A Chronological History Of Windows

1982-1985: Windows 1.0

Microsoft was founded in 1975 by Bill Gates and Paul Allen. The company developed MS-DOS for IBM in 1980. It was a operating system that was controlled by various commands. It was very difficult for most people to understand those commands.

A Screenshot of Windows 1.0
Fig.1 - A Screenshot of Windows 1.0

The company moved on the develop a new operating system, code named Interface Manager. The system was eventually called "Windows" because the windows were the basic building blocks of the Windows OS. Announced in 1983, but only released in 1985, Windows 1.0 had a graphic interface. Instead of typing text commands, moving and clicking a pointer called "mouse" on the different windows was the main form of interaction with the system. It allowed users to remain on their tasks without having to restart the different programmes. Windows 1.0 was "designed for the serious PC user".

1987-1990: Windows 2.0-2.11

Two years after the initial release, Microsoft revamped the Windows Operating System with desktop icons and more memory. The windows were allowed to overlap thanked to better graphics support. More keyboard shortcuts were introduced to make work more efficient. More software programmers started to code their first Windows programmes.

A Screenshot of Windows 2.0
Fig.2 - A Screenshot of Windows 2.0

Windows 2.0 was created to run on the Intel 286 processor. When the next Intel 386 processor was released, Microsoft had adapted the OS more effectively utilized the extended memory capacity. Microsoft had hence progressively optimized its OS over time to be more efficient, more reliable and more user-friendly.

Microsoft grew to the largest PC software firm in the world in 1988. For a number of office workers, computers started to be a part of daily life.

1990-1994: Windows 3.0-Windows NT

Microsoft released Windows 3.0 in 1990 and Windows 3.1 in 1992. The two versions created a 10-million-copy-sale in the first two years. The key features found on Windows 3.x influenced many future versions. Performance was greatly improved thanked to Intel 386 processor. Virtual memory was introduced to improve graphics, which was capable of displaying in 16 colours. The Windows 3.0 introduced Program Manager, File Manager and Print Manager which were still present in today's Windows systems.

A Screenshot of Windows 3.11
Fig.3 - A Screenshot of Windows 3.11

The installation of the Windows used floppy discs, sold in large boxes with long instruction manuals. The new Windows software development kit (SDK) further fuelled the popularity, as software programmers could now focus on implementing software functionalities rather than getting hardware to work.

More people started to use Windows both at office and at home. Games like Minesweeper and Solitaire were included. Windows 3.11 allowed the users to set their workgroup and domain network, starting the trend of client/server model.

Released in 1993, Windows NT stood for New Technology. Unlike other 16-bit operating systems previously released in the Windows family, the Windows NT 3.1 was a 32-bit operating system. This meant that the system was able to harness the high processing power to use the high-end scientific and engineering programmes.

1995-1998: Windows 95

With heavy advertisements, Windows 95 set a record sale of 7 million in the first five weeks. The system came natively with dial-up networks, Internet support, and Plug and Play which simplified the hardware and software installation.

A Screenshot of Windows 95
Fig.4 - A Screenshot of Windows 95

Windows 95 debuted with Start menu and taskbar. It also comes with the three buttons at the top right corners of all windows, to minimize, maximize or close the particular window. This became a standardized feature in the future Windows versions.

1990s was also the period when Internet started to make way to interconnect computers around the world. Internet Explorer was released in 1995 to run on Windows. It was provided by Microsoft free of charge, bundled together with the Windows OS.

1998-2000: Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows Me

When Windows 98 was released in 1998, PCs were common at offices and at homes, and many Internet cafes were sprouting up, connecting people to the Internet. This version of Windows was focused on and designed for consumers. Looking up information on local machine and on Internet was simplified. The system supported DVDs and USB devices natively. Taskbar came with Quick Launch bar, which reduces the trouble of browsing through the Start menu or folders. Windows 98 was the last major Windows system that was built upon MS-DOS.

A Screenshot of Windows 98
Fig.5 - A Screenshot of Windows 98

Released in early 2000, Windows 2000 Professional was built based on the Windows NT Workstation 4.0, and meant to replace all previous OSes. It made computer more reliable, and easy to use. It better supported Internet and mobile platforms.

Released later in the same year, Windows Me was based on Windows 98 with modernized designs similar to Windows 2000. It focused on home use, improved on music and video and home network. It was the first time System Restore was made available for users to revert back the changes in software to an earlier time.

2001-2005: Windows XP

Windows XP was a versatile operating system that survived more than 13 years till the official end of support in April 2014. Released in 2001, Windows XP remained the most popular OS in the world, even after the later Windows versions until 2011. It is still the second most popular OS version at this day, running on about 28% of all computers.

A Screenshot of Windows XP SP3
Fig.6 - A Screenshot of Windows XP SP3

Windows XP was stable and user-friendly in its own rights. The familiar Start menu and taskbar served millions of users. Security updates were delivered over the Internet frequently, from which the term "Patch Tuesday" was coined based on the company releasing updates on the second Tuesday of a month. Automatic Updates ensured that users' security is always ensured.

These combined factors on reliability, efficiency and industrial common practices pushed the Windows XP into many unthought-of places. It is said that there are still 95% of all ATMs in the world using Windows XP at this day. Windows XP is now costing $30 million for US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for extended support.

Notably, Windows XP was also released with 64-bit Edition, which at that time was still rare in terms of hardware availability. Subsequent Windows OSes were all released with both 32-bit and 64-bit versions, allowing users to harness to greater processing power.

2006-2008: Windows Vista

Released in 2006, Windows Vista was focused on the security of the system. It introduced a User Account Control (UAC) system to prompt users to grant a certain application for administrative permission. UAC reduced the likelihood of malwares from corrupting the system.

A Screenshot of Windows Vista
Fig.7 - A Screenshot of Windows Vista

The security focus was also seen on mobile laptops of Windows Vista, such as BitLocker Drive Encryption which secures the entire disk volume using a Trusted Platform Module (TPM). The Encryption prevents attackers from reading data by simply taking the harddisk to and accessing it from the another computer.

However, Windows Vista was not well perceived. Many critics lamented about the excessive resource that the system required, as the system would run much slower on a Windows XP machine of the same configuration.

2009-2011: Windows 7

Windows 7 was originally intended to be an incremental upgrade to the Windows Vista, though it received more praises than Windows Vista thanked to the performance improvements. Windows 7 was optimized for both desktops and laptops, which were for the first time selling more than desktops.

A Screenshot of Windows 7
Fig.8 - A Screenshot of Windows 7

New interactions, such as Snap, Peek and Shake, were added to the system. Thumbnail Previews feature was added to Taskbar. The system also supported multi-touch functions, enhancing touchscreen usage.

2012-2013: Windows 8, Windows 8.1

Windows 8 introduced a whole new interface of Start Screen. It tried to make a unified approach to desktops, laptops and tablets. The Start Screen consists of many rectangular tiles which act as application shortcuts as well as information display. Windows 8 Apps took the central focus of Windows 8, and offered live time update of contents through notification push.

A Screenshot of Windows 8
Fig.9 - A Screenshot of Windows 8

However, the new interface was initially criticized by users who were more familiar with previous versions of Windows. The access to desktop required one click from the start screen, which to many ordinary office users it meant more troubles.

On a positive note, Windows 8 improved search function which now included apps, local files, and Internet contents. Windows 8 also better integrated Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage, allowing users to access own information across different devices. The system also natively supported 3D printing for the first time.


Cusumano, M. A., & Smith, S. A. (1995). "Beyond the waterfall: Software development at Microsoft".

Ward, M. (5 Nov 2008). "The end of an era - Windows 3.x". BBC News. Retrieved 16 Apr 2014.

Microsoft. (2014). "A History of Windows". Retrieved 16 Apr 2014.

Gorman, M. (13 Apr 2014). "IRS tastes its own medicine, will pay Microsoft millions for Windows XP support". Engadget. Retrieved 16 Apr 2014.

Microsoft. (2014). "Explore Windows 7 features". Microsoft. Retrieved 16 Apr 2014.

Image Credits

Fig.1 - "A Screenshot of Windows 1.0"
Fig.2 - "A Screenshot of Windows 2.0"
Fig.3 - "A Screenshot of Windows 3.11"
Fig.4 - "A Screenshot of Windows 95"
Fig.5 - "A Screenshot of Windows 98"
Fig.6 - "A Screenshot of Windows XP SP3"
Fig.7 - "A Screenshot of Windows Vista"
Fig.8 - "A Screenshot of Windows 7"
Fig.9 - "A Screenshot of Windows 8"

Microsoft product screenshot(s), used with permission from Microsoft.

These images are copyrighted screenshots of commercially-released computer software products of Microsoft Corporation. Microsoft Corporation has allowed screenshots of its commercially-released computer software products to be used in advertising, documentations, educational materials, videos and web sites as long as they are not obscene or pornographic, are not disparaging, defamatory, or libelous to Microsoft, and are not digitally altered (except for being resized).