E-Business Commentary

Playing the high-tech name game.

Mercifully, the world of high tech got a little clearer this fall. I am referring to PeopleSoft's purchase of Vantive. Likewise with Nortel Networks' recent acquisition of Clarify. I mean, take a company with a name like Corio. How would you possibly have a clue to what type of business it is? In the old days, that is, before high tech became so dominant and well before the Internet, companies gave themselves names like Caterpillar, General Motors, and Coca-Cola. These were company names that carried real meaning. Caterpillar sells machines that crawl over the earth. General Motors makes motor-driven vehicles. No mystery in that name. Coca-Cola sells, well, "cola"-type drinks. From a marketing standpoint, they invented a name that became part of the vernacular. But you wouldn't say, "I'll have an Ardent." Ditto with Asera. Edify. Active Software. Ascend Communications. Manage.Com. (Manage what? People? Software? Ideas? Orders? Salespeople?) Exodus Communications. Logos. Need I continue? At least the Oracle can tell you something about its name -- just ask the database for information to make better-informed decisions about the future of your business. Similarly, PeopleSoft, which started out selling software for human-resources (whatever happened to personnel?) management, has a name related to its business. Likewise America Online. Progress. Rational Software. (Wouldn't you hope all software was, well, rational?) Resonate. (With what? With whom?) Unisphere. (Hey, you can't get any more all-encompassing than that.) Veritas Software. Emulex. Cerplex Group. Sagent. Stardust.com. At least with E*Trade, you know what the company does. Same with Ford Motor. International Business Machines (IBM). Baan and J.D. Edwards are named after people who started those companies. Same with Dell Computer. Microsoft is software for personal computers, which, once upon a mainframe time, were known as microcomputers. Way to go, Bill. Altris Software. Vastera. Nitorum. Agile Software. Concentus Technology. Intentia. Judging from the names, who could hazard a guess as to what they do? I get paid to keep up with this stuff, but frankly, trying to keep track of it all boggles even my techno-literate mind. Proxicom. Tivoli. (How about Firenze, or Milano, for that matter?) Marimba. Zhone Technologies. Xirlink. Interliant. Saga Software. (The story of what?) Ultryx. Visionael. Beach names are big. Most likely this is a play on the idea of "surfing" the Web. Seagate Technology. surfControl. Seagull. (Ever watch a seagull? They stand around in motionless flocks until some human scatters them, and they rip open bags of chips when people are off swimming.) Sandpiper Networks. (There we go again, although these birds are, admittedly, somewhat more industrious than the ubiquitous gulls on the beach.) Altera. Axent Technologies. Aspect Development. (Which aspect? Of what?) Hyperion Solutions. Ariba. Xircom. Xilinx. (Are either related to Xirlink? Sisters? Brothers? How about an aunt or uncle in there somewhere?) InaCom. Kewill Systems. Lycos. Desert names are big, too. Juniper Networks. Tumbleweed. FirePond. Adobe Systems. Mustang Software. Globix. InterWorld. Red Hat. Acuity. AvantGo. Cognizant. (Here we go again -- of what?) Digex. Primavera. (I prefer mine alfredo.) Witness Systems. (For the prosecution or the defense?) Merant. (You, too, can rant.) Infinium Software. Portera. Powerware. (Power of, or for, what?) Some names are zippy, such as Rogue Wave Software. As Mark Chance, senior product manager at Rogue Wave told me, "It doesn't matter if the name makes much sense, as long as it's catchy." Interleaf. Ikos. Merisel. Equant. Plexus. (Are Sexus and Nexus next?) Computer Horizons. Epicor Software. Harmony Software. Citrix Systems. Ciena. Ceridian. Stop! I can accept the fact that there aren't enough really good, descriptive names left to go around. And I know some old-line established companies started out with nondescriptive names -- Xerox and Polaroid are two that come immediately to mind. But please, for clarity's sake, isn't there some way companies could at least try to name themselves after something evidently related to their business? It surely would help those of us who need a scorecard to tell Aspect from Ariba, Ascend, Ardent, Axent, and Agile.

Doug Bartholomew is an IW Senior Editor based in San Francisco.

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