Friday marks 30 years since Microsoft introduced the first version of Windows. The successor to MS-DOS marked a turning point for Microsoft from which it is reaping the benefits to this day, even though the operating system has changed a lot.
Microsoft announced in 1983 that it would come out with a user interface for MS-DOS codenamed Interface Manager. It takes two years to get the software ready, which at the time is such a long run that critics call it vaporware. On November 20, 1985, the time has finally come and the software appears. Not under the name Interface Manager, which was mentioned for a while, but as Windows. The package costs $99.
Microsoft then does not call Windows 1.0 an operating system, but an operating environment and it is therefore rather a 16-bit graphical extension of MS-DOS, on which Windows runs, than a stand-alone OS. It does mean the big step from command-line input to using the mouse. At that time, the mouse was not yet commonplace and to get users used to it, Microsoft supplied the game Reversi.
Windows 1.0 also included a number of programs that are still in Windows today, such as Paint, Notepad, Calculator, and a clock. Write was also present, which would later evolve into Wordpad. There was also a calendar and map file in Windows 1.0.
Running Windows 1.0 required 256 kilobytes of memory, two floppy disk drives for double-sided floppy disks, and a graphics adapter card. It was recommended to have 512 kilobytes of RAM and a hard drive.
According to Bill Gates, Windows 1.0 was “unique software designed for the serious PC user”, but users disagree: the very first version of Windows is not going to be a success. It was not unique either: in 1985 comparable window managers for DOS such as IBM’s TopView, DESQview and GEM Desktop had already appeared. And, of course, by 1984 Apple had already brought the graphical interface to a large audience with the Macintosh.
With the arrival of Windows 2.0, on December 9, 1987, the OS gains desktop icons, a control panel, and keyboard shortcuts. Also, windows can now overlap. Windows 2.0 is designed for the Intel 286 processor and supports more memory, but the company also comes with a more advanced Windows/386 version with a protected kernel mode. Nevertheless, this version is not yet the success that Microsoft hopes for.
That only happens with the arrival of Windows 3.0 in 1990. Microsoft sells ten million copies of the software. This version handles memory better, thanks in part to support for virtual memory, and looks better graphically, thanks to the arrival of VGA cards. In addition, the Windows SDK appears, which makes creating programs for the OS a lot easier. With Windows 3.0 with Multimedia Extensions 1.0 comes support for sound cards and CD-ROM drives, with Encarta especially becoming popular. Windows 3.1 follows, with support for Truetype fonts. Solitaire and Minesweeper also make their appearance with Windows 3.0 and 3.1 respectively.
Partly due to the success of Windows 3.x, Microsoft is dropping the other OS it is working on, OS/2. Bill Gates’ company is collaborating with IBM on that software, but the cultural differences between the two superpowers and practical difficulties in development make OS/2 an IBM-exclusive project.
In the 1990s, Microsoft managed to get a grip on the software market and the ever-increasing PC sales grew the company into a million-dollar group. The queues for stores are well known when Windows 95 went on sale. The software is good for hardware sales: a minimum 386DX processor and at least 4MB of ram are required, but 8MB is recommended. The OS provides 32bit support, albeit not completely, support for preemptive multitasking and long filenames, and the plug-and-play technique. For users, the arrival of the famous start button was a big change and with Windows 95 Microsoft started the browser wars with Netscape, which were eventually settled in favor of Internet Explorer.
With Windows 98 SE in particular, Microsoft will then be able to respond even better to the growing internet use. For consumers, Microsoft will release Windows Millennium Edition in 2000, the latest version of Windows based on the Windows 9.x kernel and MS-DOS. However, Windows ME is considered slow and buggy, and users will either stick with Windows 98 SE or move to the business Windows 2000, which will also be released in 2000 and is based on the much more stable Windows NT.
Windows ME also appears to have a short life, because in 2001 Microsoft releases Windows XP, which is also based on Windows NT. XP is also Microsoft’s first full-fledged 32bit operating system for the masses: its predecessors had a hybrid form of 16bit and 32bit. Thanks to its stability and plug-and-play system, multimedia capabilities, built-in networking, expanded start menu, new taskbar capabilities, and support for ClearType, XP has become so popular that it is still widely used today, despite the fact that the support has stopped and use is therefore unsafe.
One of the reasons for extended use of XP is that its successor, Windows Vista, takes a long time and is quickly regarded as a flop. To deal with XP’s security vulnerabilities, Microsoft introduces Vista User Account Control, but users soon tire of warnings and run into driver issues.
With Windows 7, Microsoft solves a lot of the problems with Vista. Windows 7 therefore brings renewed success for Microsoft, but at the same time problems start to play in the background. In the years after 2000, the dominance of the Windows operating system causes the software to become less and less flexible. The OS has become so entrenched in the computer market that major changes are difficult to achieve, due in part to driver support and other compatibility dependencies.
Microsoft does not know how to respond well to the arrival of smartphones and tablets with Windows, something that still hinders the company to this day. PC sales are declining year on year and Microsoft barely plays a role in smartphones, where iOS and Android have taken over the dominance of mobile OS. The attempts to combine the ‘old’ Windows with Windows 8 and 8.1 with a new environment optimized for touchscreens have been received moderately. It seems to be going better with Windows 10, but whether Microsoft has actually been able to give the OS a second life for the coming decades with ‘One Windows’ for all kinds of devices remains to be seen.