The world’s most popular operating system that first launched in the form of Microsoft Windows 1.0 in November of 1985. In the years after that, it quickly became ubiquitous in the world of computing. Today, Windows is used all over the world in dozens of different languages. Following is a brief look at the different versions right up until the platforms that we use today.
Windows 1.0 was one of the first operating systems to provide a graphical user interface and support multitasking (running multiple programs at once). The first version released was Windows 1.01 in November, 1985. A few months later, the operating system was released internationally. At this time, computers typically had memory in the hundreds of kilobytes rather than the gigabytes that we are so used to today. Windows 1.0 slightly resembled other 16-bit operating systems of the time, but it never became very popular.
Released in December, 1987, Windows 2.0 also never became a particularly popular operating system. One of the most significant changes in Windows 2.0 was that application windows could overlap each other. In Window 1.0, by contrast, it was only possible to display windows side by side. Windows 2.0 also introduced many of the keyboard shortcuts that many computer users have used ever since. The operating system also supported 16-colour VGA graphics. Windows 2.0 was the last version of the operating system which could be run entirely from floppy disks without requiring a hard disk. A major update, Windows 2.1, was released in 1988.
Windows 3.0 and 3.1
The third major release of the Windows operating system hit the shelves in May of 1990 and was the first major version of Windows to become popular, rivalling those of Commodore Amiga and Apple Macintosh. Windows 3.0 was a 16-bit operating system and could address a maximum of 16MB of memory. The successor to Windows 3.0 was Windows 3.1, introduced in 1992. It was more of an entirely new operating system than a major update. Windows 3.1 came with more personalization options and support for a wider range of hardware. It was also the first Microsoft operating system to be made available on CD-ROM, although most people continued to install it from floppy disks. One of the most popular operating systems at the time was Windows for Workgroups 3.11. This was widely used in schools, businesses and other organizations right up until the late nineties.
Released in August, 1995, Windows 95 was a complete transformation of the operating system. Windows 95 made the transition to 32-bit, allowing it to address more memory and support more sophisticated 32-bit applications. It also replaced the Program Manager with the taskbar, start menu and desktop that were characteristic of every version of Windows since. Due to the new 32-bit architecture, Windows 95 was also the first version of Windows to allow long file names, whereas previous versions were always restricted to file names of no more than eight letters. Internet Explorer 1.0 was available alongside the release of Windows 95 in the very early days of the Internet. Like its predecessors, Windows 95 ran on top of MS-DOS.
On the surface, Windows 98, released in May, 1998, was quite similar to its predecessor. It had the same 16-bit/32-bit kernel and familiar range of features and abilities. The most significant changes came in its improved networking capabilities and hardware support. It was the first operating system to support the now ubiquitous USB interface. The second edition of the operating system, dubbed Windows 8 SE, was release in 1999 and introduced support for Wake-On-LAN, FireWire and DirectX 6.1. Windows 98 was extremely successful and support did not end for the product until summer of 2006.
Launched in June, 2000, Windows ME shipped with Windows Media Player 7, Windows Movie Maker and Internet Explorer 5.5. It also came with some features which are still found in Windows 8, such as System File Protection, Windows Update and System Restore. Its business-orientated counterpart was the much more stable and successful Windows 2000. Windows ME was based on the same kernel as Windows 2000, and as such, it did not support any older applications which required real mode MS-DOS in order to run. This, among other things, made the operating system quite unpopular, and as a result, it had the shortest shelf life of any major release of Windows.
Introduced in 2001, by far the most noticeable change in Windows XP was the complete overhaul of the desktop. More customizable, more streamlined and much easier on the eye, Windows XP revitalized Microsoft’s line of operating systems after the much-hated Windows ME. Windows XP was entirely built on the NT kernel. It was also the first version of Windows for which there was a 64-bit edition available, although this was never very popular. To this day, Windows XP is still widely used, and it remains one of the world’s most popular embedded operating systems used on hardware such as arcade games and ATMs.
Introducing another radical change to the whole look and feel of Windows, Windows Vista was largely characterized by its new taskbar and window border style, the launch of Windows Aero visual effects and the new sidebar. Many people criticised Windows Vista as an experimental operating system which didn’t get the new changes quite right. It was released in 2007 and only had a shelf life of about two years. Windows Vista launched with Internet Explorer 7, Windows Media Player 11 and a number of other new and improved components. The main focus of the operating system was improved security. Windows Vista was the first Microsoft operating system to be launched with both 16- and 32-bit versions.
Windows 7 succeeded Windows Vista in October 2009, and it proved to be an extremely popular and highly acclaimed operating system. Although it did not introduce a great number of significant new features, it showed itself to be a far more stable and more efficient operating system than Windows Vista. Windows 7 included updated versions of most of the standard applications of its predecessor as well new features such as the HomeGroup home networking wizard, support for multi-touch screens, handwriting recognition and improved optimizations for multiple core processors. Windows 7 did away with some of the less popular features of Windows Vista, however, such as the sidebar.
Presenting the most radical interface changes since the launch of Windows 95, Windows 8 launched in the end of October, 2012. With greatly improved support and usability on tablet devices and other touchscreen computers, Windows 8 proved somewhat controversial among desktop and laptop users. The operating system completely did away with the start menu, which had been a feature of Windows for seventeen years, in order to make way for the more touchscreen-friendly start screen and its large touch-friendly tiles. The desktop remains, however, although it has been relegated somewhat to second place in terms of significance. A major update to Windows 8, Windows 8.1, is to be introduced in late 2013.
As of August, 2013, Windows 9 has yet to be announced and it is not likely to surface until late 2014 or even later. Due to the release of Windows 8.1, it is unlikely that Windows 9 is coming any time soon, however. Its release largely depends on the success of Windows 8.1. Rumours suggest that Windows 8 will take an entirely new approach to the operating system, but until Microsoft announce the release of an early beta version, this is purely speculation.