Evolution of Microsoft’s Windows OS from Windows 1.0 to Windows 10

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Windows 1.0 to 10: The changing face of Microsoft’s landmark Windows operating system

Microsoft, the leader in software and operating system was founded in 1975 by Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Over the years, the company has managed to become a computer software giant. In its early years, Microsoft got excellent response from the market, ever since the products and services have started to replace the extensive human labour.

Microsoft Windows has seen nine major versions since its first release in 1985. Over the last three decades, Windows looks very different but somehow familiar with elements that have survived the test of time, increases in computing power and – most recently – a shift from the keyboard and mouse to the touchscreen.

This article will provide you a brief look at the history of all Windows OS versions from Windows 1.0 to Windows 10.

Windows 1.0

The first independent version of Microsoft Windows, version 1.0, released on November 20, 1985, achieved little popularity. The project was briefly codenamed “Interface Manager” before the windowing system was developed. Windows 1.0 was not a complete operating system, but rather an “operating environment” that extended MS-DOS.

The first version of Microsoft Windows included Simple Word Processor, Appointment Calendar, Cardfile, Notepad, Clock, Terminal, and Clipboard. It also included the MS-DOS Executive and a game called Reversi. In a special introductory offer, Windows 1.0 came with Windows Write and Windows Paint and cost $99.

Utilities included RAM drive, for managing memory cards designed to beat the PC’s 640KB memory limit, Clipboard and Print Spooler.

Windows 2.0

Microsoft Windows version 2 came out on December 9, 1987, and proved slightly more popular than its predecessor. Much of the popularity for Windows 2.0 came by way of its inclusion as “run-time version” with Microsoft’s new graphical applications, Excel and Word for Windows. They could be run from MS-DOS, executing Windows for the duration of their activity, and closing down Windows upon exit.

Windows version 2 introduced overlapping windows and supported 16-colour VGA graphics. It marked the debut of the Control Panel and Program Information Files, or PIFs that told Windows how to run DOS applications.

Like Windows 1.0, version 2.0 could run on a dual-floppy-drive PC without a hard disk. Since, version 2.0 used the real-mode memory model, the memory was confined to a maximum of 1MB.

Windows 3.0

Windows 3.0 released on May 22, 1990, improved capabilities given to native applications. Thanks to the introduction of virtual memory, it also allowed users to better multitask older MS-DOS based software compared to Windows/386.

Program Manager and File Manager made their first appearance here, along with a redesigned Control Panel and Solitaire — a Windows staple to this day. Thanks to Windows 3.0’s support for 256-colour VGA, it brought a more modern, colourful look to the interface. Also, it was the first version to include the popular game “Solitaire”.

Windows 3.1

This version was released on March 18, 1992 and had features similar to its predecessor. Windows 3.1 required 1MB of RAM to run and allowed supported MS-DOS programs to be controlled with a mouse for the first time. It was a stand-alone OS, not MS-DOS based such as all previous versions.

Windows 3.1 was also the first Windows to be distributed on a CD-ROM, even though once installed on a hard drive it only took up 10 to 15MB (a CD can typically store up to 700MB). Minesweeper also made its first appearance.

Windows NT 3.1

Introduced on July 27, 1993, Windows NT was built to create a successor to Microsoft’s ill-fated OS/2. It was designed under the leadership of ex-DEC software engineer Dave Cutler as a fully 32-bit pre-emptive multitasking, multithreaded, multiprocessing, multiuser operating system with a hybrid kernel and a hardware abstraction layer to facilitate porting between processor platforms.

It was initially developed for the Intel i860, whose N-Ten codename gave NT its name, even though later marketing-led revisionism changed this to New Technology. NT variants have appeared on many CPU architectures, including IA-32, x86-64, Alpha, MIPS, PowerPC, ARM and Itanium. Its code base still underpins the current generation of Windows operating systems.

Windows 95

As the name implies, Windows 95 arrived on August 24, 1995 that brought the first ever Start button and Start menu with an unprecedented marketing push using the Rolling Stones song Start Me Up.

Windows 95 was a consumer-oriented hybrid 32-bit/16-bit OS with a brand-new user interface. It focused on multi-tasking and saw the introduction of Task Bar. It introduced the concept of “plug and play” automatic device detection and configuration. MS-DOS still played an important role for Windows 95, which required it to run some programmes and elements.

Internet Explorer also made its debut on Windows 95, but was not installed by default requiring the Windows 95 Plus! pack. Later revisions of Windows 95 included IE by defau
lt, as Netscape Navigator and NCSA Mosaic were popular at the time.

Windows NT 4.0

Microsoft released Windows NT 4.0 to manufacturing on July 29, 1996. Available in Workstation and Server versions at launch, and followed by Server, Enterprise Edition in 1997 and Terminal Server in 1998, Windows NT 4.0 added the Windows 95 user interface to the fully 32-bit, business-oriented NT operating system.

NT 4.0 saw a number of architectural improvements under the surface. The Graphics Device Interface, or GDI, in particular, was moved into kernel mode, giving a important performance boost over NT 3.5x, even though this also required graphics and printer drivers to be updated. NT 4.0 was also the first Windows version to support the DirectX multimedia API.

Windows 98

Released on June 25, 1998, Windows 98 was even more consumer-friendly than its predecessor Windows 95. It brought with it IE 4, Outlook Express, Windows Address Book, Microsoft Chat, NetShow, Quick Launch toolbar, Active Desktop, and the ability to minimise a window by clicking its toolbar icon. Among other things, Windows 98 introduced the back and forward navigation buttons and the address bar in Windows Explorer. One of the biggest changes was the introduction of the Windows Driver Model for computer components and accessories – one driver to support all future versions of Windows.

On May 29, 1999, an improved version of Windows 98 was released, the Windows 98 SE (second edition) which fixed many issues with Windows 98, had improved USB support, which led to its widespread adoption, including USB hubs and USB mice. It also included newer versions of Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player.

Windows 2000

Microsoft released Windows 2000 on February 17, 2000. Built on the Windows NT 4.0 code base and designed to replace both NT 4.0 and Windows 98, Windows 2000 included plug-and-play capabilities with full ACPI and WDM support, plus many features from the Windows 98/98 SE product line. There were several Windows 2000 editions for servers and one for regular computers.

New across all Windows 2000 editions were NTFS 3.0, the Encrypting File System (EFS), Logical Disk Manager, an LDAP/Active Directory-enabled Address Book and the Microsoft Management Console (MMC). Windows File Protection prevented unauthorised programs from modifying critical system files.

Microsoft’s automatic updating played an important role in Windows 2000 and became the first Windows to support hibernation.

Windows ME (Millennium)

On September 24, 2000, Microsoft released a successor to Windows 98 called Windows ME, short for “Millennium Edition”, which was regarded as one of the worst Windows versions ever released. Windows ME was conceived as a quick one-year project that served as a stopgap release between Windows 98 and Windows XP. It was the last DOS-based operating system from Microsoft.

Unlike Windows 95 and 98, it lacked real-mode DOS support. However, it include the useful System Restore feature, a recovery utility that enables the operating system to revert system files back to a prior date and time. IE 5.5, Windows Media Player 7 and Windows Movie Maker all made their appearance for the first time. Autocomplete also appeared in Windows Explorer, but Windows ME was infamous for being buggy, and crash-prone. It was quickly superseded by the far superior NT-based Windows XP.

Windows XP

Undoubtedly, one of the best Windows versions, Windows XP was released on October 25, 2001 that brought Microsoft’s enterprise line and consumer line of operating systems under one roof.



NT-based Windows XP came in several editions: Home, Professional, Media Center, and Tablet PC Edition. The Start menu and task bar got a visual overhaul, bringing the familiar green Start button, blue task bar and vista wallpaper, along with various shadow and other visual effects.

ClearType, which was designed to make text easier to read on LCD screens, was introduced, as were built-in CD burning, autoplay from CDs and other media, plus various automated update and recovery tools, that unlike Windows ME actually worked.

The initial release of Windows XP was met with considerable criticism, particularly in the area of security, leading to the release of three major Service Packs. Windows XP SP1 was released in September 2002, SP2 came out in August 2004 and SP3 came out in April 2008. Service Pack 2 provided significant improvements and encouraged widespread adoption of XP among both home and business users.

However, Windows XP lasted longer as Microsoft’s flagship operating system than any other version of Windows, from October 25, 2001 to January 30, 2007 when it was “succeeded” by Windows Vista.

Windows Server 2003

Released on April 24, 2003, it was meant to be the server edition of Windows XP. The server version of Windows XP came in Web, Standard, Enterprise, and Datacenter editions, and succeeded the respective editions of Windows Server 2000. It introduced a new “Manage Your Server” wizard that simplifies configuring a machine for specific roles, and improved performance.

Other key new features included Active Directory enhancements, version 6.0 of the IIS web server, a backup and restore system, plus improved disk management, better Group Policy handling and administration, and enhanced scripting and command-line tools.

Windows Vista

Consumer versions of Windows Vista released on January 30, 2007 intended to have enhanced security by introducing a new restricted user mode called User Account Control, replacing the “administrator-by-default” philosophy of Windows XP. Unfortunately, Vista was the target of much criticism and negative press for not working well with programs and devices that had worked with Windows XP.

The main complaints centred on software compatibility, hardware requirements and performance, security features, and digital rights management.

Longhorn (Vista’s codename) was built on Windows Server 2003 SP1 after a false start on the XP code base, having jettisoned key features such as WinFS. Despite an extensive beta test program, general availability of Vista came too late for the key Christmas 2006 PC-buying period.

Features that did ship included the Aero interface, which with the right hardware displayed transparent windows and other visual effects, and a redesigned Start menu.

Windows Media Player 11 and IE 7 debuted, along with Windows Defender an anti-spyware programme. Vista also included speech recognition, Windows DVD Maker and Photo Gallery, as well as being the first Windows to be distributed on DVD. Later a version of Windows Vista without Windows Media Player was created in response to anti-trust investigations.

Windows Server 2008

Windows Server 2008 was the server version of Windows Vista, which released on February 27, 2008. It included important new features like Network Access Protection (NAP), Server Core, PowerShell and Read-Only Domain Controllers. Existing components such as IIS, Terminal Services and the SMB file-sharing protocol also received thorough overhauls.

NAP checks that PCs connected to the network are compliant with IT policies, and takes appropriate action if they are not. Server Core installs a minimalist GUI and a limited set of server roles, to minimise RAM and patching requirements.

Windows 7

Windows 7 is widely considered as the operating system that Vista should have been. It quickly made inroads into Vista’s and XP’s market share and was the best Windows OS ever. It was intended to fix all the problems and criticism faced by Vista, with slight tweaks to its appearance and a concentration on user-friendly features and less “dialogue box overload”. It was faster, more stable and easier to use, becoming the operating system most users and business would upgrade to from Windows XP, forgoing Vista completely.

Windows 7’s most notable feature was the redesigned taskbar, featuring the translucent Aero look, thumbnail previews with live content, Jump Lists of recently-opened files and Aero Peek for minimising open application windows to view the desktop.

Other features included a windows “snap” option to easily maximize windows and put two side-by-side, handwriting recognition, better multi-touch support, libraries for documents, pictures, videos, etc. Homegroup feature allowed for easy sharing of files and printers between computers on a home network.

The other improvements were a revamped Windows Media Player 12 with internet streaming support, a Device Stage for managing peripherals from one convenient location, fewer User Access Control prompts, faster indexing for the native search, improved touch functionality and a virtualised XP Mode for running legacy applications.

Windows 8

Released on October 26, 2012, Windows 8 was Microsoft’s most essential overhaul of the Windows interface, chucking the Start button and Start menu in favour of a more touch-friendly Start screen.

Microsoft intended Windows 8 (and newer versions) to work not just on regular PCs but also on tablets. This is something they have been trying to do ever since Windows XP. Microsoft even made a tablet of its own called Surface.

Windows 8 came in three 32-bit and 64-bit x86 editions: Windows 8, W8 Pro and W8 Enterprise – plus a fourth, Windows RT for ARM-based systems. The Enterprise edition was only available to Software Assurance customers, and included the Windows To Go feature for creating secure bootable USB flash drives. Pro and Enterprise, which can join Active Directory domains, were the business-oriented editions.

Windows 8 features a redesigned user interface, designed to make it easier for touchscreen devices such as tablets and laptop/tablet hybrids to use Windows. The interface introduced an updated Start menu known as the Start screen, and a new full-screen application platform.

The Windows Store, which offers universal Windows apps that run in a full-screen mode only, was introduced. Programs could still be installed from third-parties like other iterations of Windows, but they could only access the traditional desktop interface of Windows.

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 was released on October 17, 2013, which re-introduced the Start button that brought up the Start screen from the desktop view of Windows 8.1. You can also go straight to the desktop on login, and configure the desktop Start button or Windows key to go to the Apps page rather than the Start screen. This was more suitable for those using a desktop computer with a mouse and keyboard than the touch-focused Start screen.

Windows 8.1 is available as an update in the Windows store only for Windows 8 users and also available to download for clean installation.

Other new features in Windows 8.1 include enhanced search, more bundled Windows Store apps, the ability to display and use up to four apps side by side, deeper SkyDrive integration and a redesigned Windows Store.

Windows 10

Windows 10 is the current release of the Microsoft Windows operating system. Unveiled on September 30, 2014, it was released on July 29, 2015. A number of new features like Cortana virtual personal assistant (previously introduced with Windows Phone 8.1), the Microsoft Edge (a new default web browser), Windowed Windows Store apps, Virtual desktops/Task View, Action Center, Revamped core apps, The Xbox app, Continuum, Unified settings, and more first appeared in this latest edition.

Microsoft Edge is the new web browser of Windows 10, which is specially designed to be a lightweight web browser. Windows 10 is available in seven editions in total: Home, Mobile, Pro, Enterprise, Education, Mobile Enterprise and IoT Core. Users of ‘qualifying’ Windows 7, 8.1 and Phone 8.1 devices will be able to upgrade to the appropriate Windows 10 versions for free within a year of the launch, and will receive updates and security patches as they are released, in a scheme Microsoft calls ‘Windows as a service’.

It includes improved support for biometric technologies (Windows Hello) and DirectX 12/WDDM 2.0 for improved graphics and gaming functionality.

More generally, Windows 10 is designed to be a unifying release in which ‘universal’ apps, with appropriate UI behaviours, run on a wide range of platforms: embedded systems, smartphones, tablets, hybrid tablet/laptops, laptops, desktops and games consoles, as well as new hardware categories such as large-screen collaboration/presentation systems (Surface Hub) and AR/VR headsets (HoloLens).

5 COMMENTS

  1. There is also Server 2008 R2, a major overhaul from regular 2008. It was built off Windows 7 rather than Vista. Also Server 2012 and the R2 update.

  2. No mention of Windows 10 incredibly intrusive user monitoring? (aka spying)

    With friends like Microsoft, who worries about the NSA?!!!

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