Even Microsoft has now admitted that Longhorn is a quite ridiculous name for anything but a breed of cow. Indeed, there is surely no more silly breed of cow to name your next-generation operating system after – with the possible exception of Horro and, of course, the Milking Shorthorn. Evolène, Guzerat, Kazakh, Limousin, Mirandesa, Modicana, Texon, Yanbian or even Aberdeen Angus are much better cattle names for the purpose.

Heaven (and I expect Hell) only knows why Microsoft would label its OS with a sniggering double entendre – especially when that product sucks and is notorious for going down.

The next version of Windows will now be called Vista. According to the dictionary a vista is: “A pleasing view, especially one seen through a long narrow opening” [Microsoft clearly delights in sexual innuendo], and “a mental view of a succession of remembered or anticipated events” [ironic given that this new version was originally promised for 2004].

When it comes to naming operating systems Apple and Microsoft don’t hire poets. The Mac OS is named after an apple, for goodness sake – and the company had to deliberately misspell it to avoid being sued by grocers. Windows is fairly obvious, as a window is a part of the basic graphical user interface furniture – but hardly appropriate for the general desktop metaphor.

There have been some quite sparky OS codenames. The Mac’s System 6.0.4 was Antares, 6.0.8 Terminator, System 7 Big Bang, 7.5 Capone, 7.6 Harmony (also the codename for Microsoft’s XP Media Center Edition 2004), OS 8.5 Allegro, 9 Gershwin, 9.2 Moonlight… Early Windows versions were dubbed Cairo, Chicago and Daytona before turning into the more sedate Windows 2000, Windows 95 and NT 3.5.

Before the embarrassment of Longhorn, Microsoft had a rich record of silly names. Most stupid was naming a security initiative after the Palladium statue that kept the city of Troy safe – until the statue was stolen by somebody in disguise and the city was quickly overrun by Brad Pitt. Microsoft’s Palladium was a security initiative designed to create a “trusted space” within a PC for certain programs and other sensitive operations to run in. Now why would you name such a thing after a mythical object that failed in its claim of invincibility? And didn’t the company think it a terrible idea to link any of its software to Trojan Horses?

But the days of merely numbering or dating operating systems – Windows 98 and Mac OS 9, for example – are over. Even software applications have recently avoided the numbers game – Adobe didn’t talk of Photoshop 8, instead favouring the Creative Suite nomenclature.

Apple, of course, led the way with its big-cat series for Mac OS X. Although it waited for version 10.2 Jaguar before marketing the codenames as proper titles, even 10.0 (Cheetah) and 10.1 (Puma) were part of the feline series. Ignoring the schoolboy Longhorn jokes, Microsoft was hardly onto a winner competing against Apple’s panthers and tigers with a cow – albeit one with a couple of dangerous weapons attached to either side of its big fat hairy head.

So goodbye Longhorn – may you safely return to the fields and toilet humour from whence you came. And welcome Vista. What possible problems could anyone have with that perfectly respectable name?

Plenty. Within about a minute of the announcement, the jokes were flying. Take your pick from this little lot of acronyms.Virtual Imitation or Similar to Tiger from Apple. Vaporware Impossible by Stated Time of Arrival. Virus Incubator Support & Testing Architecture. Vastly Inferior System To Apple’s...

On top of that, Microsoft’s spin doctors could clearly do with spending some time with Word’s grammar checker when describing the system that is supposed to bring “clarity to the world”. Greg Sullivan, group product manager with the Windows client group, said that the key goal of Vista was to deal with a world in which “there’s just more and more stuff. We really turn to our PCs to help manage this ‘more’.”

Of course what Windows users actually want is not any of this “more”, but actually a lot “less” – or “more less” as Greg would put it. As the acronyms suggest – and Vista’s features promise – Windows would be a much better system if it has a lot less Viruses, Intrusions, Spyware, Trojans, and Adware.
To address Windows’ appalling security, Vista employs “User Account Protection”, which operates much like OS X’s Administrator setting. In fact, that’s not the only OS X feature that Microsoft has copied. Even the icons visible in the Vista beta are remarkably similar – the magnifying glass for Vista’s new search engine is identical to Tiger’s Spotlight icon, except that it’s flipped the other way.

The list is exhausting. Where OS X has an Aqua user interface, Vista has Aero. Vista changes Windows’ “My Documents” and “My Computer” to just “Computer” and “Documents” – exactly as they are in Mac OS X. Vista’s buttons are shiny just like in OS X. It will have translucent windows – just like the original OS X; such fancies were dropped in Panther, although the look is retained for the Dock. Tiger’s Smart Folders – which create shortcuts based on users’ criteria – become Virtual Folders in Vista.

Of course, there’s nothing illegal about such blatant copying. When Steve Jobs returned to power at Apple in 1997, he quickly signed a deal with Microsoft’s Bill Gates that included a “perpetual cross-licence” for all existing patents – allowing both companies to develop new products without fear of lawsuits over alleged patent infringements.

Apple has stated that the successor to Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger will be 10.5 Leopard – cue deluge of ‘Apple changing its spots’ to clash with ‘Hasta la Vista’ headlines. Leopard will ship around the same time as Vista at the end of 2006 – unless, of course, the next version of Windows slips yet again (some commentators argue that all its promised functionality won’t be with us until 2008).

With its PC market share rapidly increasing – up 40 per cent to an admittedly still measly 4.5 per cent in the past year – Apple has over a year to itself copy for Leopard anything Vista does better than Tiger, as well as milk the iPod’s Halo Effect to woo security-battered Windows users to its throbbing
Aqua bosom. It’s enough to give Steve Jobs a very long horn indeed. MW