Microsoft has done a terrible job of branding things in the last few years. “Microsoft Network” morphed into “MSN,” which has at various times been a software package, a collection of TV-like programming, a brand for web services like Hotmail and Messenger, a dialup Internet provider, and a web portal.

Many MSN services were included in a reorganization under the new brand name “Windows Live” in 2006, and Microsoft began creating more and more services with the Windows Live name, including some that have no obvious relationship to each other. The Wikipedia list of Live-branded services is pretty daunting!

Some of the services will be dying quietly soon – Microsoft just announced that it will be closing down Windows Live Expo, intended to be a competitor to Craigslist, joining recently deceased Live Search Books and Live Search Academic.

I find myself joining clients and friends now in stumbling over one particularly poor bit of naming.

Vista comes with Windows Photo Gallery, a simple but useful photo program that’s well suited for many people.

Later, Microsoft released Windows Live Photo Gallery, a free download for Vista and Windows XP. It’s almost identical, but changes some things around on the menus and makes it easy to put photos online in free photo galleries for sharing.

When Windows Live Photo Gallery is installed on a Vista computer, it does not replace Windows Photo Gallery. They’re visually indistinguishable, so the only way to tell which one you’re using is the name on the title bar in the upper left corner.

Frankly, most of the time it won’t make any difference. The two programs both display the same pictures and the same tags and almost all of the same features. But why do that to people? When it’s time to put pictures on a DVD and someone looks for the “Burn” button, why should they have no idea why it’s under “Make,” instead? The access to online services will appear and disappear randomly if people aren’t careful to click on the right program.

The situation is basically the same with Windows Mail (Vista’s mail program) and Windows Live Mail (a separate program for Vista and an upgrade for Outlook Express on Windows XP).

Didn’t Microsoft learn anything from the years of confusion caused by “Outlook” and “Outlook Express”?

Share This