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Why Are Microsoft's Business Product Names So Confusing?

Mona Bushnell
Mona Bushnell

This op-ed details how Microsoft's naming conventions have gotten out of hand.

As far as I know I've never done anything to anger the Microsoft corporation, but it seems to insist on punishing me. It punishes all of us, really, with its skillfully obtuse and, what I can only assume are, intentionally confusing product names.  

Sometimes I imagine the lady or gent who is currently locked away on a Microsoft campus, slurping down a coffee drink while devising another sinister way to combine the words Microsoft, Office, 365, Business and Premium. Who are these unsung copywriting anti-heroes, and where did they come from?

It seems like it would be easier for Microsoft to consolidate some of their packages into a centralized, tiered system (or even offer a la carte features), so business shoppers could clearly see what each package includes rather than cull facts from different pages and figure it out themselves, but then, perhaps, I'd be out of a job. After all, if business people who don't spend all their time reading spec sheets and testing products could easily discern between Microsoft 365 Business, Office 365 Business, Office 365 Business Essentials and Office 365 Business Premium, I might have to learn a trade, or worse, start selling terrible crafts on Etsy and then guilting family members into purchasing them. 

On a serious note, though, Microsoft isn't doing itself or is clients any favors by piecemealing together multiple product bundles and then pushing them out at different times. In fact, Microsoft can't even keep up with their own product lines. I have, multiple times, heard Microsoft reps get tongue-tied over the different product names, pause and then correct themselves. There are so many similar packages and products that this even happens on the Microsoft site.

I recently researched a new product calledMicrosoft Invoicing (part of the Microsoft Business Center), and I found this on the Microsoft website:

I knew this statement couldn't be right because I'd heard about Microsoft Invoicing at an event for Microsoft 365 Business, and, sure enough, when I continued searching, I eventually found a side-by-side comparison of the two products (Office 365 Business Premium and Microsoft 365 Business), which confirmed that Invoicing comes with both. What's even more puzzling about all this is that Microsoft doesn't make the same mistakes with consumer products. The three consumer versions of Office 365 are Office 365 Home, Office 365 Personal and Office 365 Student. It's easy to discern from these names that Home is for families/households, Personal is for individuals, and Student is, well, for students.

So, what is it that makes the business product names so annoying to navigate and so difficult to remember?

The root of the problem

As you can probably tell, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the root of this naming problem (I'm really fun at parties), and I've concluded that there are two main culprits. The first is that Microsoft creates dozens and dozens of products that do very similar things (I'm looking at you SharePoint, OneDrive and Near Share), and then call them different things and group them into different sets, rather than integrate them into existing products as new features. The second problem is the approach to differentiating names.

When Microsoft comes up with a new bundled plan or product line, they expect the world to completely forget every other Microsoft product name that came before it. I'm sure I'm not alone in remembering when the office suite was referred to as "Microsoft Office." Then when the web version debuted, it was called "Microsoft Office 365," but at some point, "Microsoft" was dropped and it became "Office 365."

Despite this fact, when I read "Office 365," my brain automatically thinks "Microsoft Office 365," and when I read "Microsoft 365," I instantly add an "Office" in the middle. Now, when I see a lone "365," I think "Microsoft Office 365." The irony is, of course, that there isn't even a product called Office 365; that's just the family of products under which there are business and non-business solutions (with six subscription options, each with its own name that also incorporates the term "Office 365").

Basically, what is happening with Microsoft's product names is a perfect microcosm of what will occur when we're on the third generation of married couples who decide to hyphenate. I fear that at some point there will be a New York Times marriage announcement that reads: Mr. Davis-Xian-Ellis and Ms. Hopper-Gordon-Marquez will marry this June. The Davis-Xian-Ellis-Hopper-Gordon-Marquez family will continue living on the Upper West Side where Mr. Davis-Xian-Ellis works in sales for Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium Online with Teams and Ms. Hopper-Gordon-Marquez works as a developer for the Premium Business 365 Online Office Business Center division of Microsoft.

It's going to be chaos.

Image Credit: Tmcphoto/Shutterstock
Mona Bushnell
Mona Bushnell Staff
Mona Bushnell is a Philadelphia-based staff writer for and Business News Daily. She has a B.A. in writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College and has previously worked as an IT technician, a copywriter, a software administrator, a scheduling manager, and an editorial writer. Mona began freelance writing full time in 2014 and joined the Business News Daily/ team in 2017. She covers business and technology.