What is the history of Microsoft Windows

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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 dialog boxes, as used on the Xerox Star.

Versions of Microsoft Windows discussed in this document:

  • Windows 1.0

  • Windows 2.0

  • Windows/386

  • Windows 3.0

  • Windows 3.1

  • Windows 95

  • Windows 98

  • Windows Me

  • Windows NT

  • Windows 2000

  • Windows XP

  • Windows Server 2003

  • Windows Vista

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 was available to the consumer market (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 graphics

  • 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 were the major changes from earlier versions of Windows:

  • Overlapping windows

  • PIF files for DOS applications


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 were 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 .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 were 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 were:

  • 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 dial-up support

  • New 32-bit driver model

Windows 98

Windows 98 was released as an upgrade to Windows 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 MSN TV)

  • 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 (ICS)

  • 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 replaced Windows Me with Windows XP, described below.

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What is the history of Microsoft Windows

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