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Microsoft's 'M' treads on US veterans' toes

Vista all over again

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Microsoft is in hot water again for again taking the name of someone else's software for one of its fledgling products

It's emerged Microsoft's M programming language shares the same name as a 30-year-old open language used by the US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) along with tens of thousands of users in medicine and business world wide. Even the former Soviet Union's iron-fisted rulers and its KGB spooks used the language.

What is that language? The Massachusetts General Hospital Utility Multi-Programming System, or MUMPS, which officially became just "M" in 1995.

It's the second time Microsoft has employed a name of a piece of technology already in use at the VA, which runs healthcare, benefits and services for millions of former US servicemen and women. The VA operates the open-source Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, or VistA, it developed using M.

Name ringing any bells?

People are understandably angry. One Reg reader contacted us to say Microsoft should look around before taking another language's name.

Rick Marshall, executive director of the VistA Expertise Network and vice chair of the MUMPS Development Community, called Microsoft "arrogant" and "rude". He believed Microsoft could do this because of its size and because he felt organizations are unlikely to push back.

Marshall added, though, while some in the VA and M community are angry he had little problem with Microsoft co-opting M as it didn't sound particularly medical, which is MUMPS's claim to fame. "I think the MUMPS name is just fine," Marshal said.

A Microsoft spokesperson told The Reg M is a codename for its Oslo declarative language, but - at this point - a final name had not been picked.

M is an open standard that vendors have implemented to often build closed systems. M's used in business world-wide but is perhaps best known for its use in medical systems from the VA to Berlin's German Heart Institute, which conducts 70 per cent of open-heart surgery in Germany.

M was also employed in the former Soviet Union in machines to elect members to that country's governing politburo.

Microsoft has been in trouble over product naming before. Microsoft's hardware/software-based digital rights management initiative Palladium - canned long ago - had to be renamed Next Generation Secure Computing Base after the existence of a similarly named product was discovered. Also, Microsoft landed in trouble with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) over Windows Workflow Foundation, which it abbreviated to just WF in presentations and literature following some heavy phone calls from the nature conservation organization. ®

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