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Out of the Loop: The code name game

Oh, those Microsoft code names. From Avalon to Whistler, from Mercury to Jupiter and from Cairo to Memphis -- the code name game is really a mind game if you think about it.


My background is in broadcast journalism, furniture delivery and table busing. The only code names I used to care about were the ones in Bond flicks -- like "Operation Grand Slam" in Goldfinger.

But now code names are a big part of my professional life, as they probably are yours.

And they confuse the Sam Hill (a code name for "heck") out of me.

It's too hard to ride the tsunami of pseudonyms. Maybe Microsoft plans it that way -- to keep everyone confused. Manipulation and domination through obfuscation.

At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, (I must ask) have you ever noticed how so many of the code names that come out of Redmond are designed to evoke happy places, cool places, or at the very least, cold places? This style of nomenclature could be Microsoft's subliminal way of implanting good vibes in your head long before they put stuff in your hands.

Let's name code names, starting with some of the "big chills":

Whistler: A skier's paradise in British Columbia. Snowy peaks, brisk air and snow bunnies. Ahhhh! Also, a guy who got famous drawing his mother, but let's stick with the slopes. When it is time to upgrade, you've got these pleasing images in your head. Even when Whistler became Windows .NET Server 2003, you are still primed and ready to slide Gates your greenbacks.

Blackcomb: More slippery slopes near Whistler and another attempt by the Microsoft Psychology Unit to ice the deal with you. So what if it's a major Windows release so far off in the distance that the Hubble telescope would have trouble seeing it; you're chillin' on Blackcomb Mountain. Where's the hot tub?

Yukon: A rugged, gorgeous frontier where the ermine frolic and the malamutes mush -- Jack London stuff. It's quite possibly the inspiration for the York Peppermint Patty and a cool, refreshing piece of imagery that may blow away any desire to buy Oracle's stuff.

Kodiak: More of the same scenery, but it also evokes pictures of huge bears and smokeless tobacco. So you see, this code name is obviously making you think that the next version of Exchange will spit and claw its way to the top of the world. Or at the very least, that it'll be up to snuff.

Other frozen, polar names Redmond has co-opted from the tundra over the years include Denali (where Mt. McKinley is -- and the people who make Moose Tracks) and Snowball (those pink, puffy, coconutty vending machine treats from your childhood).

This is where I start getting hungry.

I'm having trouble figuring out what signal Microsoft is trying to send with: Longhorn. It makes me think of Longhorn Steakhouse. This client-only release makes me pine for porterhouse. But evidently Longhorn is a saloon at the foot of Whistler Mountain, and if you're going to name software after saloons, Longhorn is probably a better choice than, say, Miss Kitty's.

But what if you're not a skier or adventurer? What if you don't live anywhere near the Pacific Northwest? What if you've never seen one rerun of Northern Exposure? Those code names might have your brain drawing blanks.

That's why our friends in Redmond should do a better job customizing the code name process. I live in Nashville, which, by the way, was a code name for a Windows 95- and NT-based version of Internet Explorer. So if Microsoft wants to program me to be its own, proprietary Pavlovian pooch, it needs to cater to my sense of place -- and my sense of taste -- before I salivate.

Instead of Blackcomb, how about BBQ? Or Krispy Kremeware instead of Kodiak.

Other regional code name ideas? For New Yorkers, Deli might be a good alternative to Titanium. Bostonians might go for Chowder over Yukon, while folks in Philly might go for Hoagie in lieu of Greenwich. Customers in Chicago might dig Deep Dish over Jupiter. And in Los Angeles, In-N-Out Server would be more seductive than Whistler. California Pizza Patchin' could sub for Palladium.

Gates and company did, however, nail it with Corona, the code name for Windows Media 9 Series. People from Petaluma to Presque Isle should be thinking about the tan couple skipping their beeper over the crystal clear ocean water as they nurse their Cerveza Mas Fina. Nothing oils up a customer like thoughts of a hot tropic.

Finally, Hailstorm -- the code name that was doomed from the start. Didn't it make you think of golf ball-sized dings on your car? Microsoft yanked the name. If there's one thing MS doesn't want dancing in your head, it's dreams of flaws in your most expensive investments.

Ed Parry is the news editor for

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