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No more Metro for Microsoft because of possible trademark dispute

Windows 8
Metro UI in Windows 8Microsoft
Metro UI in Windows 8Microsoft

For years, Microsoft has been nurturing a new user interface design that they have repeatedly and publicly called "Metro." Thursday, amid rumors of a trademark suit from a German company, they suddenly changed the name to the decidedly less punchy "Windows 8-Style UI."

The Metro style goes back many years, but made its first real appearance in the original Zune device UI. The stark black-and-white look with oversized type in Microsoft's Segoe UI font was well-received by critics and soon found its way into other products — most recently and most prominently in Windows 8, which adopted Metro as the primary user-facing element.

A statement from Microsoft to NBC News described Metro as a "code name," and indeed it is referred to as such in some Microsoft documentation. But it has also been used in many public settings, such as third-party developer tools and blog posts, and it is called "Metro style" when referring to it on shipping products like Windows Phone — not "Windows Phone Style UI."

A Microsoft design document defining Metro.Microsoft

It could be that Microsoft decided to rebrand the new design with something more identifiable with Windows. But Ars Technica cites sources inside the company who say that it is not a sudden branding shift, but rather a trademark infringement allegation by German retail chain Metro AG. A memo is reportedly circulating banning the word "Metro" from official use.

Microsoft would not comment on that, but such a sudden change for such a well-known and central brand is unusual, if not unprecedented. "Windows Phone 7 Series" lost the "Series" just a month and a half after its debut. And Hotmail just this week received a new identity: Outlook.

Whatever the case, for now the type-and-shape-heavy design language formerly known as Metro will be referred to as "Windows 8-Style UI" — unless they decide to make further changes.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.