or "WP7" in shorthand--refers to a specific version of the OS. You wouldn't call the operating system shaping iPhones and iPad the "iPhone," for instance, nor use "Ice Cream Sandwich" to comment on all Android phones in general.

Yet it wasn't long ago when some well-intentioned CNET readers chastised the mobile crew for referring to "Windows 7 phones," suggesting that we should call them "Windows Phone 7 phones" or "Windows Phone 7 devices" to be accurate. Either way, it's an unnecessary mouthful.

A question of identity
Mucking up naming conventions even more is the fact that what's out on Microsoft-powered phones right now isn't even Windows Phone's seventh iteration, it's its first.

If it makes you feel any better, you can dump the blame for clumsy nomenclature back on Microsoft, which stumbled on its footing when first reinventing its mobile OS.

The shift from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone was a dramatic one involving completely overhauled code and a fresh visual design. But on the business end, Microsoft had to worry about messages of continuity in its mobile history, and in its overall brand.

Remember, before (and even after) Apple's iPhone kicked off the smartphone revolution, Microsoft had an important mobile presence in Windows Mobile. When that platform, which largely represented the desktop OS writ small, faded out at Windows Mobile 6.5, Microsoft wanted to create a bridge between the old and the new that honored Microsoft's past work and sent a message that despite starting from scratch, they were hardly mobile "n00bs."

In addition, Microsoft made a decision to generate some cohesion among its computing platforms in general, and with Windows 7 in the works on the desktop side, the phone OS should match. In the same spirit, Microsoft appears to be timing the release of Windows 8 to more or less coincide on the desktop, tablet, and phone.

So now that we're starting to hear more about the next iteration of Windows-based smartphones, now's the time to ditch the version number and start referring to "Windows phones" just like that--that is, unless you really are talking about Windows Phone 7, 7.5, 8, and so on.

Or, if you really want to play it old-school, take the opposite tack and become that rebel who refers to the OS as Microsoft initially did: Windows Phone 7 Series. Now that's a ridiculous mouthful.