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A Brief History of Windows.

A short history of Microsoft Windows starting with: DOS, MS-DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95/98 , Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.

In the beginning ( 1980 ) was the Word and the Word was DOS ( OT ) which became ( MS-DOS / Microsoft Disk Operating System ) ( Revised version ). And Bill saw it was good.

A little later, Steve Bullmer was hauled in to help run the company, Microsoft, and IBM approaches the team about a project called 'Chess'. Responding, MS launch a new Operating System that focuses on managing and running the computer hardware that serves as a bridge to run software, such as a word processor, spreadsheet. In 1981, shipping IBM PCs running MS-DOS, purchasers discover a whole new language and is initially effective. One could say 'effective' but things were very different then. To boot the machine you had to insert the MS-DOS floppy disk and wait for it to load. This was loaded into memory, not a hard drive as we know today. Nothing was stored on the machine. You were now seeing the 'command prompt' C:\ where you inputted an array of commands to make the machine do anything. If you wanted to run a word processor then you would have to load that disk into memory as well. To save any work you would need to load a 3rd disk! It would be some time before the machine came with an A drive followed by a second floppy drive called B. Heady days for sure. From 1982, MS started working on the next generation OS, code named 'Interface Manager' but 'windows' prevailed to best describe the boxes that appeared on screen. In 1985, Windows 1.0 is released. There is no Dos prompt but a pointer, needing a mouse to navigate and 'execute' the command. This is now called a GUI ( gooey ) Graphical User Interface.


Let us look at a Time Line ( click to enlarge, slideshow enabled )


Gates and Paul Allen in the early years and Gates showing the new Windows 3.0 in 1990


However at this time, outside of MS, there were other developements regarding the interface in other Operating Systems. DESQview was a text mode multitasking operating environment developed by Quarterdeck Office Systems which enjoyed modest popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Running on top of DOS, it allowed users to run multiple DOS programs concurrently in multiple windows.



Digital Research were working on a Mac like desktop environment. It was called GEM. It was crap and never went to market big time. CP/M ( Control Program for Microcomputers ) was the code for the time although CP/M existed long before DOS. It failed to market.


The GEM ( Graphic Environment Manager ) released 1988 ( Stable )



Also around 1983 Apple released a new machine with a graphical interface controlled by a single click mouse. It was called the Apple Lisa ( Lisa" stood for "Local Integrated Software Architecture ). The Lisa is the first commercial computer with a GUI, or Graphical User Interface. Prior to the Lisa, all computers were text based.




TopView was a text-mode PC DOS multitasking, object-oriented windowing environment written by IBM, announced in August 1984 and shipped in March 1985. TopView provided an operating environment that allowed users to run more than one application at the same time on a PC. Many industry leaders and insiders speculated on what was happening in the confidential confines of IBM Boca Raton. IBM demonstrated an early version of the product to key customers before making it generally available, around the time they shipped their new PC/AT computer. TopView first introduced Program Information Files (PIF files), which defined how a given DOS program should be run in a multi-tasking environment, notably to avoid giving it unnecessary resources which could remain available to other programs. TopView's PIF files were inherited and extended by Quarterdeck's DESQview and Microsoft Windows.


A view of IBM Desktop


Back to Microsoft! The Windows 1.0 screen


The second version of Windows was still a DOS Graphical Shell, but supported overlapping windows, and more colours. However, due to the limitation of DOS, it was not widley used. Windows 2.0 is designed for the Intel 286 processor. When the Intel 386 processor is released, Windows/386 soon follows to take advantage of its extended memory capabilities. Subsequent Windows releases continue to improve the speed, reliability, and usability of the PC. 2.0 also included 'Control Panel' which allowed users to have more control over customising the system and desktop.



Windows 2.0 interface 1987. This proved to be unpopular. The limitation was the 1mb of memory available which made it very slow


Later in 1987 we begin to see a major change with the introduction of Windows 3.0 and Program Manager. However it included A "DOS Extender" to allow access to 16 MB of memory, over the 1 MB limit of DOS. It supports multitasking with DOS programs. Windows is now getting closer to the interface we see today, up to Windows 7 at least.


This is Program Manager in Windows 3.0

This was quickly followed by Windows 3.1 and Windows 3.11 for workgroups, with Network support. Sharing between computers is now possible. This allowed business to use computers in a more powerful way. It included some games, Solitaire, Hearts, and Minesweeper. It is said that Solitaire was an idea to enable the user to gain experience with a mouse! Whether this is true or not is immaterial, this user played Solitaire and became an expert with the rodent ( and high scores! )

Around 1993 Windows NT was being written as completely new OS that did not sit on DOS to get the windows shell working. NT ( New Technology ) was built for the business environment initially but the kernal was later employed in XP, the first OS from Microsoft to sit on the new OS without DOS.

The move to NT gave way to an entirely new Graphic Interface ( which we still see today in the Desktop environment ). Icons, background, and themes for instance.


At around the same time Windows 95 hit the consumer market copying the NT interface screen, icons, point and click, the loss of program manager ( LOL ) but a sleek way to open apps and programs. USB 1.1 and CD rom support at this stage was almost impossible to get to work, PCs still relied on the old fashioned floppy drive to install anything, fun times! Harddrives, as we perceive them today were appallingly small, 100mb, were expensive to upgrade and memory was like 32 or 64mb. But the technology was new and was necessarily expensive. '95 sort of hung around for two years and the came Win 98 then Win 98 SE.



Windows 95 desktop




Still the OS sat on DOS before booting to the desktop. Memory, at its then limits made the OS's very slow to boot or install programs. The Internet is just around the corner now!! So they said but we had dial-up only. Networking, Internet Explorer ( to access the then very slow WWW, cheekily called the 'World Wide Wait' ). However new tech is now emerging, home PC owners want to buy and prices start to tumble, the industry has to look further to increase interest and thus sales. Harddrives now become 20gb, 40 and hell, 60gb. Ram, which seemed to be standard at 32mb became 64mb, 128mb and then a mind blowing 256mb. Theose figures have gone out of the 'window' as it were. New machines have 1tb harddrives with a minimum of 4gb RAM. And still this is not enough!


As mentioned above, in 1993 Microsoft started working on a new OS, NT. The code was completely rewritten and did not 'sit' on DOS. The operating system's success on the market was only limited, mostly due to the high system requirements for its time and the lack of 32-bit applications which used the capabilities of Windows NT 3.1. Nevertheless, the operating system laid the foundation for all future releases of the Windows NT line. "NT" was expanded to "New Technology" for marketing purposes but no longer carries any specific meaning.


Windows NT 3.1


Which quickly grew into NT 4.0 and the basis for all future operating systems and the now familiar start screen


Windows XP Home / Pro


Windows XP came to market and was successful. It has now become XP SP3 after many security updates and software / hardware changes. Xp SP3 is the last and final version. The XP Pro version became a commercial success. At the same time Windows 2000 was thrown at business communitees that gave IT better control over networking controls. Although successful, 2000 just did not fit the financial pocket of major companies. Support for Windows XP is ending on April 8, 2014. If you're running this version after support ends, you won't get security updates for Windows.


The XP interface, copying NT, and '95, became the norm as we see Windows today as the desktop environment.


The next real revolution was for MS to employ a new OS for the Domestic and Commercial market based on NT and 'booting' the DOS related technology. It was called Microsoft XP. Called by the Codename Whistler, it was based on pure NT tech. The codename 'Longhorn' was used for a Windows variant which was to become Windows Vista. Longhorn was to be the best version of Windows ever but work on it was abandoned!

What would Longhorn have been? See a video here>>>>>


In the interim, MS produced the Millenium Edition. Cripes this was really shit! See below.


Vista was received to the public as the next generation NT based Operating System in 2007. The GUI was updated and also incorporated with 'AERO' ( Authentic, Energetic, Reflective, and Open ). Whatever that is supposed to mean!


Them were the days when Vista was supplied as a 32 bit OS thus limiting the ram usage to 3 - 3.5gb ram, the maximum addressable memory available in the 32 bit Operating System. Most new machines were put to market with appalling Ram, some with only 512mb. After MS updates and adding a 'few' apps like office, the drag became an absolute bore. For Business a 64bit version was offered but failed to convince, most IT departments wanted to stick with XP Pro, if not running Windows 2000. In a pretty shite decision in 2000 Microsoft delivered MS Millenium Edition to the market, the biggest disaster to us, the user. In a way it was the precursor to XP and then perhaps Vista. It failed, USB and software support just did not work. It did however come with the first 'system restore' which came in very handy. Windows ME was the last OS based on the Windows 95 code. All future operating systems would be based on NT.


Vista failed on all counts, business and consumer. This writer is convinced that many business and company IT teams started to move towards other Operating Systems, even though Windows 7 could have perhaps solved many problems.

Security wise Vista also had UAC ( User Account Control ) to help prevent potentially harmful software from making changes to your computer, whilst in Vista Ultimate, BitLocker Drive Encryption provided better data protection.


Windows Vista Desktop



Then Windows 7 came along, but it came with much beta testing by the public and business, MS listened and the final release, delighted many. Windows 7 was evaluated by 8 million beta testers worldwide before it was released. Boot time is improved and it is certainly quicker than Vista. Win 7 will be around for some time yet, as was XP.

Among Windows 7's new features are advances in touch and handwriting recognition, support for virtual hard disks, improved performance on multi-core processors, dramatically improved boot performance, DirectAccess, and kernel improvements. WIn 7 comes in 32 bit and 64 bit versions, although almost new machines came as 64 bit thus allowing greater RAM usage above the 3.5gb maximum. It is not unusual to see machines now with 8gb as standard. Versions are Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate ( singel license for the public domain ) and ( This edition targets the enterprise segment of the market and is sold through volume licensing to companies which have a Software Assurance contract with Microsoft ).


Windows 7 Desktop view with 'Gadgets' to the right

The next generation of the Windows operating system is now windows 8. Much venerated, talked about and beta tested, released to market, this writer did not bother after 2 weeks, to play with the most appalling OS ever to get to market. MS did NOT listen to users either public or business users.

We still use desktops and lappys and an upgrade over Win 7 is not going to help the mainstream user or the business environment. Windows 8 introduces significant changes to the operating system's platform, primarily focused towards improving its user experience on mobile devices such as tablets to better compete with other mobile operating systems like Android and Apple's iOS. The tiled "Metro" interface is now referred to as "Modern" in MS parlance. You may miss the start orb!


Windows 8, the desktop! It looks like Legoland for sure!


However, there is a way to get the 'start button' back as we know it using 3rd party software.

It can be found here, Classic shell

This is shown in 8.1 pro preview which this writer is running in VMware Player.
























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