Windows Through the Years

As Microsoft Corp. releases Windows 8, a major OS refresh that melds desktop and mobile functionality, Channelnomics takes a look at how the ubiquitous platform has evolved over the past quarter century.

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As Microsoft Corp. prepares to release Windows 8, a major OS refresh that melds desktop and mobile functionality, it’s important to see how the Redmond, Wash., vendor’s ubiquitous platform has evolved  over the past quarter century. From Windows 1.0 to Bob to Vista and beyond, here’s a look at Microsoft’s efforts -- some memorable, some forgettable, but all of them a part of the history of personal computing. > NEXT PAGE

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Windows 1.0

As clunky as DOS but much prettier, Windows 1.0 debuted in November 1985. Originally called "Interface Manager," the new operating environment didn’t get much traction, despite the brilliant move by Microsoft marketing to rename it Windows prior to launch. Few icons and no drag-and-drop. Barbaric. > NEXT PAGE

Windows 2.0

Microsoft’s Windows 2.0 came out in December 1987, but proved only slightly more popular than its predecessor. Pluses included the ability to overlap, resize and move windows and the inclusion of minimize, maximize and restore buttons where appropriate. Now we’re getting somewhere. > NEXT PAGE

Windows 3.0

In May 1990, the Windows that would truly change the world was unveiled. Already taking on the look of the OS that would last for generations, version 3.0 included behind-the-scenes virtual memory, which brought true multitasking to the masses. It also boasted vastly improved file management, control panels, icons, graphics and colors, and a snazzy hypertext help system. > NEXT PAGE


Even as it was developing its own OS, Microsoft was locked in an often contentious relationship with IBM Corp. to deliver OS/2 in the early 1990s. The effort eventually fizzled after one joint release, but not before OS/2’s Presentation Manager GUI began to inform the look of later Microsoft efforts such as Windows NT. IBM hung on and released several more OS/2 versions on their own using technology licensed from Microsoft. > NEXT PAGE

Windows NT

This business-grade OS, first released in July 1992, bridged the gap between Windows 3.0 and the latter 95/98/ME versions. Originally conceived as part of the OS/2 project with IBM, the 32-bit project was brought back in house. Microsoft cloned the Windows 3.0 interface and turned NT loose on the world. It would eventually provide the underpinnings of the company’s flagship OSes. > NEXT PAGE

Windows 95

Now this is Windows. Icons, folders and the whole “desktop” metaphor is at work throughout the system. Originally code named “Chicago,” Windows 95 was released in August 1995, and its core 32-bit architecture marked Microsoft’s break from its DOS background. Commensurate boosts in performance resulted from five Win95 upgrade releases over the next two years. This is the Windows many of today’s users cut their teeth on. > NEXT PAGE

Windows Bob

And then this happened. Yes, Microsoft had an operating system with a man’s name back in 1995. That name was Bob. Everything in Bob’s world looked like something in your house, if you lived inside the Galaga arcade game. The effort was an enormous flop and continues to be a reference point for any mistake Microsoft subsequently made. > NEXT PAGE

Windows CE

This version introduced just what every mobile platform needs: a start button. Though, in fairness, mobile devices weren’t what they are now when CE for “handhelds” launched in 1999. And smartphones were still years away. On the upside, it used fewer resources. On the down side, few cared except the folks who made $99 netbooks. They were all over it. > NEXT PAGE

Windows 98

This workhorse came out in June 1998 and was significantly revised into Windows 98SE a year later. Better networking capabilities and USB support and vastly improved stability stopped a lot of “blue screen” jokes. However, the decision to include hooks between the OS and Internet Explorer, a habit born in the Win95, landed Microsoft in court and accused of unfair competition with companies like Netscape. Remember Netscape? > NEXT PAGE

Windows 2000

Like NT 4.0 before it, this Microsoft OS was never intended for the consumer market. Win2000, which launched in February 2000, was a professional grade rev of the evolving NT system that debuted Active Directory. It also included some consumer-like features borrowed from Win98 such as an improved Device Manager, the inclusion of Windows Media Player and better DirectX functionality. > NEXT PAGE

Windows Millennium Edition (Me)

Buggy and plagued with backward compatibility issues, ME rivaled Bob on the list of greatest all-time Microsoft OS failures. The only good thing that can be said about ME is that, mercifully, very few people bought and installed it. The bad buzz around ME from the moment it launched in 2000 kept Windows 98 around straight through to XP. > NEXT PAGE

Windows XP

Developed under the code name “Whistler,” Windows XP sought to bring together the best of the NT and 95/98/ME under one umbrella OS. XP stumbled out of the gate in October 2001, however, when it became a poster child for Microsoft’s inherent security flaws. Many patches later, the mostly stable system went on to become Redmond’s longest lasting flagship OS with a six-year run that lasted until January 2007. > NEXT PAGE

Windows Mobile

It never helped that Windows Mobile owed its lineage to CE, another lackluster attempt at a mobile operating system. Neither saw much in the way of adoption or device support, despite nearly a dozen version updates to Mobile since it launched in 2003. If you’ve never seen Windows Mobile, you’ve probably missed your chance. Microsoft said they will no longer support it, instead favoring upcoming versions of their Windows Phone 7. > NEXT PAGE

Windows Vista

This was as bad as ME, but with even more negative publicity. Vista was hyped for months under its code name “Longhorn” before it debuted to jeers and sneers in 2006. Its poor performance probably kept more help desk workers employed post-bubble than any technology product in history. And it single-handedly extended the life of XP until Windows 7 mercifully came along. > NEXT PAGE

Windows 7

If there’s one major obstacle to Windows 8 adoption, it could be the market’s affection for Windows 7, the current flagship OS and a tried-and-true system that has proven stable, reliable, mostly secure and generally capable. Windows 7 had to shake off a lot of negativity in 2009 when it debuted in the wake of the Vista debacle. It has thus far proven its mettle. Windows 8 has its work cut out. > NEXT PAGE

Windows 8

Bright and crisp -- some would say Spartan and blocky -- Windows 8 with its so-called Metro interface now must serve a world of end users who grew up with smartphones and insist on easy mobile access from multiple devices. Can one OS be all things to all folks? The dumbed-down, appliance-ready interface is an affront to many fans of Windows’ 25 years of evolution. Did Microsoft get it right with this new OS or is Win8 the next Bob? It’s too early to know for sure. << BACK TO START

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