Windows 1.0 — November 1985
In the beginning was the
MS-DOS Executive. That was the name of a small program that ran on top
of MS-DOS 3, let you zip around lists of filenames, and run one by
pressing Enter or clicking on its name with a mouse, lightpen or
joystick. MS-DOS Executive had a scroll bar along the bottom. It had
one colour scheme, seemingly borrowed from the flag of a small
equatorial republic. It had a tiny selection of applications included —
MS-Write, Notepad, Calendar, Reversi, Paint — and a control panel that
let you load a new printer driver. There wasn't much else to control:
graphics topped out at 640x350 pixels and 16 colours, there was no
audio, networking, virtual memory or, well, anything.
Nonetheless, it got a cautious welcome. The bundled applications
stood up well against their equivalents, especially at the all-in price
of around £70, and the multitasking worked — after a fashion. It was
very crude with no way to stop any application taking as much time as
it liked and starving the others, but it did work well enough to
effectively kill off the eight other multitasking DOS add-ons that were
around at the time. Likewise the windowing system was hopelessly
restricted by any modern standard — it only let windows tile against
each other with no overlap. There weren't many of them.
There was one third-party Windows application at launch and for some
time thereafter: In-A-Vision, by Micrographx. A CAD program, it shipped
with a run-time version of Windows months before Windows itself was
separately available. It cost thousands of dollars but was still seen
as the best going for the price — and there was always that rumour that
Micrographx was working on something a little more mainstream.
First use of: Virtually nothing. Graphics, menus, pointers
and multitasking applications were all innovations in the MS-DOS world
when announced in 1983, but had all appeared in other forms by the
software's arrival in 1985.
Mainstream use of: The word
'vapourware'. Back then, a two year delay between announcement and
launch was generally seen as eighteen months too long. Little did we
Last use of: an operating system that, when loaded, used less than 200k of memory.
Windows 2.0 — December 1987
[? /*CMS poll(20004068) */
?]This was more like it. Icons, overlapping windows and better DOS
application support might look like minor innovations from the
hindsight of 2005, but they were big news in a world where the Apple
Macintosh was starting to make a cult of itself. Still only 16 colours
— the total multimedia support — which caused raucous laughter among
the Amiga owners (They may yet be able to raise a chortle with
Microsoft's excitement over transparent windows in Vista).
The really exciting thing, and one that made Windows 2.0 strictly an
interim product, was the announcement of Microsoft OS/2 — an operating
system that provided "the power of minicomputer systems" to PCs. And it
was more than just that — it was the next stage in Microsoft's
partnership with IBM. "With IBM's announcement of the availability of
IBM Operating System/2(TM) to end-users in the first quarter of 1988,
this toolkit will be extremely important to developers," said Steven
Ballmer, vice-president of systems...
For more, click here...
...software for Microsoft. Yes, he was there. So was an outfit
called SCO (no, not that SCO), which had provided Microsoft with their
latest Unix, also announced at the same time — Xenix/386.
announcements saw an early use of Microsoft's trademark approach to
awkward questions: "How much does the SDK cost? Microsoft will be
licensing the MS OS/2 SDK for $3,000 a copy. Why is the SDK so
expensive? The SDK is not expensive." That's the way to quieten
troublesome punters, especially those who might be a bit upset that the
SDK didn't include a copy of the operating system on which to run the
code they wrote — because it wasn't finished yet. It did have 'over a
thousand pages' of interface specification, though, at a "not
expensive" $3 a page.
There was also a fanfare for
Microsoft OS/2 LAN Manager, which would provide 'advanced network
administration tools', 'high performance', 'advanced user security',
'open architecture', and support for 'important network programming
standards' such as NetBIOS and DOS 3.1 networking extensions. TCP/IP
was not seen as important enough — nor would it until Windows 95, still
seven years away — which meant a lot of people would have to learn that
Trumpet Winsock was not in fact the Congolese Football Federation's
player of the year.
First use of: overlapping windows, extended memory, 3.5 inch floppies.
Mainstream use of: applications that ran with Windows but didn't come with their own copy.
Last use of: Microsoft Tiles nickname.
Windows/386 — December 1987
and Windows 2.0 came to life at the same time as everyone was
discovering the joys of networking, together with a rapidly diverging
selection of motherboard, graphics and other interface cards. They also
had the first real wave of significant applications software — and the
potential combinations created problem after problem after problem.
This was exacerbated by Windows/386's first attempts at 'proper'
multitasking, which used the 80386 chip's ability to create virtual
8086s to let multiple copies of DOS run at once — and no worries about
licences. In labs, offices and homes across the land, people looked in
awe as two, three or even four MS-DOS boxes loaded, ran and crashed
simultaneously. Rather unfairly, the Windows component itself — in
effect, Windows 2 — looked to the processor like a single piece of
software running in its own space, so Windows applications still had to
duke it out for system resources.
Microsoft was proud to
claim 'patented techniques' for switching between different system
modes in these versions of Windows, although observers at the
conferences where these were revealed were less than impressed.
First use of: virtualization as a promised panacea for system limitations.
Mainstream use of: online postings starting "I've got a problem with Windows", usually in threads containing no other messages.
End of: any attempt to pretend that the 80286 wasn't an evolutionary mistake
For Windows 3.0, and beyond, click here...
Windows 3.0 — May 1990
This was the true beginning of
Windows as the thundering juggernaut which ate the world — and it came
on a mere six floppies. With 3.0, Microsoft saw sales go above
10,000,000, enough Windows machines that there was no need for a
stand-alone version to ship with applications. It had networks, it had
more than 16 colours, it had the Program Manager and File Manager with
folders and everything, it had a lot more in common with the promised
Microsoft OS/2 than, well, OS/2 as it actually existed. Over the next
couple of years, relations between IBM and Microsoft would sour to the
extent that IBM would take over OS/2 and Microsoft would go its own way
with Windows NT: the success of Windows 3.0 has been blamed as the
catalyst for this.
But that success was heady. People started to ask questions like
"When will Oracle work with Windows 3.0?" Others said "It's as fast as
OS/2, it's as easy to use as a Macintosh, and it's got more
applications than both put together: this might just work, you know".
The few who complained, saying "What's all this about real mode,
standard mode and 386 Enhanced mode?" were politely ignored. There was
something called the 'multimedia extensions' that sometimes worked with
your CD-ROM, and people started to get strangely excited by that. And
there was something called WIN32.DLL which ran 32-bit software, if it
ever found any.
First use of: wallpaper. It actually slowed your
system down, it sucked out productivity as people spent hours trying
out new pictures and swapping pictures of the Space Shuttle with each
other, it was and is insanely popular.
Mainstream use of: multitasking without the expectation of immediate system collapse.
Last use of:
Manuals. With the new Windows help system, Windows 3.0 began the long
and miserable march to giant software packages shipping with total
paperwork of a sixteen page, forty-two language booklet showing how to
insert a CD.
Windows 3.1 — April 1992
The Windows world machine was in
full effect now. Proper built-in multimedia support, scalable fonts,
much more robust multitasking that let you shut down one errant
application without upsetting the others. It still ran on top of
MS-DOS, but in practice used that venerable fossil as a boot loader to
be largely ignored thereafter. SDK price down from $3000 to $300, while
the document page count was up from 1000 to 11,000: you don't want to
be off developing for that OS/2 now, do you?
There was also Windows 3.1 for Workgroups, which came with more
network support — but no, sir, not IP. No call for it. Not really a
standard, not for proper businesses. This proved so unpopular that it
quickly got the name Windows for Warehouses, as these were the only
places where one could find much evidence of an installation — and then
it was more in the sense of modern art.
[? /*CMS poll(20004069) */ ?]Windows 3.1 shared its APIs with the
to-be-launched Windows NT, letting people develop software that was
easy to adapt for either system. It had a high level of compatibility.
What it wasn't was Windows 4.0, which at one point had been due to hit
the world around now. That was going to be a combined Windows 3.x and
NT, combining the two strands into one platform that supported multiple
processors, DOS, 16 and 32 bit applications, networking, corporate and
home requirements, and so on.
First use of: The Internet, which was spilling out
of the universities and research labs and into the home, where it found
Windows asleep in front of the fire.
Mainstream use of: Guns, rockets, plasma bolts and spells. PC gaming and Windows were learning to get on.
Last use of:
DR-DOS, with whom Windows refused point blank to run. That wasn't fair,
but by the time this is decided DR-DOS is in the open source afterlife.
For 95 and beyond, click here...
Windows 95 — August 1995
Windows 95 was a stand-alone operating system for the first time, a
curious hybrid that looked more revolutionary than it was. It shared a
lot with Windows NT, but maintained a lot more compatibility with
earlier programs than NT at the expense of reliability and security —
the trade-off that fatally poisoned the original Windows 4.0 idea.
But it did have a lot that recognised the changing role of
computing. It had proper Internet support. It had much better
multimedia. It had long filenames. It had a user interface that to old
hands looked revoltingly twee and condescending — "My Computer"
attracting nauseated comparisons with My Little Pony. It had animated
characters, which didn't help, especially as they seemed to be
associated with features like Search which were most in need of being
fixed rather than Disneyfied. However, once you dug down you soon found
a lot of the old Windows ways sheltering under the sugar, and the
greybeards soon settled down happily as they found that newbies
Windows 95 went through various modifications — 95 OSR2, 98, 98SE,
Me — which gradually added support for bigger disks, USB, DVDs
(although never to the extent that they could play one without
third-party extras), video editing, and frequently extra problems with
reliability (Me in particular gained a reputation for ladling a bit too
much onto a shaky infrastructure.)
First use of: Wireless data. The ubiquity of the
Windows platform and the first sniff of broadband creates a mass market
for what had been the most obscure and nerd-laden sector of industrial
Mainstream use of: Email. The Web
revolution is kicking off, but the main driver for Windows into the
homes of people who wouldn't have computers otherwise is an application
that predates even MS-DOS.
Last use of: Netscape,
which Windows put to sleep by the simple expedient of bundling its own
'absolutely essential to the operating system' browser. This wasn't
fair, but by the time this is decided Netscape is in the open-source
afterlife. Or is it...
Windows XP — October 2001
poll(20004070) */ ?]Finally, Windows 4.0. One Windows that combines NT,
2000, 9X and all stations in between. One Windows that presented a
single, united face to the world. One Windows that came in two flavours
initially, Home and Professional. Then there was the Tablet edition,
Embedded — although not Windows CE, which was embedded and different,
Media Center edition, .NET Server 2003 and its spawn, the 64bit
versions of some of the above, and... you get the picture. And if you
don't, take a look at Éric Lévénez 's incredibly detailed timeline.
First use of: Open source. Netscape is back from the afterlife, and it's brought some friends.
Mainstream use of:
Absolutely everything that can be squeezed into digits. Windows is at
the heart of downloading, file swapping, home digital media and so on,
but those darn kids just won't play the game and bow the knee to Bill.
Last use of:
DOS. It's still in there, but when was the last time you opened the
box? Next time round, proper command lines and scripting languages will
excise the last remnants of the days of the MS-DOS Executive.