Tim_walters  by Tim Walters, Ph.D.

Next week’s SharePoint conference in Las Vegas is officially sold out, just another sign of the insatiable appetite for Microsoft’s still-imperfect suite. Cold calling sales reps at lesser companies will look on with envy as each attending prospect or customer shells out a list-price $1,199 for the pleasure of hearing a three-day sales pitch about the 2010 version.

And there appears to be plenty to get excited about. Confidential briefings prior to the conference as well as Microsoft’s carefully crafted “sneak peak” teasers have highlighted many cool new features, crisp UI facelifts, and fixes for some major flaws. Already in July, for example, Forrester colleague G. Oliver Young reported on the game changing impact of SharePoint 2010 for the enterprise 2.0 vendors. Of course, the true test will be how well the numerous new and improved features cohere across the suite to drive comprehensive business value. That’s not a question that will be answered in Las Vegas.

What we do know is that Microsoft has applied MOSS-Be-Gone to the product name. Back in April, SharePoint senior director Tom Rizzo announced the demossification of SharePoint 2010. The official reason is that they removed “Office” in order to avoid any confusion with the Office client. Microsoft Office SharePoint Server becomes Microsoft SharePoint Server – oh, but please don’t call it MSS, since that’s already applied to Microsoft Search Server. As Rizzo wrote in April, “Just remember: SharePoint is SharePoint is SharePoint.”

In other words, MOSS had to go in order to emphasize the billion-dollar SharePoint brand. That’s a smart move on Microsoft’s part, but it won’t keep cynics from believing that it was rather because Microsoft wanted to end any association with troubled super models, old-school Formula 1 drivers, or non-vascular plant forms that reproduce via the explosive release of airborne spores. (Although this last might account for the unchecked reproduction of SharePoint sites in the enterprise.)

Microsoft’s product names, at least on the infrastructure side, have always been an arid landscape of dry-as-dust descriptives that produce inelegant initialisms such as WSS, IIS, MSS, and the mercifully sunset but not to be forgotten MSCMS. With Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, Microsoft (accidentally, I suspect) produced an acronym – a word, rather than a string of initials. Alarm bells must have gone off as it became apparent that MOSS is not only pronounceable, it’s a name that erases any obvious reference to both Microsoft and SharePoint. MOSS has something warm and cuddly about it – search for moss on Flickr and you’ll find several cute puppies and kittens – but it’s the antithesis of brand strategy.

So, adieu, MOSS. From a business perspective, Microsoft is doing the right thing by highlighting SharePoint. But it’s sad to let go of a very rare fun name from Microsoft. No one is going to call their pet SharePoint.

What do you think about the passing of MOSS? Please share below – even if it’s only to be the first Microsoft MVP to announce that you’ve just renamed your dog.