If you were blindsided by Microsoft's announcement last week that the company plans to change Longhorn's name to Windows Vista, you're not alone. Most of Microsoft's employees didn't find out about the change until just before the general public did. Although you're probably used to Microsoft's public marketing campaigns, it might interest you to know that the software giant engages in the same sort of activity when it communicates changes such as the Windows Vista branding to employees and partners.
  
According to internal Microsoft documentation, the company's decision to announce the Windows Vista branding last week wasn't coincidental. Microsoft has been stung by repeated disappointments with Longhorn, a project that has veered ever closer to complete disaster on more than one occasion during the past several years. "The strategic objective \[is to\] communicate the essence of Windows Vista and start to make it real for influentials, partners, customers, and \[Microsoft\] employees, with an element of surprise to help fuel anticipation prior to Beta 1," the internal documentation stated. "\[Microsoft will\] continue to establish credibility by announcing Beta 1 timing as a proof point to development progress and meeting our milestone commitments \[and will\] reaffirm that Windows Vista Beta 1 is a build for IT audiences, primarily focused on the 'confidence' pillar (fundamentals) at this point in time, but more is to come."
  
In an internal Microsoft newsletter, John B. Williams, general manager of Windows Communications, explained to employees how the company chose the name Windows Vista. "Part of coming up with the name was to make sure that we reflected what the product actually does and the positioning we want to take to market," he said. "We started the initial brainstorms and came up with something like a thousand names. We went through several series of research, several series of reviews, and worked across a number of teams to come down to a tighter and tighter list. Through all this, we came up with a solid final candidate." 
  
Microsoft considered naming the product Windows Seven or Windows 07 because of its release proximity to the year 2007. "We had as final candidates a number \[Seven or 07\] and different variations on the notion of a vista or view," Williams said. Microsoft will actually mark the release Windows version 6.0, however, and the number seven didn't seem to have the same emotional feel that Windows Vista did, so the company dropped that choice.
  
Williams said that Group Vice President Jim Allchin had the final say on the branding, and the team of marketing people responsible for the change went to Allchin not just with the name but with the thinking behind the name. "How can we take what the product is and what it delivers and the value proposition that comes with that, take our positioning that we want to establish versus our competitors, take the heritage of Windows and where we have equity, and also what resonated with customers?" Williams asked. "It was the intersection of those things that led to this name."
  
Microsoft was also concerned that employees, partners, and customers would have a difficult time dropping the Longhorn moniker because it's been in use for 4 long years. "I think as the product becomes real and people start to play with it--we have Beta 1 coming up here shortly--and they understand Vista's value proposition, it will be a very natural transition," Williams added. "What was XP's code name?" It was Whistler, actually, but most Microsoft customers (and even employees) probably don't remember that.
  
In a message to Windows Client Business employees, Senior Vice President Will Poole explained the name change a day after Microsoft first announced it to a small group of partners. "Yesterday, at the Microsoft Global Briefing in the Georgia Dome, we reached a significant milestone," he said. "We unveiled the name of our next client operating system, Windows Vista ... Our field sales and marketing teams have been helping us build momentum with developers, customers, and partners. Beta 1 will be a success because of the contributions of so many of you. We all should feel very proud of what we're accomplishing with Windows Vista.
  
"The name of our product captures the core essence and value proposition it delivers--all in two words: Windows Vista. Today we live in a world of more information, with more ways to communicate and more things to do. Every day millions of people around the globe rely on their Windows PCs to manage their increasingly digital lives. While existing tools for managing digital information are powerful, today's world requires more. You want the PC to adapt to you so you can cut through the clutter and focus on what's important to you. Windows Vista brings clarity to your world and helps you to be confident, clear, and connected." He then directed employees to internal resources to learn more about Windows Vista.
  
"We have stayed true to our mission to innovate and deliver value to our customers and partners," Poole said. "With Beta 1, we will start to give the world its first glimpse of our product, with most end-user features coming in Beta 2. We are on track to deliver Windows Vista in 2006."
  
I have a lot more to say about Windows Vista. I'll update the SuperSite for Windows this week to address the content I've unearthed. Later today, I'll update the site with a new Windows Vista FAQ and a new Windows Vista activity center. Later in the week, I'll post "The Road to Windows Vista," which will contain the latest information about the new Windows release, and provide other Vista-related updates. As soon as Microsoft releases Windows Vista Beta 1, I'll post a new round of content based on that release. Stay tuned.