• Windows NT Note
  • Windows 2000
  • Windows XP Home Edition
  • Windows XP Professional Edition
  • Windows XP Media Center Edition
  • Windows XP Tablet PC Edition
  • Windows XP Professional x64 Edition
  • Windows Server 2003
  • Windows Vista
  • 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.

    Windows NT

    Note: For security and support reasons, UITS recommends using Windows 2000 Professional or Windows XP Professional, rather than NT Workstation 4.0, on Indiana University's network. Microsoft retired both mainstream and extended support for this version in June 2004, which means security updates are no longer being developed. For more information, see Microsoft's Windows Desktop Product Lifecycle Guidelines page at:


    Windows NT is a separate product from Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Windows 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 offered the following new features:

    • 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 Windows NT 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 (MMC)

    • 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 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 was the replacement for both the 95/98 and NT families of Windows. Based on the same code used to create Windows 2000, XP came in two workstation versions at launch: Home and Professional. Both versions incorporate the features of Windows 2000. Since its original release, three new editions of Windows XP have been released. These include Media Center Edition, Tablet PC Edition, and XP Professional x64 (64-bit) Edition.

    Note: If you want to upgrade an older version of Windows to XP, 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. For instructions, see the Knowledge Base document How do I install Windows XP?

    Windows XP Home Edition

    Windows XP Home Edition was the replacement for Windows 95, 98, and Me.

    Some of the new features that Windows XP Home Edition offered 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 was the replacement for Windows NT and 2000. In addition to the features of Home Edition, it added new features to improve networking and task efficiency:

    • 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

    Windows XP Media Center Edition

    Windows XP Media Center Edition extends many of the enhanced multimedia capabilities available in Windows XP Professional. Media Center Edition is a superset of Windows XP that incorporates a fully functional Windows XP computing environment and enhances the computer for home entertainment. Media Center Edition is not available for retail sale; instead, it is available only with the purchase of a new Media Center PC from a Microsoft computer manufacturer partner.

    Windows XP Tablet PC Edition

    Windows XP Tablet PC Edition offers enhanced computing capabilities in a mobile computing environment. It runs only on a Tablet PC and is not available for retail sale. Tablet PC Edition uses Windows XP Professional as a base, making it possible to run Windows XP-compatible applications.

    Windows XP Professional x64 Edition

    This Windows XP 64-bit edition was designed to address the needs of high-performance computing applications. It features:

    • Support for up to 16GB of RAM and 16TB of virtual memory

    • Integration for both 64-bit and 32-bit applications, allowing you to run 32-bit applications designed for other versions of Windows XP

    • Support for the same programming model as the 32-bit Windows environment, allowing programmers to develop applications for Windows XP Professional x64 Edition without learning a new environment

    Windows Server 2003

    Windows Server 2003 was released as an upgrade to Windows 2000 Server. Additional features in Windows Server 2003 include:

    • Increased dependability

    • Built-in support for web services

    • Common language runtime reduces the number of bugs and security holes caused by common programming mistakes

    • Increased security for Internet connections

    • Support for both 32-bit and 64-bit processors (depending on the version)

    • Symmetric multi-processing support for up to 64 processors

    • Support for up to 512GB of RAM

    There are several different versions of Windows 2003 Server: Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, Datacenter Edition, Web Edition, and Small Business Server 2003.

    Windows Vista

    Released in 2007, Windows Vista is not an upgrade to Windows XP, but an entirely new operating system. Some of the many new features of Vista include:

    • Updated graphical user interface called Windows Aero

    • Improved search

    • Redesigned networking, audio, print, and display systems

    • New multimedia creation tools

    • Improvements in peer-to-peer technology

    • Security enhancements

    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.

    Also see:

    • What is Microsoft Windows NT?

    • In Windows 95, 98, Me, NT, 2000, and XP, how do long filenames translate into short filenames?

    • What is OLE?

    • What are the Windows 98 and Windows 98SE system and hard disk requirements?

    • What is Microsoft Windows 95?

    • What is the difference between Windows 95 and Windows 98?

    • In Windows NT 4.0, 2000, and XP, is it possible to access FAT32 partitions?

    • What is the difference between 16-bit and 32-bit Windows applications?

    • What are the system requirements for Windows 2000?

    • Windows 2000 and XP Professional for users of Windows 95, 98, or Me

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