Microsoft Surface naming debacle about to get worse

If rumors about 'Surface 2' and 'Surface Pro 2' are true, Microsoft better prepare to write off another $900 million

Have you ever had a helluva time explaining to an experienced Windows user that the Surface Pro runs Windows but the Surface RT does not? If so, hang onto your hat -- just when you thought it couldn't possibly get any worse, it looks like Microsoft is taking a swift dive into the shallow end of the gene pool with its Surface branding.

For several months, Tom Warren at the Verge has been using the name "Surface 2" as a code name for the next version of the Surface RT. I assumed it was internal shorthand, used by the dev teams to refer to Surface RT 2 or Surface RT 8.1 -- or whatever Microsoft would end up calling its son of the deservedly maligned non-Windows tablet.

Imagine my surprise when I read Aaron Souppouris's story on the Verge yesterday that says, "Microsoft's Surface 2 could drop the 'RT' moniker." Apparently AdDuplex has been sifting through its data on recent website hits, and came up with many that say "Microsoft Corporation Surface 2."

Paul Thurrot, in his SuperSite for Windows blog, examined the same AdDuplex data and made a startling assertion. He says (with no attribution I can find) "the Surface RT replacement... will simply be called Surface 2, and the ... Surface with Windows 8.1 Pro ... will be called Surface Pro 2."

Paul's a careful fellow with a lot of contacts inside the Windows team, and the statements are definitive. It certainly sounds like Microsoft has settled on names for at least two of its new tablets: Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2.

If you have to deal with everyday Windows users, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Sometime in October, the Best Buys in the world will undoubtedly have five or six Surfaces on sale. Their names, if these pundits are right, will be Surface RT, Surface Pro, Surface 2, Surface Pro 2. I, for one, would also expect a Surface Mini or two. Heaven only knows if the little guys will run Windows 8.1 RT (or is it Windows RT 8.1?) or Windows 8.1, either Standard or Pro.

See where I'm going with this? Picture a guy who's gone to Best Buy to pick up a Windows tablet. He can choose from a Surface RT, Surface 2, Surface Pro, Surface Pro 2, or (presumably) a Surface Mini. Two of them run Windows. The others probably don't. For sure, the "2" versions are better than the "1" versions. But other than that, how's a customer -- an experienced Windows user -- supposed to know the difference?

As for the distinction between Windows RT running on some machines and Windows 8.1 Standard or Pro on the others: By the time the Best Buy clerk gets done explaining the difference -- no doubt with a PowerPoint presentation -- our mythical customer is already dreaming about a Nexus or iPad.

Hey, Microsoft. If you don't rename the Surface RT/2 to something that distinguishes it from the machines that run Windows, you won't have to worry about it very long. Better set aside another $900 million right now.

This story, "Microsoft Surface naming debacle about to get worse," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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