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When product names go bad: Microsoft's Raymond Chen on the cringe behind WinCE

It isn't just the products that are embarrassing

Microsoft's Raymond Chen has continued his odyssey through the Windows vendor's back catalogue of awkward product names with the story behind WinCE.

Fresh from the spanking it had taken over Windows NT, the company was keen to avoid another initialism or backronym incident. After all, according to Chen, NT was sometimes converted to "Nice Try." We recall "Nearly There" and "Not Terrible" doing the rounds, the latter a particular favourite of anyone who'd tried using Microsoft's earlier attempts at a program manager sat atop DOS. That certainly was terrible.

Still, Microsoft had a handheld platform waiting in the wings with a code name of Pegasus. A project manager was tasked with picking a suitable public name for the product. Something that wouldn't be ridiculed. Wouldn't be unintentionally salacious. Something entirely innocuous and inoffensive.

Marketing firms were hired. Candidates were run through focus groups. In the end 10 possible names were floated past management – who, of course, ignored the lot of them.

"The executive in charge of approving the name," wrote Chen, "insisted on the name Windows CE, for no reason other than 'it sounded good.'"

As for what CE actually stood for, who knew? Maybe Compact Edition? Perhaps Consumer Edition? Microsoft's hardware partners were less than impressed than something that sounded suspiciously Compaq-related.

And then the abbreviation team got to work, and WinCE was born. Or wince.

Of course, Microsoft has had its fair share of embarrassing product names, such as Windows Embedded POS. There are those that were swiftly changed; in 2020 Chen revealed that Windows 10 Pro for Workstation was originally called Windows 10 for Advanced PCs. Or, er, FAP. Then again, Chen remarked that the team behind Windows 10 FAP wanted to call itself the Windows Technology Foundation group. WTF indeed.

Plenty of other companies have come unstuck over naming through the years and there are plenty of true and not-so-true stories, including the urban legend of the Chevy Nova or that time somebody produced a video game called "Vixen" but had to rename it for German markets due to an unfortunate translation.

As for Windows CE, Chen had one more piece of advice to dispense from the product manager's experience: "Do everything you can to prevent upper management from naming your product." ®

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