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Why did Microsoft kill the name 'Metro'?

Microsoft and its partners can no longer legally use the term "Metro" in Windows 8. But why the change and why now?

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

The term "Metro" is officially verboten as the name for Microsoft's Windows 8 interface. The question is: why?

The folks in Redmond recently revealed that the term is off limits, at first claiming it was just a code name but then apparently fessing up that the dumping of Metro was due to legal reasons.

As described by ZDNet columnist Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft seemed to run into brand name issues with a European partner called Metro Group. And apparently Microsoft was unable or simply disinclined to resolve those issues.

The ban on the term "Metro" is more problematic than it sounds.

It affects not only Microsoft itself but also device makers, developers, publishers, and a slew of others involved in Windows 8. All of these parties now have to rewrite their apps and documentation and any other content caught using the word Metro. It also renders obsolete not just a term but a concept that Microsoft had heavily touted.

"Metro is our design language. We call it Metro because it's modern and clean. It's fast and in motion. It's about content and typography. And it's entire authentic" -- that was how Microsoft saw and promoted Metro. Despite claims that Metro was just a code name destined to be replaced anyway, it seems clear the company was counting on the image conveyed to help promote the new look and feel of Windows 8.

Assuming that's the case, then why did Microsoft apparently give up the name so easily? This is hardly the first time a company has run into legal issues over a brand name.

Apple initially ran into trouble with Cisco Systems over the use of the name iPhone. But the two were able to hammer out a settlement that allowed Apple to use the name for its own devices. More recently, Apple faced trademark challenges in China from Proview Technology, which asserted that it owned the iPad name in that country. But a $60 million settlement from Apple put that problem to rest.

If Microsoft ran into a similar legal issue of its own, why didn't the company strive harder to hang on to the Metro name? And why did this issue just come up now?

The term Metro is hardly new. It's been in use for a while. Its origins don't even lie with Windows 8, but rather with Windows Phone 7. Microsoft first used the term "Metro" to describe the tile-based UI on its mobile operating system.

So if the term Metro was lost over legal issues, why didn't this happen much sooner? Here's one theory, not based on any evidence, but still something to consider.

Maybe Microsoft just didn't want to hang onto the Metro name. Maybe the company was looking for a way out.

Through its various beta versions, Windows 8 has already received a bumpy reception. Many Windows users, especially those on desktop and laptops, have griped that the new interface is geared more toward tablets. Others have dinged Windows 8 for its split personality -- half Metro (I mean, Windows 8 user interface) and half desktop. Jumping between the two is a decidedly clumsy process.

In all the complaints and criticisms, many have thrown their darts specifically at the Metro interface, saying that it doesn't work well on PCs, it doesn't take advantage of larger monitors, it's awkward to use.

So if Metro is the object of such derision, why not find a way to just get rid of the term?

Instead of calling it a Metro interface, just call it a Windows 8 interface. Instead of calling them Metro apps, just call them Windows 8 apps.

Of course, I could be off-base here. Dumping the word Metro is not a trivial matter for Microsoft or others. They all face a lot of work now to replace the term. But it just seems odd that Microsoft would so easily relinquish a concept that it once touted as the latest and greatest thing to hit Windows.