Windows through the looking glass: The Evolution

From the very first iteration to the next generation.  I mark the evolution of Microsoft Windows.

Okay so this has been done before, but I wanted to do it for myself.  Primarily this is for nostalgia reasons, and the subject of evolution (in all forms) seems to appeal to me greatly.

So let’s take a look at the main client versions of Windows over the years.

Windows 0-0.9


Windows 0.6. Source Wikipedia.

Earlier windows came in physical form only, came in only one colour, and weren’t awfully productive in themselves.  Perversely though they offered extremely high resolutions.  They are still ubiquitous and supported today.

Windows 1

Windows 1

Windows 1.0. Source Wikipedia.

Windows 1.0 was the first of Microsoft’s mass released GUI lead, graphical personal computer operation environment, or operating system as we know it; OS.  It was released on 20 November 1985 and seems positively archaic these days.  It’s elements though are still valid and impressively intuitive even today.  Windows 1.0 is based on a 16-bit shell, MS-DOS based installation, and is full multi-task enabled.  The development of the system was spearheaded by Bill Gates, a man who needs no introduction these days.  He pushed ahead with it’s development and launch after the famous viewing of the software suite nown as Visi On at COMDEX, a computer exhibition held at various places in L.A.

Interestingly Windows 1.0 was actually recieved quite poorly by critics at the time, despite being supported by a variety of hardware and software makers.  It seems people were not ready for the mouse, and this led to criticism that too much emphasis has been placed on that type of input.  Despite this and other issues this was clearly an important milestone for Microsoft, as history shows.

Amazingly Windows 1.0 was supported by Microsft until 31 December 2001.

Windows 2

Windows 2

Windows 2.0. Source Wikipedia.

Just two years later, 1987 saw the release of Windows 2.0.  Windows 2.0 now allowed windows to be ‘overlapped’.  In it’s predecessor windows could only tile side by side.  Other key innovations that survive to this day are more sophisticated keyboard shortcuts, and the terminology of “Minimize” and “Maximize”, as opposed to “Iconize” and “Zoom” in Windows 1.0.  An integrated control panel was also introduced.  The window setup established here would survive up until Windows 3.1.  VGA graphics were also introduced.

Microsoft Word and Excel reared their now ubiquitous heads first on Windows 2.

Windows 3

Windows 3.0

Windows 3.0. Source Wikipedia.

Windows 3.0 was the third major release of Microsoft Windows, and was released on May 22, 1990.  This was the first version of Windows to become a real market success, and was adopted with widespread use.  It was now considered a real rival to Apple Macintosh, and the Commodore Amiga.  It came pre-installed on compatible PC systems.

Windows 3 introduced the ability to run MS-DOS programmes in windows, which brought multitasking to legacy programmes, and supported 256 colours bringing a more modern, colourful look to the interface.  It also introduced the mouse-trainer and time wasting game ‘Solitaire’.

Windows 3.1 with Bill gates.  Source Microsoft.

Windows 3.1 with Bill gates. Source Microsoft.

Windows 3.1

Windows 3.1

Windows 3.1. Source Wikipedia.

Speaking of introducing time-wasting games.  Along came Windows 3.1 with minesweeper.  Windows 1 and 2 both had point release updates, but Windows 3.1 released in 1992 is notable because it introduced TrueType fonts making Windows a viable publishing platform for the first time.

Windows 3.1 simply required 1MB of ram and came distributed by CD-ROM.  Windows 3.1 was also designed to have backwards compatibility with previous versions.

Windows 95

Windows 95

Windows 95. Source Wikipedia.

Here’s where things really started to change.  Windows 95 was a seminal moment for me and many of that generation simply because it introduced a very new concept; the start button and the start menu.  As the name suggests, Windows 95 arrived in August 1995 and was launched with much fanfare.

Instead of having to root around for the appropriate device drivers or installing the manufacturers It also introduced for the first time the concept of ‘plug and play’.  You connect a peripheral and hopefully the operating system locates and installs it, making both functional.  I say hope because it didn’t always work.

This was the early days of the internet and so with Windows 95 Internet Explorer made it’s debut.  It didn’t come as standard however, and the user required a special  Plus! pack to obtain it.  Later revisions did have it as standard however.
Most notably came the new 32-bit environment, with a start menu and task bar enabling more effective multi-tasking.  MS-DOS was still a feature.
Windows 95. Source Microsoft.

Windows 95. Source Microsoft.

Windows 98

Windows 98

Windows 98. Source Wikipedia.

Released in June 1998, Windows 98 built on Windows 95 and brought with it IE 4, Outlook Express, Windows Address Book, Microsoft Chat and NetShow Player, which was replaced by Windows Media Player 6.2 in Windows 98 Second Edition in 1999.

Windows 98 introduced a number of updates to Windows Explorer, including navigation buttons and an address bar.  Widespread adoption of USB was further bolstered due to improved support in this version.

Windows 98. Source Wikipedia.

Windows 98. Source Wikipedia.

Windows ME

Windows ME

Windows M.E. Source Wikipedia.

Released in September 2000, this was considered a pointless iteration and a real low point in the Windows series by many – at least, until Windows Vista arrived.  Windows Millennium Edition was actually the very last Windows to be based on MS-DOS, as well as the last in the Windows 9x series.

Sure there were additions but the operating system was notoriously buggy and poor.

Windows 2000

Windows 2000

Windows 2000. Source Wikipedia.

Windows 2000 was released in February of that year and was basically the enterprise twin of ME.  It was based on Microsoft’s business-orientated system Windows NT and later became the basis for Windows XP.  Automatic updating played an important part in Windows 2000, and this version became the first to introduce hibernation.

Windows XP

Windows XP

Windows XP. Source Wikipedia.

Windows XP was released in October 2001 and fused Microsofts enterprise versions and the normal client based versions.  Many consider that XP broke the mould and was the best version of Windows ever launched.

Based on Windows NT, but with the consumer friendly features of ME.  Everything got a visual overhaul, along with various visual effects.

Many features were introduced, although unlike Windows ME actually worked.  Windows XP was the longest running Microsoft operating system, seeing three major updates and support up until April 2014.  A massive 13 years from its original release date.

Service Pack updates that hardened XP against attack substantially were introduced later.

Windows Vista

Windows Vista

Windows Vista. Source Microsoft.

Windows Vista replaced XP after it’s run of 6 years in January 2007.  Vista brought transparent aeroglass transparent elements.  Vista also updated security and search elements.  The look of Windows was heavily updated.  Its troubled development codename was ‘Longhorn’.  Many very ambitious elements were abandoned before Vista went into production.

Complaints with Vista included bugs and users being bombarded with requests for app permissions under the UAC ‘User Account Control’ settings.  Many additions were included with Vista, including Windows Media Player 11, IE7, Windows defender, anti-spyware programmes, and Windows DVD maker.  Vista also introduced ‘gadgets’ for the desktop.

PC gamers saw a boost from Vista’s inclusion of Microsoft’s DirectX 10 technology.

Windows Vista is widely considered a low-point in Windows history.

Windows 7

Windows 7

Windows 7. Source Microsoft.

Windows 7 is widely considered Microsofts shining creation  by many, and indeed as what Windows Vista should have been, Windows 7 was first released in October 2009.  It was conceived to fix the variety of problems associated with Vista, and introduced certain ‘Longhorn’ elements abandoned under Vista.  It had a cleaner look and significantly less ‘dialogue box’ overload.  It was considerably smoother and faster than Vista.

The taskbar was much improved over Vista, with applications taking centre stage on the taskbar in the for of ‘pinning’.  With the taskbar populated a user could launch all applications quickly and without using the start menu or shortcuts.

Windows 7 is still widely used, particularly by those who have eschewed Windows 8 in favour of a more familiar Windows.

Windows 8


Windows 8.1. Source

Windows 8 was released in October 2012.  This was to be the most radical reinvention of Windows since Windows 95.  The Start button and Start menu were deleted in favour of a large touch-friendly Start Screen full of tiles.

The new tiled interface featured large vector tiles in place of launched icons and program lists.  These tiles featured at-a-glance information, normally reserved for ‘widgets’.  The desktop was now a tile in itself and clicking on this would bring the user back to the familiar Windows 7 like desktop environment.  The Aero-Glass look with transparency was largely abandoned in favour of a flat look.  Apps built for and launched from the ‘Metro’ tiled environment would launch only full screen.

This radical overhaul could largely be made to work and look much like Windows 7.  However this was not intuitive for many users and ultimately the overhaul was heavily criticised by many.  A touch first approach overhaul was not welcomed by the majority of users who found Windows 7 traditional and simpler layout more productive and comfortable.  In a mobile device led world the Windows 8 approach could work from a touch perspective, but this was seen as too schizophrenic for both the desktop world and the mobile world.

Windows RT was even worse.  Running on ARM-based processors traditionally found in smartphones and tablets,and with the Microsoft Surface it looked like Windows 8, but could only run Windows Store apps.  Traditional Windows applications could not be installed and run.

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1. Source Microsoft.

Windows 8.1 re-introduced the Start button, which launched the Start screen from the desktop view of Windows 8.1, but still didn’t bring back the Start menu.  Users could also now choose to boot directly into desktop instead of the Start screen.  This marked a new shift by Microsoft towards the users desires in it’s new visual interface, and against the tile led approach.

Windows 8.1 also introduced yearly updates.

Windows 10

Windows 10

Windows 10. Source Wikipedia.

Windows 10 was announced on the 30th September 2014 with a view to release the full version by late 2015.  Windows 10 has been released through the ‘Windows Insider Program’ as a test version for users to both try and give feedback on.  Microsoft is clearly listening as it has already made many changes due to this feedback.  The ‘technical previews’ are released with successive updates through this program until it shuts down and the final versions are rolled out.

With Windows 10 Microsoft aim to provide a much better balance for Windows users.  With the new ‘continiuum’ mode comes the ability to have Windows change from desktop to tablet mode, according to whether a keyboard and mouse is attached or not.  This can also be done manually.

The Start menu is fully back but includes both the older classic style menu (in new style and design) alongside tiles as seen in Windows 8.  Users are able to add or delete and customise as to their leisure.  In fact this seems to be a key feature of Windows 10; the ability to have the Windows environment you want.

The much maligned charms bar activated on the right is gone, and in it’s place a notification, or ‘toast’ area with various options.

Both older ‘Win32’ applications and the new style apps will run the same in resizable windows.

Windows 10 is designed to unify all the Windows platforms and across multiple devices.  Essentially Windows 10 will be the same system used across all forms of PCs, tablets, and phones with very little work done to reform to each platform.  Apps therefore will be truly universal.

 Windows 11 :  Codenamed Pumice.

Although details are understandably scarce it has been rumoured to be designed to be worn with silver jumpsuits two sizes too small.  Holographic Hover desk support will be enabled, and Introducing the oft requested colour puce (previous versions omitted this), support for groinal attachments, and a version for cats.


Client versions (wikipedia)

In this section, a client version of Windows is a version that can be purchased and installed on personal computers (desktop computers, laptops and workstations) or purchased with these computers.

Name Release
Windows 10 TBA NT 10.0[1]
  • TBA
Windows 8.1 18 October 2013 NT 6.3
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows 8.1 Pro
  • Windows 8.1 Enterprise
Windows 8 26 October 2012 NT 6.2
  • Windows 8
  • Windows 8 Pro
  • Windows 8 Enterprise

See Windows 8 editions

Windows 7 22 October 2009 NT 6.1
  • Windows 7 Home Basic
  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Windows 7 Professional
  • Windows 7 Enterprise
  • Windows 7 Ultimate
  • Windows Thin PC

See Windows 7 editions

Windows Vista 30 January 2007 NT 6.0
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • Windows Vista Business
  • Windows Vista Enterprise
  • Windows Vista Ultimate

See Windows Vista editions

Windows XP Professional x64 25 April 2005 NT 5.2 N/A
Windows XP 25 October 2001 NT 5.1

See Windows XP editions

Windows ME 14 September 2000 4.90 N/A
Windows 2000 17 February 2000 NT 5.0 Professional
Windows 98 25 June 1998 4.10
Windows NT 4.0 24 August 1996 NT 4.0 Windows NT 4.0 Workstation
Windows 95 24 August 1995 4.00
  • Windows 95
  • Windows 95 SP1 (31 December 1995)
  • Windows 95 OSR1 (14 February 1996)
  • Windows 95 OSR2 (24 August 1996)
  • Windows 95 USB Supplement to OSR2 (27 August 1997)
  • Windows 95 OSR2.1 (27 August 1997)
  • Windows 95 OSR2.5 (26 November 1997)
Windows NT 3.51 30 May 1995 NT 3.51 Windows NT 3.51 Workstation
Windows NT 3.5 21 September 1994 NT 3.50 Windows NT 3.5 Workstation
Windows 3.2 22 November 1993 3.2 Simplified Chinese only
Windows for Workgroups 3.11 November 1993 3.11 N/A
Windows NT 3.1 27 July 1993 NT 3.10 Windows NT 3.1
Windows 3.1 April 1992 3.10
  • Windows 3.1
  • Windows for Workgroups 3.1 (October 1992)
Windows 3.0 22 May 1990 3.00 N/A
Windows 2.11 13 March 1989 2.11
  • Windows/286
  • Windows/386
Windows 2.10 27 May 1988 2.10
  • Windows/286
  • Windows/386
Windows 2.0 9 December 1987 2.0 N/A
Windows 1.04 April 1987 1.04 N/A
Windows 1.03 August 1986 1.03 N/A
Windows 1.01

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