When it comes to Microsoft, the term “Metro” represents a new era for the Redmond-based software giant, one in which design and user experience are of the utmost priority. The Metro design principles were pioneered by the Zune team before spreading to Windows Phone 7, where this refreshing interface was further refined. Now, Metro is the inspiration for nearly all of Microsoft’s next-generation products and services, from Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 to Xbox 360, Office 2013, Outlook.com, SkyDrive.com, and even the company’s websites and blogs. “Metro,” which took its name from the “simplicity and iconic nature of European transportation signs,” has come to symbolize the new Microsoft. Now, it seems, the company might be attempting to separate its new user interface from the term “Metro.”
The ever-reliable Mary Jo Foley is reporting that “Metro” just might be a “banned word at Microsoft.” As a result, Microsoft employees and developers alike are being encouraged to limit, if not completely eliminate, the use of the word in advertisements, documentation, apps, etc. The company’s official statement is that “Metro” is merely a codename, much like Project Natal was for Kinect, but there are rumblings that this surprising move might be related to a “possible copyright dispute with some other entity.” Microsoft has, however, stated that it’s “not related to any litigation.”
Regardless, eliminating the word “Metro” from Microsoft’s design language is almost akin to Apple dropping its iconic “i” prefix. It would be difficult to find a Microsoft product or service that hasn’t referenced “Metro” in one way or another, from Windows Phone 8’s “Metro UI” to Windows 8’s “Metro-style apps.” Back in April, I even hosted a Behind the Tiles event for Microsoft where I spoke about “Metro and the Future.” While Microsoft’s beautiful UI paradigm is here to stay, the actual name for it might not be in Microsoft’s future.
So what are we supposed to call the “simple and modern” typographic design which has permeated every aspect of Microsoft? According to The Verge, the new name is “Next User Interface.” This is a poor replacement for “Metro,” and it immediately calls to mind the “New Xbox Experience” (NXE), which was the name of the second major iteration of the Xbox 360 dashboard but quickly fell out of use a year or so after it was released. Even the acronym for “Next User Interface,” NUI, is inadequate, as it’s already used to refer to Natural User Interfaces.
As a result, we’re in a situation where Microsoft has a whole suite of Metro- NUI-inspired products on the verge of public availability and we have no good way of referring to them. Some people, like Windows 8 Secrets author Paul Thurrott, have decided to retain all references to “Metro.” That might not be a bad decision, given the confusion that would otherwise abound.
I, for one, hope that Microsoft is able to fix whatever is going on behind-the-scenes and return the word “Metro” to its former glory.