Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) successor to Windows Vista has a familiar name. No it's not Vista 2. It's not Windows XP-alidocious, either. The new operating system, which the media has been referring to by its working title of Windows 7, will be called -- wait for it -- Windows 7.

"While I know there have been a few cases at Microsoft when the codename of a product was used for the final release, I am pretty sure that this is a first for Windows," wrote Windows product-management head Mike Nash in his company's blog yesterday.

He continued:

The decision to use the name Windows 7 is about simplicity. Over the years, we have taken different approaches to naming Windows. We've used version numbers like Windows 3.11, or dates like Windows 98, or "aspirational" monikers like Windows XP or Windows Vista. And since we do not ship new versions of Windows every year, using a date did not make sense. Likewise, coming up with an all-new "aspirational" name does not do justice to what we are trying to achieve, which is to stay firmly rooted in our aspirations for Windows Vista, while evolving and refining the substantial investments in platform technology in Windows Vista into the next generation of Windows.

You know better, of course. After getting burned on Vista -- perhaps unfairly -- Microsoft wasn't going to reach for something "aspirational." Anything along the lines of "Windows Panorama" or "Windows Landscape" would get taken out quicker than Kimbo Slice last week.  

Microsoft needs a clean break, even if it has to borrow album-titling simplicity from the likes of Chicago and Led Zeppelin to do it. And Windows 7 is the perfect balance of honoring the Microsoft legacy while sidestepping the Vista stigma. If Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) had ever stumbled with its Leopard or Jaguar operating systems, you just know it would never get catty again.

This is a tricky time for Microsoft, as cloud computing evolves. Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Google Docs suite, word-processing programs such as Adobe's (NASDAQ:ADBE) Buzzword and Sun Microsystems' (NASDAQ:JAVA) StarOffice, and even corporate applications from (NYSE:CRM) have all brought into question the significance of operating systems.

Sure, you obviously need a platform to get your computer running, but the growing popularity of Web-stored software is making the operating system less relevant. Even Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), a longtime Microsoft ally, is shipping some of its entry-level laptops with the Linux-powered Ubuntu operating system installed.

A lot is riding on Windows 7, as Microsoft gradually takes the wraps off its new operating system over the next few months. Microsoft needs a hit even more than it does that clean break.

Other ways to go Windows shopping: