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Sounds Like Cemetery. . .You Know. . .The Dead Product

January 6, 2014

But, what does it mean?

Nothing!

But that makes no sense!

Sure, it does. We get to decide what it means.

I was having a discussion with a WordPerfect Marketing rep who was trying to explain to me the brilliance of WordPerfect’s new name for its email product. This was before I learned the lesson of Making Up Words And Owning Them. I had recently left WordPerfect and I was waiting out a six month non-compete period before I would be allowed to go to work for Microsoft. (How I Became A Pawn In the War With Microsoft.)

My background was with WordPerfect Office. I had supported the product since the original version 2.0. (Back Where It All Began.) I know what you’re thinking. Why start with version 2? What happened to version 1? It was not uncommon back when software companies were still working out naming and versioning to skip some numbers if it provided your product with a certain continuity. WordPerfect had released Library 1.0 in 1996. It was a DOS based shell program with some cool utilities thrown in. Office 2.0 which was released on August 8th, 1988 (8/8/88, yeah, they did that on purpose). It included everything Library included as well as an email product. So, they named it version 2.0.

20140105-231847.jpg
WordPerfect Office 4.x (Photo: 1928trolleybus via ebay.co.uk)

You are no doubt familiar with a product called Office, and it’s not from WordPerfect. And while it includes an email client, it bears very little in common with WordPerfect Office. Back in 1988, WordPerfect was the most popular word processor on the planet. Microsoft’s word processor, with the unoriginal name of “Word” was a pretty sorry competitor. Shortly after WordPerfect introduced Office in 1988, Microsoft responded with a competing product with the same name and very different features. They bundled Word, Excel and PowerPoint into a single product and offered it for the same price as WordPerfect’s word processor alone. That set off a huge price war that eventually killed WordPerfect.

Anyway, Microsoft was accused of spreading FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.) Their competitors claimed that Microsoft’s marketing strategy intentionally tried to confuse customers. In the case of Office that’s probably true. I’ll say this for WordPerfect, they didn’t go down without a fight. They continued to aggressively market WordPerfect Office which eventually dropped the utilities and DOS shell and became strictly an email product. Microsoft also had an email product at the time. It was again, very unoriginally named “Microsoft Mail.” The thing was, people knew what that meant. And after Microsoft poured millions into marketing Office, people also knew what Microsoft Office was. The FUD came in when those same people then tried to figure out what WordPerfect Office was. Microsoft had managed to “own” the word Office.

WordPerfect actually never gave up. But, in 1994 Novell bought WordPerfect. The move was designed to help Novell directly compete with Microsoft. Novell made network software. Microsoft made network software and applications. Novell bought WordPerfect to compete. One of the first decisions they made was to decide that it was useless to try to reclaim the Office name for their newly acquired email system. Instead, they would rebrand it.

It was during this time that I had the conversation above with my friend the WordPerfect sales guy. You see, the name they had chosen was “Symmetry.” You might know that symmetry means a balance between two sides of a object or a picture. But, what’s that have to do with email?

Nothing.

And that was the point.

By calling it Symmetry we can make it mean whatever we want it to mean! What comes to mind when I say symmetry?

Nothing. . .and certainly not email.

No, no, work with me here. What image comes to mind?

Honestly? It reminds me of the word cemetery. . .You know, “The dead product.”

Eventually the name was changed to GroupWise. But not because no one liked the name Symmetry. In fact just the opposite. I’ll tell that story tomorrow.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
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LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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