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For a long time now, Microsoft has been using the phrase “Metro” to refer to the new design style being adopted across the company’s products, including the upcoming Windows 8 operating system.

But the company has abruptly stopped using the term, telling employees and partners that the preferred phrase is now “Windows 8 style UI,” at least until Microsoft’s naming wizards can come up with something better.

What gives? The company suggests in a statement that it’s part of a natural process of shifting away from code names as a product nears release, but The Verge reports that there’s more to it, citing an internal Microsoft memo that says the decision to stop using the name “Metro” was prompted by “discussions with an important European partner.” It’s believed to be German retail giant Metro AG.

Windows 8 was completed and sent to computer makers earlier this week, so it will be fascinating to see if Microsoft can effectively scrub the word “Metro” from all of its accompanying materials in advance of the late October launch.

For the record, here is Microsoft’s statement: “We have used Metro style as a code name during the product development cycle across many of our product lines. As we get closer to launch and transition from industry dialog to a broad consumer dialog we will use our commercial names.”

Ed Bott of ZDNet takes the company to task for not publicly acknowledging the real reason for the abrupt change.

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