Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Cool Wall of Program Names

While using Windows I have discovered, that I'm constantly surrounded with programs that have really uncool names. The main source of the bad names is Microsoft, but the softie isn't the only one to blame here – uncool names are a general tendency in Windows land.

To explain what I mean by cool and uncool names, and in the spirit of the Cool Wall of Top Gear, I'm going to put up the Cool Wall of Program Names.

Seriously Uncool

  • Avira Antivir Personal
  • Microsoft Office Powerpoint Viewer
  • Microsoft Visual FoxPro
  • Windows Internet Explorer
  • Windows Live Messenger

First of all, all these names are really long – at least three words in each.

Secondly, they contain buzzwords like “Visual”, “Office” and “Live”, which don't add any meaning whatsoever. Was an earlier version of FoxPro “Microsoft FoxPro for Vision-Impaired”? And was the previous version of Messenger “Windows Dead Messenger”? And is there a PowerPoint that is not for office? These are pure marketing buzzwords, nothing more.

Additionally all these names also have a company name inside them, which in itself is uncool, but this is already the topic of the next part of the wall.


  • Command Prompt
  • Google Chrome
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Mozilla Firefox
  • Windows PowerShell

Uncool names usually have company name added to the actual program name. But this addition rarely adds any value. How many other Excels do you know of? How many other Firefoxes? At least I don't know of any. So why do we have Microsoft Excel and Mozilla Firefox instead of just Excel and Firefox? That's just uncool.

For extra credit to Microsoft – half of their program names begin with “Microsoft” and the other half with “Windows”, so you can not even sort them and expect to find all Microsoft programs grouped together.

Additionally there are uncool program names like “Command Prompt”, showing that the creator of them had absolutely no imagination.


  • Gimp
  • Opera
  • Notepad
  • Paint
  • Skype

Finally the cool ones. These are short. That's the main thing. No extra buzzwords, no company names. To quote the already overquoted Antoine de Saint Exupéry:

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Note that even Microsoft can come up with pretty cool program names. However primitive Notepad and Paint are as programs, their names are cool – no doubt.

In perfect world you would have most of the programs belonging to this group – this should be the norm. In Windows-reality the norm seems to be uncool names.

Sub Zero

  • bison
  • less
  • tac
  • wc
  • wine

So, finally the sub-zero zone. Initially I tried to compile the whole wall with program names found from my Windows XP box, but as hard as I searched, I couldn't find a single Windows program with a really sub-zero-cool name. So I had to seek help from good-old UNIX. Let's look at each of these really cool names in detail – they all deserve it.

bison is the free software alternative to yacc, which stands for Yet Another Compiler Compiler and is in itself already quite cool. yacc sounds similar to yak, to which bison is a close relative. Additionally yaks have been domesticated animals for a long time, but bisons have always been free (similarly the software bison is free, but yacc is proprietary).

less – the opposite of more. At least that's what the manual of less says. Actually less is a descender of even older UNIX program more. They both are pagers, but while in more you can only go through text in one direction, less allows you to scroll both up and down. Therefore less is better than more. This is hell-of-a-cool.

tac is cat in reverse. Cat is a simple program that takes a file and prints it to standard output. Actually it can take several files and concatenate them all. Tac does the same, put prints the lines in reverse order. Seriously cool.

wc stands for Word Count, but it also happens to stand for Water Closet. UNIX users send often stuff through pipes to wc. This program name is clearly sub-zero cool.

Wine Is Not an Emulator. A recursive acronym, a common theme in UNIX, which is already cool. And yes, although Wine acts as an emulator for Windows, it's not actually an emulator, but instead implements a compatibility layer for Windows apps. This name also works on second level. When you drink too much wine, you will get drunk. When you use Wine to run too many Windows applications, you're poisoning yourself with proprietary software. Again, seriously sub-zero cool.

If you don't agree with my Cool Wall, then your comments are always welcome. But please, don't use a chainsaw.

Disclaimer: This Cool Wall was about program names, not about the programs themselves. Clearly Mozilla Firefox as a program is a lot more cool than Notepad – it's just the name that kinda sucks.

1 comment:

  1. i read this all the time - it's bad ass