Microsoft Allegedly Tells Developers To Stop Calling It “Metro”

For the last year and change, Metro has been the magic word at Microsoft, as it gears up to drastically refine the desktop experience with Windows 8. But reports are coming in that developers are allegedly getting word that the term “Metro” – which has all but defined Microsoft’s unified user interface efforts –  has fallen out of favor in Redmond as the company tries to slow or halt its usage.

Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet reports that while it was first thought by a few Microsoft developers that Microsoft is moving away from calling the interface “Metro” due to copyright infringement litigation from some other party, it simply seems that the word was only ever supposed to be an internal codename. That said, it’s worth noting that Foley wasn’t able to rule out pending litigation that hasn’t yet gone to court.

“We have used  Metro style as a code name during the product development cycle across many of our product lines. As we get closer to launch and transition from industry dialog to a broad consumer dialog we will use our commercial names,” goes the statement being passed around by Microsoft spokespeople.

It’s possible, as armchair analysts the Internet over have noted, that Microsoft is only making this move to simplify matters for its user base.

While “Metro” has been used to refer to the typography-centric, clean interface that’s epitomized the Microsoft “look” ever since the Zune first dropped – and that’s made Windows Phone 7 a critical success, if not a commercial one – it’s really only meant to apply to those apps built using the WinRT application framework. Some apps, like those included in the new Office 2013, use many elements of Metro style, but not the framework, which doesn’t stop Microsoft from hyping it as an example of the style.

It’s hard to tell which are actually Metro and which are just aping the style, and that’s just within Microsoft’s own portfolio. It’s all fairly confusing, and it’s clear that Microsoft wants to scale back the usage before “Metro” becomes a completely meaningless term.

Assuming the shift isn’t due to litigation: On the one hand, if Microsoft’s marketing team has been overdoing it on hyping the Metro style for apps that aren’t even using it, that’s their own fault, and I’m not certain I buy the line that it was only ever a codename. On the other, by stepping back, they can prevent the term from being further devaluation.

Of course, this may all be moot: Microsoft Windows 8 has already been the target of criticism from developer heavyweights like Valve CEO Gabe Newell over its fitness as a platform for the future of the PC. And Microsoft Windows Phone 8 still has to worry about competing with the entrenched Android and Apple ecosystems. What it calls the user interface may be the least of its problems.