History of Microsoft Windows

Posted On 2007-05-03 by FortyPoundHead
Keywords: Windows History
Tags: General 
Views: 1678

What is the history of Microsoft Windows?

Microsoft first began development of the Interface Manager (subsequently renamed Microsoft Windows) in September 1981. Although the first prototypes used Multiplan and Word-like menus at the bottom of the screen, the interface was changed in 1982 to use drop-down menus and dialogs, as used on the Xerox Star.

Windows 1.0

Microsoft finally announced Windows in November 1983, with pressure from just-released VisiOn and impending TopView. This was after the release of the Apple Lisa (but prior to the Macintosh), and before Digital Research announced GEM, another competing graphical environment. Windows promised a simple graphical interface, device-independent graphics, and multitasking support. The development was delayed several times, however, and the first version hit the store shelves (after 55 programmer years of development) in November 1985. The selection of applications was sparse, however, and Windows sales were modest. The following were the major features of Windows 1.0:

  • Graphical user interface (GUI) with drop-down menus, tiled windows, and mouse support
  • Device-independent screen and printer
  • Cooperative multitasking of Windows applications
Windows 2.0

Windows 2.0, introduced in the fall of 1987, provided significant usability improvements to Windows. With the addition of icons and overlapping windows, Windows became a viable environment for development of major applications (such as Excel, Word for Windows, Corel Draw!, Ami, PageMaker, and Micrografx Designer). Sales were spurred by the runtime (Single Application Environment) versions supplied by the independent software vendors. When Windows/386 (see next section) was released, Microsoft renamed Windows 2.0 to Windows/286 for consistency. The following are the major changes from earlier versions of Windows:
  • Overlapping windows
  • PIF files for DOS applications
Windows/386 In late 1987, Microsoft released Windows/386. While it was functionally equivalent to Windows/286, it could run multiple DOS applications simultaneously in the extended memory. Multiple DOS virtual machines with preemptive multitasking was a new feature in Windows from its earlier versions.

Windows 3.0

Microsoft Windows 3.0, released in May 1990, was a complete overhaul of the Windows environment. It could address memory beyond 640KB, and it had a much more powerful user interface; independent software vendors started developing Windows applications with vigor. The powerful new applications helped Microsoft sell more than 10 million copies of Windows, making it the best selling GUI in the history of computing. The following are the major changes from earlier versions of Windows:
  • Standard (286) mode, with large memory support
  • 386 Enhanced mode, with large memory and multiple preemptive DOS session support
  • No runtime versions available
  • Program Manager and File Manager added
  • Network support
  • Support for more than 16 colors
  • Application Programming Interface (API) support for combo boxes, hierarchical menus, and private code.ini files
Windows 3.1 Microsoft Windows 3.1, released in April 1992, provided significant improvements to Windows 3.0. In its first two months on the market, it sold over three million copies, including upgrades from Windows 3.0. The following are the major changes from Windows 3.0:
  • No Real (8086) mode support
  • TrueType scalable font support
  • Multimedia capability
  • Object Linking and Embedding (OLE)
  • Application reboot capability
  • Mouse Trails for easier mouse use with LCD display devices
  • Better interapplication protection and better error diagnostics
  • API multimedia and networking support
  • Source level API compatibility with Windows NT
Windows 95

Windows 95 was released in August 1995. Aimed at the desktop market, it is very different from Windows 3.1, and no longer requires a separate DOS. Designed to coexist with Windows NT, it offers a greater degree of backward compatibility with older drivers and software, at the expense of the greater stability and security of Windows NT. New features include:
  • A new, more object-oriented GUI
  • The new WIN32 API
  • Preemptive multitasking of Win32 applications
  • 32-bit flat memory model
  • Protected memory
  • Built-in networking support, including dialup support
  • New 32-bit driver model
Windows 98

Windows 98 was released as an upgrade to 95. It has the same interface and features of Windows 95, but also includes the following updates:

  • 32-bit File Allocation System (FAT32) that not only allows for hard disk drives larger than 2GB, but also more efficiently uses disk space, allowing files to load more quickly and take up less space on disk. FAT32 can read hard disk drives as big as 2TB (2000GB).

  • Support for Universal Serial Bus (USB) peripherals
  • Support for WebTV (which has since become MSNTV)
  • Support for more than one monitor
  • Microsoft Web Server
  • Microsoft Task Scheduler

Many of these features are also available in a later version of Windows 95 (known as OSR2) that was distributed with new PCs in 1998. OSR2 has never been available for retail sale.

In 1999, Microsoft released Windows 98SE (Second Edition), which improved Windows greatly and also added the following features:

  • Support for DVD-ROM
  • Internet Connection Sharing
  • Improved startup time for programs
  • Improved USB support

Windows Me

Windows Me, or Millenium Edition, was released in 2000 as an upgrade to Windows 98SE. Very similar to its predecessor, Windows Me included new home networking capabilities, video capture and editing, and a new mechanism for system restoration in case of emergency.

Microsoft intends to replace Windows Me with its newest operating system, Windows XP, which is described below.

Windows NT

Windows NT 4.0 entered its Extended Lifecycle Phase in June 2002. This means that it is no longer considered a mainstream technology, and support will become more limited during this phase. For more information, see Microsoft's Windows Desktop Product Lifecycle Guidelines page at:


Windows NT is a separate product from Windows 3.x and Windows 95/98. It is aimed at the enterprise market, for use on high-end workstations and servers. The first version, 3.1, and versions 3.5 and 3.51, used the same interface as Windows 3.1. Version 4.0 uses the interface first introduced with Windows 95.

Windows NT 4.0 has the following features in addition to features found on Windows 95:

  • NTFS file system support

  • Security model

  • Remote Access Server (RAS)

  • OS/2 and POSIX subsystems

  • Ability to run on Intel, Alpha, MIPS, and Motorola processors

Windows NT 4.0 comes in two versions: Advanced Server and Workstation. The Advanced Server version comes with additional software that allows it to perform the role of the enterprise server. It has the following features in addition to those found on the Workstation version:
  • Software for controlling and managing domains

  • Internet Information Server (IIS)

  • Support for Microsoft BackOffice products

  • DHCP, DNS, and WINS server software

Windows 2000

Windows 2000 was released as an update to Windows NT 4.0. It is not an upgrade to Windows 98 or 98SE.

Windows 2000 builds on the previous NT release and offers the following improvements:
  • Full 32-bit operating system

  • Support for NTFS or FAT32, with support for hard disk drives as big as 32GB when running FAT32

  • Windows File Protection, which prevents installed applications from deleting necessary system files

  • Elimination of many reboot scenarios, including program installations that require a reboot to function correctly

  • Support for up to 4GB of Random Access Memory (RAM)

  • Microsoft Management Console

  • Stronger Internet integration with Internet Explorer 5.0.1

There are three different versions of Windows 2000: Professional, Server, and Advanced Server. Professional was designed for desktop systems and laptop systems, both stand-alone and networked, for individual use. Server was designed to run file and printer servers. Advanced Server was designed to run more powerful servers; it has support for an additional 4GB of RAM (for a total of 8GB).

Windows XP Released in late 2001, Windows XP is the replacement for both the win9x based versions of Windows and the NT family of versions. Based on the same code used to create Windows 2000, XP will come in two workstation versions at launch: Home and Professional (a Server version is in development for later release). Both versions incorporate the features of Windows 2000.

Windows XP Home Edition

Windows XP Home Edition is the replacement for Windows 95, 98, and Me. (UITS recommends a clean install rather than a traditional upgrade, due to the strong underlying differences between the older family of operating systems and Windows XP.)

Some of the new features of Windows XP Home Edition include:

  • Fast, easy switching between users on the same computer without the need to close applications

  • Luna, a newly designed desktop, which puts frequently used features in the most easily found locations of the Start menu

  • An enhanced Windows Media Player, which integrates DVD playback, music organization, and CD burning

  • Windows Messenger, which offers built-in instant messaging over the Internet

  • Windows Movie Maker, which offers built-in video capture and editing

  • Internet Explorer 6, the latest version of the Microsoft Web browser

  • Remote Assistance, which allows technicians to take temporary control of the computer to diagnose and fix problems, or to demonstrate features

  • System Restore, which allows the computer to restore itself to an earlier configuration if something goes wrong

  • Network Setup Wizard, which allows easier setup of home networks for file, printer, and Internet connection sharing

Windows XP Professional Edition

Windows XP Professional Edition is the replacement for Windows NT and 2000. It adds new features to improve networking and task efficiency, as well as the features of Home Edition.

Additional features of Windows XP Professional Edition include:
  • Remote Desktop, which allows the creation of virtual sessions on one computer from another computer over the Internet

  • Encrypting File System, which offers better security by transparently key-encrypting files

  • Fast Resume from Hibernation, which allows work to resume faster and saves battery life in laptop computers

  • Support for 802.1x networking for more secure wireless networking

Note: A portion of this information came originally from the May 3, 1993 Microsoft Windows FAQ maintained by Tom Haapanen and posted in the newsgroups comp.os.ms-windows.announce (ASCII text format) and comp.binaries.ms-windows.

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