Windows, Mac, and Linux version naming schemes explained

What is a Pangolin, and what makes it Precise? How does Windows' most popular version earn its "XP" tag -- the "eXPerience," its "eXPonential" improvements over Windows ME?

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Don't believe me? Look at the 10 worst Microsoft product names, as rounded up by Harry McCracken, and tell me that at least a few of those didn't have something to do with the wrong person receiving a bolt of inspiration.

Ubuntu and other Linux systems: goofy, cute, not all that important

quetzalflickr/qmnonic
Is that quetzal quantal or just colorful?

One cynical way to approach Linux release naming is that anyone who's decided to install a free, open-source operating system on their computer, and keep it running, won't be swayed one way or another by a particular version name. And in some ways, that's true for Ubuntu, the popular Linux distribution that releases new versions every six months, complete with inscrutable version names.

The first release, 04.10, was codenamed "Warty Warthog" for its warts-and-all nature by founder Mark Shuttleworth. The convention stuck, and now every Ubuntu code name includes a creature and an alliterative description that somewhat relates to the release:

  • 6.06 was "Dapper Drake," for its relative polish (as a five-year long-term support release). 8.04, another long-term release, was "Hardy Heron."

  • Version 10.10 was a "Maverick Meerkat," which Shuttleworth noted were "fast, light, and social," as were his aims for Ubuntu.

  • 12.10 (due out October 2012) is "Quantal Quetzal," "quantal" meaning either "an entity that is quantized," or "something that is capable of existing in only one of two states." A quetzal is an adorable bird.

So you see that some thought, however lighthearted, goes into the version names for each Ubuntu release. But take a look around Ubuntu.com -- take the virtual tour, check out the new features, read up on what they're promoting -- there's not a mention of a Precise Pangolin or any other animal. The codenames are meant to give developers a handle on what they're working on, just in case 12.10 ends up missing its October deadline and arrives in November, or somebody makes the easy mistake of mistyping it as 11.10. Codenames, or version names, are for those who are so invested in the system, they're working on making it better.

Like Apple, Ubuntu would like the actual consumer of its goods to think less about versions and more about a continuity of features and connectivity across devices and updates. And that tends to be the case across many popular Linux distributions: Mint, Fedora, Gentoo, and so on. The real name is the brand name, while the version name is just for coders and snarky bloggers (ahem).

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