The History of Windows: A timeline

As information begins to emerge about Windows 9, and the venerable Windows XP finally approaches the end of its extended support lifetime, we examine the long and complex history of Microsoft's operating system.
Written by Charles McLellan, Senior Editor

Windows — originally codenamed 'Interface Manager' — was announced by Bill Gates in 1983, but didn't ship until 20 November 1985. Its first incarnation was as a front end for Microsoft's command-line DOS (Disk Operating System). Windows 1.0 could only support tiled windows, but had desktop features such as MS-DOS Executive (DOS file manager), Calendar, Cardfile, Notepad, Terminal, Calculator and Clock. Utilities included RAMDrive (for managing memory cards designed to beat the PC's 640KB memory limit), Clipboard and Print Spooler. There was even a game, Reversi. In a 'special introductory offer', Windows 1.0 came with Windows Write and Windows Paint and cost $99. The minimum system requirements for Windows 1.0 were: MS-DOS version 2.0; two double-sided floppy disk drives or a hard disk; 256KB of memory or greater; and a graphics adapter card.

Fast forward to 2014, and Windows is still very much with us, subjects of the moment being how organisations should handle the end of extended support for the 2001-vintage Windows XP, and Microsoft's developing plans for Windows 9, codenamed Threshold.

Windows, 1985-2014

There has been a plethora of Windows versions since 1985, many of which will have played memorable roles in ZDNet readers' computing experience, at work and at home. During this time it has progressed from a simple DOS shell to a mature OS running everything from smartphones to datacentres. Whether you're a fan of Microsoft's platform, an implacable opponent, or an agnostic user simply trying to get stuff done, there's a lot of computing history wrapped up in the evolution of Windows.

For more detail on the many incarnations of Windows from 1985 to 2014, explore our Dipity timeline at the top of the page, and see how many you remember using — Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs anyone? My first sighting of Windows, incidentally, was in 1988, when version 2.x runtime came with Aldus PageMaker 3.0. Do let us know if you've used Windows right from the start — and also if there's anything significant missing from our timeline (note that we have not included the Windows CE family).

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