Microsoft must avoid the branding disasters of the past if Windows 10X is to succeed
Microsoft has many, many strengths. Branding isn’t one of them.
The company will this year launch Windows 10X, a pared-back version of Windows that Microsoft hopes will compete with Google’s Chrome OS. Yet, the ‘X’ in Windows 10X does nothing to indicate such streamlining.
There are several connotations of the ‘X’ suffix, none of which apply to what Microsoft’s hoping to achieve with Windows 10X.
There’s the Roman numeral usage, as we’ve seen with iPhone X and other brands. But Windows 10 10 is obviously not what Microsoft’s shooting for.
Then there’s the more common association of X standing for something ‘extra’ or super-sized (X, XX, XXX etc). But Windows 10X is meant to be the exact opposite of something extra — it’s meant to be taking away all the unnecessary cruft that clogs up regular Windows, making it slim enough to run smoothly on lightweight, Chromebook devices.
Windows 10X is super-confusing as a brand — and Microsoft’s not learned the lessons of Windows past.
Microsoft’s had two previous stabs at launching a lightweight version of Windows.
Back in 2012, there was Windows RT — a spin-off version of Windows 8. It was designed to run on ARM-based processors and you could only install specially compiled apps from the Windows Store. Traditional Win32 apps and games that you might buy and download for a regular Windows machine were off limits.
Not surprisingly, the general public failed to grasp this distinction. Nobody had the first clue what ‘RT’ stood for — Microsoft muttered something about this being a shorthand for ‘run time’, as if that made things any clearer — and confusion reigned. Stores saw sky-high return rates as consumers unwittingly bought Windows RT devices, only to get them home and realise they couldn’t install any of their regular Windows software on them.
PC manufacturers quickly abandoned RT and in little over a year, Windows RT was taken out the back, shot, and never mentioned again in Redmond.
With the Windows RT debacle now a fading memory, Microsoft had another crack at the same concept in 2017, unveiling Windows 10 S. Here again was another feature-limited version of Windows that could only install apps from the Windows Store, and was designed to provide competition for Chromebooks on low-end hardware — particularly in schools, where Google had very much stolen Microsoft’s lunch money.
Once again, the Windows 10 suffix had to do a lot of heavy lifting. What did that S stand for? Nobody knew, least of all Microsoft, who when pressed admitted it didn’t stand for anything in particular, before a marketing wonk grabbed hold of a dictionary and started spaffing out words beginning with S, including ‘simplicity’, ‘security’ and ‘speed’.
Amazingly, the public failed to make this linguistic leap for themselves and once again Windows 10 S was shelved within a year, demoted to a mere mode within regular Windows 10 that I’ve never seen anyone using voluntarily.
In a blog post announcing the demotion, Microsoft’s corporate vice president, Joe Belfiore, admitted that the company had “heard feedback that the naming was a bit confusing for both customers and partners”.
Having admitted just a couple of years ago that Windows 10 S was “a bit confusing”, how can anyone now think changing a single letter and dropping a space will make Windows10X any less befuddling?
In fact, the confusion’s even greater this time, because Windows 10X was originally announced as Microsoft’s operating system for dual-screen devices, before the company decided to change course and have another crack at Chromebookalikes.
It’s not too late for Microsoft to save this, to rebrand Windows 10X to Windows 10 Lite or Windows 10 Turbo or Windows Security Plus — something that will give the buying public half a clue how it differs from regular Windows 10.
If it doesn’t change the name, X will mark the spot of another Windows branding car crash.