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Open Sourcers: What's with the naming convention?

When I'm trying to get someone to take a product seriously, it would be a lot easier if the conversation didn't have to go like this:

Me: "Well boss, we can use MS Exchange, or we can try out this free thing called Kroupware."

Boss: "Kroupware?  What is that some kind of communist fish?"

Me: "No it's made by this company that names everything starting with a 'K'.  Don't ask my why."

Boss: [rolls his eyes]

Me: "I also wanted to show you this demo of Morphix.  Before you say anything, this has nothing to do with Power Rangers!"

...

Wayne
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

I may have posted something similar to this before, but every once in a while it re-annoys me, so I have to vent.  Sorry :)

Wayne
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

"Me: "No it's made by this company that names everything starting with a 'K'.  Don't ask my why."

Answer: Because it's for the *K* desktop environment!

Is it really that weird?  Apple names their OS upgrades after wild cats.  Microsoft attempted to make every product end in ".NET" for a while.

Almost Anonymous
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

...but I could still never recommend an email client named "Bloomba"... (which is a commercial product!)

Silly names can become acceptable (Google), but if you're creating a product you hope/expect/want to become widely used, give it a reasonable name.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, May 05, 2004


It's in the Unix convention to be "cute" with names.  Recursive acronyms are god, then comes utilities that sound like bodily functions, and finally an assortment of end user programs with off the wall names. 

Ask your boss if you can put up a BitchX server.

Mike
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

What's with the naming convention?  There's an easy answer: open source products aren't run by Phil in Marketing before they're named (BitchX, Kroupware, Wine).  Nor are they run by Jenny in legal (FreeCraft, Playfair, Lindows).

For better or worse, open source projects typically only need informal approval by a handful of developers before their names and functionality are etched in name-recognition stone.

Pierce
Thursday, May 06, 2004

Heh. Look at the name churn in Mozilla-related projects, too:
Chimera->Camino
Phoenix->Firebird->Firefox
(Firebird wasn't actually infringing, but it stepped on the toes of the database people.)

Come to think of it, even "Mozilla" is maintained by some sort of agreement with the owners of "Godzilla", who don't appreciate the proliferation of "-zilla"s.

Chris Hoess
Thursday, May 06, 2004

While it's clever, I've always been a little uneasy talking to clients about our Subversion system.

JWA
Thursday, May 06, 2004

Yeah it's definitely part of the Unix culture.  Along with the tendancy toward cute names come names that evoke innuendo or profanity: finger, tail, head, mount, fsck etc.  Each on its own would be a stretch, but the recurrence of them is hard to chalk up to coincidence.  I knew I had been snookered by the twistedness of Unix culture the day I had to type "man mount" at a command prompt.

That said, I agree with the original poster in the assertion that the names do make it hard to sell skeptical management on some open source products.  As for the explanation that Kroupware et. al. begin with K because they are under the umbrella of the K Desktop Environment, well the next logical question is, "what the hell is a K Desktop Environment?"

Having said that, I'm not advocating that anyone should name their OSS project anything other than whatever they want.  It's just a reality that the choice of name will evoke different responses from different people.

MacSqueeb
Thursday, May 06, 2004

Could just be reading more into things than is reasonable, but I always find it interesting that the command is "man", and not "manual".

Edward
Thursday, May 06, 2004

Any "new" product/site/whatever will have a somewhat strange or awkward name just because all the obvious, straightforward and "normal" (domain)names are already taken.

Any "innuendo and profanity" perceived in the names of commands/products tells more about the perceiver in question than about the inventor of the names. (give or take a few exceptions)

Just my 0.02

Geert-Jan Thomas
Thursday, May 06, 2004

I gcan't gstand gthe gnome gproducts gnames geither!

gMX
Thursday, May 06, 2004

Personally, I prefer names that give you some clue as to their function.  It doesn't have to be direct, but it should at least evoke an imagery of the general nature of the product.  Not to brown-nose Joel, but City Desk is a good example.

yet another anon
Thursday, May 06, 2004

>>I gcan't gstand gthe gnome gproducts gnames geither!

I got a lot of respect for Miguel De Icaza, but for Christ's sake, didn't anyone tell him that mono is an illness?

yet another anon
Thursday, May 06, 2004

A lot of big companies also screw up in naming themselved or their products.Some examples that sound funny over here in The Netherlands (please note that the easily offended should not read any further):

Dell: 'del' means slut in Dutch
Fiat Croma: Croma is a produkt to cook meat in

Some names are easy to alter to give an even better desription of what they do. My favorite is 'Foutlook'. Fout is Dutch for error.

Say cheese
Thursday, May 06, 2004

There does tend to be a certain twisted logic to FOSS naming, albeit one that has little to do with marketing. 

For example:
- recursive acronyms eg. gnu = gnu's not unix, wine = wine is not an emulator. (Definitely funny *once* if you ask me)
- acronyms eg. GNOME = GNU Network Object Model Environment
- word play eg Apache = a patchy server, Gentoo (a type of penguin), mozilla = mosaic killer
- References to other applications eg KDE
(Briefly at the time CDE - the common desktop environment was dominant in the unix world.  K is often used in the developers native German where C is in English.*caveat* I understand it's  now claimed to stand for Kool Desktop Environment)
- References to the environment / toolkit eg Kwhatever = KDE app, g = Gnome app, py=python etc
- and finally the just plain silly.

a cynic writes...
Thursday, May 06, 2004

And where the hell does the Unix name come from?

RP
Thursday, May 06, 2004

Why 'man' instead of 'manual'?

And 'cp' instead of 'copy', and 'mv' instead of 'move', ... And why Unix programs traditionally don't give any output of everything went right, only giving a message if there was an error?

The answer is: in the beginning, Unix systems were used mostly over slow, very slow, Teletype-systems. Every unnecessary character slowed the communication significantly down.

vrt3
Thursday, May 06, 2004

Wasn't Unix a wordplay on Multics?

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, May 06, 2004

Let's not forget subtle and obscure references to Monty Python ("Python", "Spam") or the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy ("Beware of the Leopard")

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Thursday, May 06, 2004

My all time favorite unix program name is biff, which is the mail notification tool; it was named for the programmer's dog, Biff, who barked at the mail carrier.

So how is "Kroupware" any worse than, say, "Windows Me?" 

jburka
Thursday, May 06, 2004

I prefer to look at it this way- coming up with names is something anyone can do and, therefore, people who are otherwise talentless have lots of opinions on them.  When I created what I thought was a pretty good piece of software I needed to name it and the company I was going to start.  I consider names to be relatively unimportant and when I began to solicit ideas I ran into the following pattern-

Everyone I asked though everyone else's ideas were uninspired or sucked and then proceded to offer ideas that were equally uninspired or sucked.

Most names are unispired or suck.  In the entire history of rock and roll there is only one band name that I consider to be clever.  The rest are just place-holders, their meanings filled in buy one's experience with the music.

So too it is with software.

Look on the bright side;  if you are entreprenuerial you will find yourself competing against companies that are willing to spend 10-100X what is needed, just to get software without a silly name.

name withheld out of cowardice
Thursday, May 06, 2004

If an Open Source person had code-named the next major Microsoft operating system, what would the innuendo be from the name "LongHorn"?

Tom H
Thursday, May 06, 2004

"if you are entreprenuerial you will find yourself competing against companies that are willing to spend 10-100X what is needed, just to get software without a silly name."

...or to end up with something just as silly (like "Monday" for a consulting company)

I'm tempted to wonder if some of the truly silly names are an indicator of the the programmer's ego and/or lack of social skills. I don't have an issue with "uninspired" or "odd" names so much - nothing wrong with Perl or Python. It's the silly and bizarre names that tell me someone had no vision of having to get other people to use their software, combined with the refusal to let anyone suggest a "better" name.

"No, John - I don't see anything wrong with naming an app 'Gnome Droppings' it's the name I chose, and we're sticking with it"

Philo

Philo
Thursday, May 06, 2004

And what band is that?

RP
Thursday, May 06, 2004

I'd include Monty Python (my favourite is "Bicycle Repair Man"* ) & Hitchhikers references in the silly. 

That said there's a long established data recovery company called "Vogon International" whilst the estate agents Hotblack Desiato don't count as Douglas Adams pinched the name from them. There's also something to be said for silly names from a marketing point of view as you get cheap brand recognition - hence the beer called "Dog's Bollocks".

*It's a refactoring browser for python.

a cynic writes...
Thursday, May 06, 2004

Geert-Jan Thomas wrote:

"Any 'innuendo and profanity' perceived in the names of commands/products tells more about the perceiver in question than about the inventor of the names."

Well that's true (in my case, definitely).  Youth fades but immaturity lasts a lifetime.

MacSqueeb
Thursday, May 06, 2004

On a side note, I can't help but wonder if it would have had any effect on the success of the Agile movement had it been named after it's founder, Alistair Cockburn.

jz
Thursday, May 06, 2004

The band was...Butthole Surfers

Anon-y-mous Cow-ard
Thursday, May 06, 2004

He wasn't agile enough to avoid it?

RP
Thursday, May 06, 2004

Incorrect anonymous coward.  "Butthole Surfers" isn't it, though I put it slightly above the average, I still don't consider it inspired.

For my money the only clever band name ever is "The Dead Kennedys".

name withheld out of cowardice
Thursday, May 06, 2004

For my money the only clever band name ever is "The Band"

But then again, I also think the only clever name used on JOS ever is "name withheld out of cowardice" so you might not agree with me.

name withheld out of cowardice too (clever eh?)
Thursday, May 06, 2004

>>I also think the only clever name used on JOS ever is "name withheld out of cowardice"<<

Nah. That's a ripoff of Slashdot. I always liked The Beatles, clever rock music misspelling. Of course if you like open source software you know what mod_speling is...

Tom H
Thursday, May 06, 2004

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