Sorry, Microsoft, the Experts Have Spoken: Windows 8’s Interface Is Called Metro

Trademark dispute or no trademark dispute, the original name isn't going away.

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Microsoft's explanation of Metro, from back in the days when it was officially called Metro

I like writing about Windows 8. But every time I do — like right now, as I’ve been working on a post on Windows 8.1 — I’m bedeviled by the same conundrum. It’s minor but aggravating, and it confronts anyone who writes about Microsoft’s new operating system:

What do you call the new Windows 8 interface?

Until August, there was an easy answer to that question: You called it Metro, the name Microsoft gave to the streamlined, tile-oriented, largely pleasing look and feel that it has rolled out, in various forms, in Windows 8, Windows Phone, and other products and services. And then Microsoft abandoned the moniker — apparently because of a trademark dispute involving the German retailing firm Metro AG, though I don’t believe anyone has ever publicly acknowledged that as the reason.

Rather than providing an alternative name for the interface formerly known as Metro and the software that uses it, Microsoft offered several of them, none entirely satisfactory: “Modern UI,” “Windows 8,” “Windows Store Apps” and “New User Interface.” According to Wikipedia, the company eventually settled on “Microsoft Design Language,” a term I’ve almost never seen used by anyone outside Redmond city limits. At least one prominent pundit, the New York Times’ David Pogue, was moved to coin his own name: “TileWorld.”

As for me, I’ve tried to play along, usually referring to the Modern UI and dutifully noting that it was formerly known as Metro. But I’ve occasionally slipped and simply called it Metro, or tried to avoid the whole issue by calling it the new-style interface. It all seemed like an unforced error on Microsoft’s part: How could there be any confusion over the name of Windows 8’s most significant new feature?

This weekend, however, it occurred to me: folks who write about Windows 8 seem to have decided to keep calling the new look and feel “Metro,” regardless of trademark conflicts or what Microsoft thinks it should be called. For verification, I poked around on Twitter and found the term used by all the journalists whose names spring to mind when I think about Windows:

It’s true that when one has only 140 characters to convey an idea, one tends to refer to things in the tersest possible manner. But even when the writers above have more space, they refer to Metro as Metro. (ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley usually says “Metro-style.”) If the name is good enough for these experts, it’s good enough for me: henceforth, I’m going back to calling the new Windows interface Metro, without explanation or guilt.