A Brief History of Microsoft Windows

Windows Logo in 1985Are you a PC? Microsoft Windows is the most popular operating system in the world with over 90% of the market share. How long have you been using Windows?

With Windows 7 just released, its nice to look back at the long history of Microsoft Windows. This is a timeline of Microsoft Windows starting from Windows 1.0 in 1985 all the way to 2009 with Windows 7.

Windows originated from MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System) in 1982. While MS-DOS is not currently in development anymore, files and commands are still present in modern Windows OS such as the commands in Windows Command Prompt (cmd.exe).

Note: Additional screenshots of these operating systems can be found on GUIdebook.

Click these links to quickly jump to the respective operating system.
Windows 1.0 | Windows 2.0 | Windows 3.0 | Windows 3.1 | Windows 95 | Windows 98 | Windows 2000 | Windows ME | Windows XP | Windows Vista | Windows 7

Windows 1.0

The first independent edition of Microsoft Windows, known as Windows 1.0 was released on November 20, 1985 as an expansion of the original MS-DOS system. It was sold only on floppy disks and required that MS-DOS was installed first.

Windows are tiled across the screen rather than overlapping like in modern Windows. Dialogue windows were the only ones that could go on top. A list of available programs are available from the MS-DOS Executive. Early programs include a calculator, an analog clock, reversi game, MS Paint, Write (modern day WordPad), Notepad, Control Panel, and more. MS-DOS Executive programs are all listed as .EXE files. Files and applications were all bunched up within the executive.

Microsoft Windows had the ability to display color as long as your hardware was compatible, unlike Macs at the time, which were only black and white.

The snapping of applications into place for the “jigsaw puzzle” reminds me of Windows 7 Aero Snap and the “Show Windows Stacked” and “Show Windows Side by Side” features. I guess they might have taken the idea from here. To move Windows in 1.0, users drag the title bar which causes the app’s icon to be under the mouse pointer and then drag it to the a side or corner of the screen and it will automatically snap into place including automatically fitting the space.

Windows 1.0

A screenshot of Windows 1.0 showing Paint, MS-DOS Executive, and the Clock with the command prompt "iconized" or minimized.

Windows 1.0 had an interesting commercial with Steve Ballmer showing some features for just $99. In today’s dollars, that’s around $180.

Windows 2.0

Windows 2.0 was released on December 9, 1987. Its features are similiar to Windows 1.0 except that the Windows can now overlap each other rather than titled. The “Minimize” and “Maximize” we all know today was also introduced.

The first non-Microsoft application for Microsoft Windows was introduced to this time. Aldus Pagemaker, an application previously only available to Macs, was now available to Windows. Aldus PageMaker is now know as Adobe PageMaker. This is often considered a major event in the history of Microsoft Windows.

Windows 2.0 applications such as the clock and calculator.

Windows 2.0 applications such as the clock and calculator.

Windows 3.0

Windows 3.0 was released on May 22, 1990 and was very successful with improved multi-tasking abilities. The MS-DOS Executive was replaced with an icon based Program Manager and list based File Manager. Windows 3.0 also supported 256 colors rather than just the previous 16 colors.

Windows 3.0 includes a Protected/Enhanced mode which allows Windows applications to use more memory in a more painless manner than their DOS counterparts could.

It introduced the Solitaire card game and a macro recorder as well as a greatly improved Paint known as Paintbrush as the time.

Windows 3.0 applications including Reversi and the new Program Manager

Windows 3.0 applications including Reversi and the new Program Manager

Windows 3.1

Windows 3.1 was released on April 6, 1992. This version was technically an update, similar to modern day service packs, to Windows 3.0. It supported 32-bit disk access. The Reversi game was also dropped in favor of Minesweeper. Its also interesting how Minesweeper looked exactly the same in Windows 3.1 as it does in Windows XP.

An extension known as Windows for Workgroups featured additional networking capabilities. Windows for Workgroups 3.1 introduced the Hearts card game.

Internet Explorer which was introduced a few years later with Windows 95 was backwards compatible

Windows 3.1 applications including Minesweeper and the Program Manager.

Windows 3.1 applications including Minesweeper and the Program Manager. Does the Minesweeper look similar to or exactly the same as Windows XP's version?

Microsoft also released Windows NT 3.1 and 3.5 which were Windows 3.1 based on Windows NT (“New Technology” although it doesn’t carry much meaning anymore).

Following this was a huge milestone in the history of Microsoft Windows and is often considered one of Bill Gates’s greatest moments: the introduction of…

Windows 95

Windows 95 Logo

Windows 95 was released on August 24, 1995 and within one or two years, it was the most successful operating system ever built. Previous versions didn’t look much like modern day Windows. It was Windows 95 that started the interface of Windows we all know. That’s right, it’s the Start Menu, the Taskbar, and the Windows Explorer file manager. It also included many kernel improvements including process and memory management.

The original Windows 95 did not include Internet Explorer. The Microsoft Plus! add-on included Internet Explorer 1.0. Internet Explorer 2.0 was released and shipped with Windows 95 Service Pack 1, released on February 14, 1996. The latest release of Windows 95 disks had Internet Explorer 4.0 pre-installed. Users who purchased Windows 95 also had a copy of the Microsoft Network (MSN) which was released during the time.

Windows 95 Desktop. Welcome to the Windows Start Menu!

Windows 95 Desktop. Welcome to the Start Menu!

Microsoft also released Windows NT 4.0 which is similar to Windows 95 on the NT Platform, providing greater reliability and stability.

Windows 95 featured a commercial focused around multi-tasking. The new taskbar makes multi-tasking much easier.

Windows 98

Windows 98 was released on June 25, 1998 and was the first system to have Windows Display Model to render graphics intended to replace the original VxD. Windows 98 introduced a line of system tools that are present in modern day Windows including Disk Defragmenter, Windows Configuration Utiltiy (MsConfig), and Registry Editor (Regedit). It also had an improved Windows Explorer (beginning to look like modern ones).

Windows 98 SE (Second Edition) was released on May 5, 1999 and introduces some minor fixes along with improved USB support and including Internet Explorer 5.0 (replaces 4.0) as well as Internet Connection Sharing.

Windows 98 was supported by Microsoft with security updates until July 11, 2006 because of its popularity among users.

Windows 98

Windows 98 Desktop with Channel Bar

Windows 98 had an interesting commercial featuring the slogan, “Where Do You Want to Go Today?”

Windows 2000

Windows 2000

Windows 2000 was released on February 17, 2000 and replaces Windows NT 4.0 introducing a line of new features. Windows 2000 shipped in four different editions: Professional, Server, Advanced Server, and Datacenter Server.

This new edition of Windows includes Microsoft Management Console as well as many administrative tools. All version support the Windows NT File System and the Encrypting File System.

Windows 2000 is the first NT edition of Windows to include Active Desktop, allowing an Internet Explorer web page to be embedded on the desktop. Windows 2000 also included a preview area for media files within Internet Explorer. This edition of Windows also introduces Disk Quotas so one user cannot fill up the entire disk.

A new line of accessibility features were included and those that were already existing in previous editions were made easier to access, including the On-Screen Keyboard, Magnifier, Narrator, StickyKeys, and ToggleKeys.

Security updates will be provided for Windows 2000 until July 13, 2010 under its Extended Support Period.

Windows 2000

Windows 2000 Desktop

Windows Millennium Edition (ME)

Windows ME was released on September 14, 2000 as a successor to Windows 98 (not Windows 2000). The name is based on the year 2000, the beginning of a new millennium. It is not based on Windows NT and is the final system in the line known as Windows 9x (95, 98, and ME). It included some features from Windows 2000 such as the new Windows Explorer. Windows ME was the first system to include a built in basic video editing software, Windows Movie Maker, now Windows Live Movie Maker. It also included Internet Explorer 5.5. and Windows Media Player 7.

Windows ME was also the first system to have System Restore, a feature now standard and essential for Windows. Other new features include Automatic Updates, Better Power Management, and ZIP Folder Support.

Windows ME was highly criticized because of the very frequent freezes and crashes, eventually getting the number 4 spot on PC World’s 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time, and was dubbed as “Mistake Edition”.

Windows ME Desktop

Windows ME Desktop

Windows eXPerience (XP)

Windows XP was released on October 25, 2001 and is intended to replace both Windows 2000 and Windows ME. It is based on the stable and reliable NT platform. It shipped with 2 main editions: Home and Professional, although Media Center Edition and Tablet PC Edition was later introduced. It introduces a long line of new features including the new “Luna” theme, a redesigned Start Menu, ClearType font rendering to improve font readability on LCD monitors, taskbar task grouping, Common Tasks Windows Explorer sidebar, and more. System restore from ME was made popular in XP.

Service Pack 2 released on August 6, 2004, unlike most service packs, added new features to XP, including improved Wi-Fi support, a popup blocker for Internet Explorer 6 and the new Windows Security Center.

Windows XP was the latest client OS from Microsoft for over 5 years until Vista was released in January 2007, the longest time between releases. The same applies to Internet Explorer 6. It is the most popular operating system in the world at the time of writing with 66.2% of the market share.

Windows XP will receive security updates under its extended support period until April 8, 2014.

Windows XP

Windows XP Workspace

The following is the Windows XP commercial back in 2001.

Windows Vista

Windows Vista Logo
Windows Vista was released worldwide on January 30, 2007 after a long 5+ years in development. Prior to its announcement on July 22, 2005, it was known by the codename “Longhorn”. Windows Vista introduces a new Windows Explorer style based on Internet Explorer 7 and featured breadcrumbs, new icons, organization, meta data, and file operations. Other new features of Vista include a redesigned Start Menu, a new visual style known as Windows Aero, Windows Flip 3D, Thumbnail Previews, Windows Instant Search (with new search boxes in Explorer and the Start Menu), Windows Backup and Restore Center, Windows Photo Gallery, and much more. Learn more about all the new features of Windows Vista on Wikipedia.

It shipped in 4 main editions: Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate. Windows Vista Ultimate included Ultimate Extras, which were useful extra optional features downloaded as updates such as Windows Dreamscene, allowing users to have a movie as a desktop background, the Tinker maze game, language packs, and more.

The Windows Aero interface displays translucent window borders and adds extra eye candy like live thumbnails for a cleaner, efficient, and more pleasing user interface.

Criticism for Windows Vista included the expensive price, high system requirements, and the frequency of the User Account Control (UAC) prompts.

Windows Vista

Windows Vista Desktop and Start Menu

Windows Vista was initially advertised as the “Wow” product.

Windows 7

Windows 7Windows 7’s release date is October 22, 2009 or at the time or writing, its today! Windows 7 has been in development for 3 years and is largely based on feedback from users on Windows Vista. A public beta was released on January 10, 2009 and a public release candidate was released on May 5, 2009. RCs expire in March-June 2010.

Windows 7 includes new features such as UAC Settings to make it less annoying while still having it on and a new taskbar featuring pinned icons and the new jump lists.

Jump List menu for Windows Media Player 12

Jump List menu for Windows Media Player 12

It also enhances Windows Aero by adding features like Aero Snap, which lets you drag windows to the edge of the screen to automatically resize and place the window on that half of the screen and drag a window to the top to maximize it, and Aero Shake,which lets you minimize all other windows by shaking the current window.

Windows 7 RC Build 7100 Desktop. The final build looks the same.

Windows 7 RC Build 7100 Desktop. The final build looks the same.

Learn more about Microsoft’s latest operating system here.

The following is one of the Windows 7’s commercials featuring Kylie and “Happy Words”.

Windows 7 has received generally excellent reviews and feedback saying that it is easy to use and a huge improvement over Vista.

Microsoft Windows goes a long way back. The first Windows PC I used was Windows 3.1 for Workgroups. What was the first Windows operating system you used? Vote in the poll below!

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Brian is the co-founder of TechAirlines. He is a developer currently focusing on mobile and web development. He is currently a sophomore at Stony Brook University, majoring in Computer Science.

  • Edmund

    Very well written article, also ROFL at the video of Steve Ballmer selling Windows 1.0

  • http://womenfinestuff.blogspot.com szeny

    I am not a big fan of Windows really, the first computer I got was a Windows 95 machine which worked but this was back in the 90’s when a machine would be obsolete as soon as you put it in your trunk at Best Buy
    .-= szeny┬┤s last blog ..10 Must Have Gift Ideas For The Wedding Party =-.

  • Michael

    I started with Windows 95 and I remember messing around with Microsoft Paint all day.

  • http://oxaloacetate.tumblr.com Kaleena

    Oh Windows 95…the glory days. x)
    Progression: 95-98-2000-Vista-iMAC!

    • http://www.techairlines.com Brian Yang

      Hey Kaleena!

      My progression would be 3.1, 95, XP, Vista, and 7 as well as Ubuntu at the same time.

      I want to get a Mac.

      Thanks for visiting and have a nice weekend.

  • http://www.kaushikbiswas.org/ Kaushik Biswas

    I’ve never used anything else other than Windows OS. Some day I’d like to try Ubuntu, my friends keep telling me about it, but so far I haven’t been able to find time and explore it. What’s your opinion, should I try it?

    • http://www.techairlines.com Brian Yang

      Hey there,

      I’m currently running Windows 7 as my primary OS on my desktop computer, but on my laptop, I’m running Ubuntu and I love it. It might take a bit of time to get used to but once you use it for a while, its a really great OS.

      So if you ever have the time, you should definitely give Ubuntu a try. The installation disk has a Live CD option so that you can try without making any changes to your system.

      Enjoy your week,

  • http://tedunilem.deviantart.com Tedu

    The first one i used was 98 I only used it for Mario Bros. (the original :D) and paint. Then when I got my own computer wits win2000 then XP and now Im using win7. Though, Im bit late on getting a windows 7 (lmao i have been using WinXP Media center edition since last year’s summer.)
    Also I remember one of my friends had a thick IBM laptop with windows ME.

  • Roger

    I’m trying to obtain the original analog clock on my monitor. I am unable to do it.

    I have tried Windows 7, there is no way that I can use it. I’ve gone back to Vista which is somewhere between XP and 7 and I’m very happy with that.

    If anybody knows how to obtain the clock would you kindly tell me please?

    All the best from Roger Green

    • http://www.techairlines.com Brian Yang

      Hello. Which analog clock are you referring to exactly?

  • Roger

    I’m sorry but your last comment is not understood.

  • Armansyah Li

    Looking back its already so many windows version, i remember when my 1st PC was only loaded with MS-DOS and its really old with 8086 processor, and with that i started learning about OS, started using windows ver 3.0 with 80386 proc, only Vista i dont touch at all, ’cause its eat-up too many resources compared to Win7.

  • http://www.bridge-city-marketing.com/blog/ Jesse

    Wow, thanks for the trip down memory lane. I started with good ol’ DOS, and moved into each version of windows as they came live. We’ve come a long way baby!

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