Windows: A Retrospective
More than nine out of 10 computers run some version of Windows. But no one could have predicted that would be the case when Windows 1.0 launched 25 years ago as a graphical front end for MS-DOS. Here's a look at Windows through the years and some thoughts on what the future might hold.
Windows 1.0: Where it Begins
An outgrowth of MS-DOS, Microsoft announced Windows in 1983 and finally released it on Nov. 20, 1985. (See related story.) System requirements for the 16-bit Windows 1.0 included MS-DOS version 2.0, two double-sided disk drives or a hard disk, a graphics-adapter card, and at least 256K of memory. Although this first version was a little-used alternative to Apple's Macintosh, Microsoft actually continued to offer support for Windows 1.0 until Dec. 31, 2001, a few months after the release of Windows XP.
Windows 2.0: Overlapping windows, better graphics, more memory - Released November 1987
"Windows 2.0 took advantage of the improved processing speed of the Intel 286 processor, expanded memory, and inter-application communication capabilities made possible through Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE)," Microsoft says in a history of Windows. "With improved graphics support, users could now overlap windows, control screen layout, and use keyboard combinations to move rapidly through Windows operations." Windows 2.0 was later updated to harness the protected mode and memory advantages in the Intel 386 processor.
Windows 3.0: Popularity Rises - Released May 22, 1990
Windows gained popularity with version 3.0, which had an overhauled graphical user interface with an improved set of Windows icons and graphics in 16 colors. In addition to improving memory management, Microsoft completely rewrote the application development environment. "The popularity of Windows 3.0 grew with the release of a new Windows software development kit (SDK), which helped software developers focus more on writing applications and less on writing device drivers," Microsoft says. Windows 3.0 also included that classic time-waster, Solitaire, and September 1990 saw the release of Microsoft Office for Windows, a bundle including Word, Excel and PowerPoint. (Microsoft Office for Macintosh had been announced a year earlier).
Windows NT 3.1: Bill Gates hails 'fundamental change' - Release July 27, 1993
NT stood for "new technology," and Bill Gates called the updated OS "a fundamental change in the way that companies can address their business computing requirements." NT 3.1 was a 32-bit operating system that "included a preemptive multitasking scheduler for Windows–based applications, integrated networking, domain server security, OS/2 and POSIX subsystems, support for multiple processor architectures, and the NTFS file system," Microsoft says. The NT generation also saw the release of Windows NT Advanced Server, which later gave way to Microsoft's lucrative Windows Server business. Another advancement: Windows for Workgroups, which made Windows-based PCs network-aware for the first time.
Windows 95: MS-DOS fades away - Aug. 24, 1995
MS-DOS was pushed further under the covers in Windows 95 as the graphical user interface became even more prominent. Microsoft, in fact, calls Windows 95 the "successor" to MS-DOS and Windows 3.1, although MS-DOS was still there as an underlying component of the operating system. With built-in Internet capabilities, state-of-the-art dial-up networking, "and new plug and play capabilities that made it easy for users to install hardware and software," Windows 95 sold a whopping 1 million copies in just four days and 7 million in one year. Apple's market share began to decline. Internet Explorer 1, by the way, was released in August 1995.
Windows 98: Microsoft Targets Consumers, Adds IE - June 25, 1998
"The first version of Windows designed specifically for consumers," according to Microsoft, Windows 98 made it easier to find information on the Internet and on the PC itself. Support for DVDs and USB devices was added, and "it is also the first operating system to include Windows Update, a tool that tells customers when software updates become available for their computers."
Windows 2000 Professional - Feb. 17, 2000
Targeted at business users, Windows 2000 supported mobile computing and "simplified hardware installation by adding support for a wide variety of new Plug and Play hardware, including advanced networking and wireless products, USB devices, IEEE 1394 devices, and infrared devices," Microsoft says. Microsoft touted Windows 2000 security features at the time of release, but the rise of the Internet led to a new wave of attacks and Windows 2000 was frequently patched until Microsoft killed support for the OS in July 2010.
Windows Millennium Edition - Sept. 14, 2000
The last OS to rely on the Windows 95 code base, Windows Me targeted home users with music, video and home networking improvements, while providing a System Restore function making it possible to roll PC software back to a previous configuration when a problem occurs. Windows Me was the first version to include Windows Media Player and Windows Movie Maker software for basic video editing. Windows Me was not a replacement for Windows 2000 -- rather, it was a consumer-focused counterpart to Windows 2000 Professional.
Windows XP: Market Share Behemoth - Oct. 25, 2001
Windows 2000 and Me were quickly succeeded by Windows XP, which merged the operating system product lines for consumers and businesses and is still by far the most widely used desktop OS. XP still runs on more than more than half of computers more than nine years after release, although usage is declining in response to Windows 7 deployments. Despite frequent security problems, Windows XP Professional became the de facto operating system for most business users with updated versions of Microsoft Office as well as "remote desktop support, an encrypting file system, system restore and advanced networking features."
Windows Vista: The Marketing Flop - Jan. 30, 2007
Vista was a marketing flop, with even Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitting that it "was just not executed well." Vista was widely criticized for privacy, security and performance issues, as well as media copyright restrictions, and most businesses opted to stick with XP. But Microsoft managed to sell more than 100 million Vista licenses in its first year of availability. Most vendors would kill for that kind of failure. Microsoft, for its part, boasts that Vista featured "an updated graphical user interface, a redesigned search function, multimedia tools including Windows DVD Maker, and redesigned networking, audio, print and display subsystems," and support diagnostics.
Windows 7: Microsoft Gets it Right - Oct. 22, 2009
With Windows 7, Microsoft seems to have nailed it. Two-hundred-forty-million licenses were sold in the first year of availability, making it the fastest selling OS in history. Although Windows XP still has the highest market share, Windows 7 has already surpassed Vista and IT pros surveyed by Forrester Research say that within one year 83% of new corporate PCs will be powered by Windows 7. Windows 7 has been described by reviewers as more user-friendly than Vista, and perhaps more secure with new features such as AppLocker to control which applications run on a corporate network, BitLocker To Go, which encrypts USB flash drives and portable storage devices, and wider use of fingerprint logins. It's available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions.
Windows 8 and Beyond
To succeed another 25 years, Microsoft Windows will have to contend with immediate threats such as Apple's iPad, and long-term trends such as the rise of cloud services that replace some aspects of desktop computing, and virtualization software that could potentially reduce the importance of the operating system. But Microsoft is already planning Windows 8, with a possible release in 2012. Windows 8 will likely be optimized for iPad-like tablets, be portable across devices, include access to an app store, and take advantage of PC advances such as microphones, cameras, GPS, accelerometers, and temperature and magnetic sensors. Facial recognition, anyone? Stay tuned.
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