Metro. Over the years, that innocuous word has come to represent Microsoft’s new visual identity—the flat colored rectangles, the clean typography, and the heavy emphasis on consistent, streamlined design. Metro has become shorthand for a bold, new chapter in Microsoft’s history. It’s become synonymous with the company’s metamorphosis from slumbering giant into ambitious underdog.
And now, Microsoft is about to deprecate it.
The Verge reports that Microsoft has advised Windows 8 and Windows Phone app developers not to use the term “Metro” to refer to the new design language. ZDNet has posted a similar story, noting that Microsoft is seeking to curb internal use of the term, as well. When asked to comment, Microsoft provided the same statement to both sites:
We have used Metro style as a code name during the product development cycle across many of our product lines. As we get closer to launch and transition from industry dialog to a broad consumer dialog we will use our commercial names.
The Verge says one of its sources suspects a copyright dispute between Microsoft and Metro AG could be at play. Metro AG is a German retailer with stores throughout Europe, Russia, India, and China. Wikipedia says it’s the world’s fifth-largest retailer by revenue behind Walmart, Carrefour, Tesco, and Kroger—no small fish, in other words.
ZDNet had a similar hunch, but it was told by a Microsoft spokesperson that the branding change “is not related to any litigation.” The same spokesperson declined to comment when asked if the move was due to “any kind of copyright dispute that hasn’t yet gone to litigation,” however, so the statement hardly proves anything.
Another possibility, as ZDNet points out, is that Microsoft seeks to avoid confusing users. It’s true that Metro refers neither to a particular technology nor to a given platform, so it doesn’t tell users anything particularly useful about what they’re buying. I don’t think Metro was ever really front and center on Microsoft product pages, though.