Microsoft's Windows NT 4.0 launched 20 years ago this week

Microsoft's original server operating system, Windows NT, and specifically the 4.0 release of that product, hit RTM 20 years ago. Wow, I feel old.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Sunday July 31 marks 20 years since Microsoft launched Windows NT 4.0.


On July 31, 1996, Microsoft released NT 4.0 to manufacturing. It was generally available as of August 24 that year.

NT 4.0 wasn't the first version of Microsoft's NT operating system; that honor went to NT 3.1, which Microsoft launched in July 1993. There are a few different stories as to why Microsoft named the operating system "NT," but over time, the most common story was that NT stood for "New Technology." Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Dave Cutler wrote the NT core.

But NT 4.0 was the last major release of Windows to support the Alpha, MIPS and PowerPC architectures. It also was the last release in the NT line to include the "NT" branding.

There were a number of NT variants, including a Windows NT 4.0 Workstation client OS. (Interestingly, there are rumors circulating that Microsoft might possibly be introducing a Workstation version of Windows Server 2016, though I haven't been able to get any kind of believable confirmation of that -- so far.)

NT 4.0 also came in Server, Terminal Server and Embedded editions. In the time since its initial release, Windows NT morphed to become Windows Server.

As an anniversary page for the operating system that Microsoft made available today notes, the server team added Active Directory, Group Policy, .NET support and more to what debuted as the NT core. The 2003 R2 Server release, released in 2005, provided the foundation for Microsoft to build Azure, Microsoft's cloud operating system.

I have (somewhat) fond memories of NT 4, as it was the operating system that helped launched my career as a full-time Microsoft watcher at PCWeek (now eWeek). I started at PCWeek as a dedicated Unix reporter back in the day. When the former Microsoft reporter there left, I was drafted for that job because (as my editor suggested at the time), "NT is pretty much like Unix" (I guess because both were primarily server operating systems?)

I feel like I've come full circle now that the Windows 10 Anniversary Update will add a Bash shell.and Windows Subsystem for Linux.

The next milestone in the NT/Server family, Windows Server 2016, will launch in late September this year and be available around the beginning of October 2016.

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