Twenty-five years ago, on Nov. 20, 1985, Microsoft introduced its first version of Windows to the world. Not many people outside the technical press or the tech industry took notice. Product launch events that cost hundreds of millions of dollars were still years away.
What’s changed in Windows in the last 25 years? Plenty!
An Image gallery of various faces of Windows:
1985: Windows 1.0
Windows started in 1981 as a project called Interface Manager and experienced a series of delays getting out of the gate. When it was finally released in late 1985 as Windows 1.0, it made a ripple, not a splash. It had to be run on top of DOS, few applications were written for it, and application windows couldn’t be overlapped (they had to be tiled).
1987: Windows 2.0
Windows 2.0 was released in the late fall of 1987, two years after the debut of Windows 1.0. New features in Version 2.0 included the ability to overlap application windows and improved memory use. Windows 2.0 was notable for another reason as well — on March 17, 1988, Apple Computer sued Microsoft, claiming that the look and feel of the Macintosh operating system was covered by copyright, and that Windows 2.0 violated that copyright. (Several years later, the case was resolved in Microsoft’s favor.)
1990: Windows 3.0
Windows 3.0, released in 1990 — and its successor, Windows 3.1, released in 1992 — offered the first evidence that Windows might become the world’s dominant desktop operating system. Windows 3.0 also allowed Windows applications to use more memory than was available in RAM by swapping RAM temporarily to the hard disk. Windows 3.0 also included what may be one of the greatest productivity-sappers in the history of computers — the game of Solitaire.
1993: Windows NT 3.1
1995: Windows 95
Windows 95, released in August 1995, combined DOS with Windows for the first time: Rather than installing Windows on top of DOS, you installed only Windows 95, which included both DOS and Windows. It was also the first consumer version of Windows that began moving away from a 16-bit architecture and toward a 32-bit one; in other words, it was a mix of 32-bit code and 16-bit code.
The operating system introduced many interface improvements, including several that live to this day, such as the taskbar and the Start menu. Support for file names longer than eight characters was added as well. It was far more stable than previous versions of Windows and was the first to support Intel’s Plug and Play standard, which was designed to make it easier to add hardware and peripherals to your PC; the idea was that Windows would automatically recognize and configure attached hardware. It was a step forward, but it didn’t always work — some people referred to it as “plug and pray.”
Windows 95 was notable for another reason as well — the massive marketing campaign that accompanied its launch was said to have cost $300 million and included purchasing the rights to the Rolling Stones song “Start Me Up” as the Windows 95 theme song; draping a 300-foot Windows 95 banner over Toronto’s CN Tower; lighting the Empire State Building with Microsoft’s corporate colors of yellow, red and green; and creating a promotional instructional video that featured Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry from the hit TV show Friends.
1998: Windows 98
Windows 98, released in June 1998, was as not as big a step forward over Windows 95 as Windows 95 had been over Windows 3.1. Rather, it made incremental changes to Windows, although there were a few significant additions.
The most notable had to do with Internet support. For the first time, the Winsock specification — which provides TCP/IP support for Windows — was built directly into the operating system, rather than having to be installed as an add-on. Also for the first time, Internet Explorer was included as part of the operating system, which eventually led to the U.S. Justice Department’s prosecution of Microsoft for antitrust violations.
2000: Windows 2000
Windows 2000, the successor to Windows NT 4.0, released in February 2000, was intended for business rather than home use, and it was available in several editions, including multiple server versions. It brought many features of Windows 98 into the NT line, including Internet Explorer and Plug and Play.
2000: Windows Me
Windows Me (also called Windows Millennium Edition) was released in September 2000 and quickly became one of Microsoft’s most criticized operating systems because of installation problems, bugs and hardware and software incompatibilities. It introduced Windows Movie Maker. Windows Me was the last version of Windows that included the DOS architecture. It lasted little more than a year, until Windows XP was introduced.
2001: Windows XP
Windows XP, released in August 2001, was a breakthrough in several respects. It was the first version of Windows that did not use DOS as part of its underlying architecture, and the first to be offered in both 64-bit and 32-bit editions. XP combined the desktop version of the secure and stable enterprise-oriented Windows NT/2000 line with the consumer-focused Windows line. It was far more stable than previous versions of Windows and featured a significantly revamped interface that was brighter, more colorful and more contemporary-looking. Windows XP introduced a slew of new features, including background themes and remote desktop, which allows a PC to be controlled remotely via the Internet or a network.
Windows XP shipped in multiple versions, most notably Windows XP Home Edition and Windows XP Professional. Even though it was introduced nine years ago, XP remains the most-used version of Windows, and it’s still available as a downgrade option on new PCs that run the Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate editions.
2006: Windows Vista
Windows Vista, released at end of 2006, may well be the most criticized and disliked version of Windows of all time. Released more than five years after Windows XP, Vista faced widespread hardware incompatibilities upon launch and wouldn’t run on older hardware.
Vista’s interface was significantly different from XP’s interface. Most notably, it had a new feature called Windows Aero, a set of visual enhancements that included transparent windows and animations. There were also a variety of other new features, including the Windows Sidebar, Desktop Gadgets, the Windows Photo Gallery and improved search. Some people disliked Vista’s resource-hungry user interface, and those who did like it couldn’t always get it: Many PCs that were sold as “Vista-capable” couldn’t run the full version of Vista, leading to a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft.
2009: Windows 7
Windows 7, released in October 2009, is Microsoft’s current desktop operating system. Many people feel it’s the OS that Windows Vista should have been. It retains the Aero interface and other enhancements from Vista, but rather than adding a slew of new features in Windows 7, Microsoft focused more on fixing the shortcomings of Vista. Windows 7 is generally considered more stable than Vista, and most users upgrading from Vista to Windows 7 did not experience the kinds of hardware problems that they encountered when they upgraded from XP to Vista.
Windows 7 includes many features, such as new ways to work with windows—Snap, Peek, and Shake. Windows Touch makes its debut, enabling you to use your fingers to browse the web, flip through photos, and open files and folders. You can stream music, videos, and photos from your PC to a stereo or TV.
By the fall of 2010, Windows 7 is selling seven copies a second—the fastest-selling operating system in history.
Improvements to the Windows 7 taskbar include live thumbnail previews Improvements to the Windows 7 taskbar include live thumbnail previews
Geek trivia: Windows 7 is evaluated by 8 million beta testers worldwide before it’s released.
No one, including Microsoft, knows the shape that Windows will take in the next 25 years, because there’s simply no way to peer that deeply into the technology future. It’s a good bet, though, that the Windows of 25 years from now will be radically different from today’s version.
In fact, it’s reasonable to expect that there will be greater changes to Windows in the next 25 years than in its first 25 years. That’s the case because, despite all the changes in technology, for the past several decades the personal computer, whether desktop or laptop, has been people’s main computing device. It’s not clear that that will be true in the next 25 years, given the prevalence of smartphones and the increasing popularity of tablets.
Several questions spring to mind: How will Windows accommodate the increasing role of cloud-based software and services in computing? Will operating systems even matter in the future? Will Windows move to a modular model, with pick-and-choose components?
For now, Microsoft isn’t saying. In the meantime, we’ll have our first peek at the future of Windows when the first Windows 8 beta is released sometime this year.For latest updates on windows8 .