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From Osmium to Platinum. . .A Smelly Naming Journey

January 8, 2014

(Photo credit: Viacom via watchcartoononline.com)

You want to name it what?

Osmium.

What is Osmium. Is that even a word?

Sure is. It’s an element. . . number 76 or 77 I think. Anyway, it fits are naming scheme.

I thought we were going to call it Iridium?

Yeah. . .about that. . .

Yesterday I talked about Novell’s problems rebranding the email system they bought when they acquired WordPerfect. (My Short But Unsuccessful Life As A Corporate Spy.) Novell wasn’t the only company with naming issues. The Microsoft Windows team seemed to have the naming issue figured out. Their beta products were often named after cities:

Chicago – Windows 95
Detroit – Windows 95 OSR 2
Nashville – Windows with IE 4.0
Memphis – Windows 98
Daytona – Windows NT 3.5
Cairo – Windows NT 4.0
Whistler – Windows XP

Or bars in Whistler, BC.

Lonestar – Windows XP Tablet
Longhorn – Windows Vista
Blackcomb – Windows 7

Exchange didn’t have such good luck. Previously I’ve talked about the fact that the initial version of Microsoft Exchange was called “Beavis and Butthead” when it was in development. (Racist Programs and Assaulting Servers.)

When the product that would eventually become Exchange 5.5 was in development the team naturally had to come up with a codename. The name they picked was Iridium.

20140107-225718.jpg
(Photo credit: livescience.com)

Iridium? Okay, it’s got an interesting sound. It’s a metal, although no one knows that. Not computer geeks anyway. At the time it probably seemed like a pretty safe name. Certainly not a Beavis and Butthead name either. There was just one problem. Someone already owned it. Iridium Communications makes one of the best satellite phones in the world.

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(Photo Credit: Iridium Communications)

I remember having a conversation with one of the senior Program Managers. We hadn’t announced Iridium publically yet, but internally we were all calling it that.

Edwin, I noticed in an article in PCWeek that there’s a company that already owns the name Iridium.

Yeah, so?

Well, won’t that be a problem if we release a product with the same name?

No, Rodney. There’s is a shipping product, ours is simply a code name. We aren’t going to ship with that name. By the way, what do they make?

Satellite phones.

See? We aren’t even in the same industry. Go back to writing training materials and let us worry about the marketing okay?

I had worked with Edwin for years, but once he started moving up the ranks of the Exchange team, he became much more difficult to talk to. I handed him the article I’d clipped out (that was back when magazines came in the mail printed on paper.) We announced Iridium to the press and we got an expected response from the satelitte phone folks in Virginia. For some reason they figured that since they made a communication device and we made a communication product, and given the fact that we were Microsoft, would we consider picking another name, and yes, I’m sorry we really must insist. Management had visions of Beavis and Butthead all over again. But, we had a naming scheme right? We go back to the periodic chart and take the next one in line.

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Osmium (Photo credit: livescience.com)

We didn’t know what Iridium was, we certainly didn’t know what Osmium was. But, that was the name. Everything got rebranded and that was our new name. Some chemists reading this are probably laughing. Why? Because they know what Osmium is.

Osmium, periodic number 76 derives its name from the Greek word osme, which means smell. Powered osmium emits osmium tetroxide (OsO4) when it is exposed to the air. In addition to being poisonous, osmium tetroxide smells very badly.

I always thought it was the Beavis and Butthead naming fiasco that pushed Microsoft to require all product names to be vetted by corporate. It turns out it was actually the Iridium/Osmium espisode. The corporate suits were probably more upset about the negative press from Iridium Communications. The programmers, testers and trainers were more upset that our product now literally had a smelly poisonous name.

The Exchange team did eventually figure it out. After having to endure their email server being the butt of jokes in the press. And then two versions later making a shift to a smelly poisonous gas, the team, or rather the managers went with a more conservative name. The product that would eventually become Exchange 2000 was code named Platinum. Platinum is a cool name. Platinum is a precious metal, more valuable than gold. Platinum is a sophisticated name for the color gray.

Osmium, or Microsoft Exchange 5.5 was released in 1997, or 2 A.W (After Web.) So, there are some stories of Osmium floating around on the internet. And you can find plenty of stories about Chicago, Windows 95. However, other than some of the stuff I’ve written, I’ve still never seen anyone owning up to Beavis and Butthead for Exchange 4.0.

I guess the moral of this story and the Symmetry and the Beavis and Butthead stories is to always doublecheck to see if someone already has the name you want to use. And when you do settle on a name, make sure you have a good backup. . .just in case!

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)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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