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The History of Microsoft Operating Systems

Microsoft Windows is a family of operating systems for personal computers. In this article we look at the history of Microsoft operating systems from 1985 to present day.

Microsoft Windows is a family of operating systems for personal computers. Windows dominates the personal computer world, running, by some estimates, on more than 90 percent of all personal computers – the remainder running Linux and Mac operating systems. Windows provides a graphical user interface (GUI), virtual memory management, multitasking, and support for many peripheral devices.

Microsoft Operating Systems for Personal Computers

The following details the history of Microsoft operating systems designed for personal computers (PCs).

Key definitions to know: operating system, computer, Microsoft, Microsoft Windows.

MS-DOS (Microsoft disk operating system)

Originally developed by Microsoft for IBM, MS-DOS was the standard operating system for IBM-compatible personal computers. The initial versions of DOS were very simple and resembled another operating system called CP/M. Subsequent versions have become increasingly sophisticated as they incorporated features of minicomputer operating systems.

Windows 1.0 – 2.0 (1985-1992)

Introduced in 1985, Microsoft Windows 1.0 was named due to the computing boxes, or "windows" that represented a fundamental aspect of the operating system. Instead of typing MS-DOS commands, windows 1.0 allowed users to point and click to access the windows.

In 1987 Microsoft released Windows 2.0, which was designed for the designed for the Intel 286 processor. This version added desktop icons, keyboard shortcuts and improved graphics support.

Windows 3.0 – 3.1 (1990–1994)

Microsoft released Windows 3.0 in May, 1900 offering better icons, performance and advanced graphics with 16 colors designed for Intel 386 processors. This version is the first release that provides the standard "look and feel" of Microsoft Windows for many years to come. Windows 3.0 included Program Manager, File Manager and Print Manager and games (Hearts, Minesweeper and Solitaire). Microsoft released Windows 3.1 in 1992.

Windows 95 (August 1995)

A major release of the Microsoft Windows operating system released in 1995. Windows 95 represents a significant advance over its precursor, Windows 3.1. In addition to sporting a new user interface, Windows 95 also includes a number of important internal improvements. Perhaps most important, it supports 32-bit applications, which means that applications written specifically for this operating system should run much faster.

Although Windows 95 can run older Windows and DOS applications, it has essentially removed DOS as the underlying platform. This has meant removal of many of the old DOS limitations, such as 640K of main memory and 8-character filenames. Other important features in this operating system are the ability to automatically detect and configure installed hardware (plug and play).

Windows 98 (June 1998)

Windows 98 offers support for a number of new technologies, including FAT32, AGP, MMX, USB, DVD, and ACPI. Its most visible feature, though, is the Active Desktop, which integrates the Web browser (Internet Explorer) with the operating system. From the user's point of view, there is no difference between accessing a document residing locally on the user's hard disk or on a Web server halfway around the world.

Windows ME - Millennium Edition (September 2000)

The Windows Millennium Edition, called "Windows Me" was an update to the Windows 98 core and included some features of the Windows 2000  operating system. This version also removed the "boot in DOS" option.

Windows NT 31. - 4.0 (1993-1996)

A version of the Windows operating system. Windows NT (New Technology) is a 32-bit operating system that supports preemptive multitasking. There are actually two versions of Windows NT: Windows NT Server, designed to act as a server in networks, and Windows NT Workstation for stand-alone or client workstations. 

Windows 2000 (February 2000)

Often abbreviated as "W2K," Windows 2000 is an operating system for business desktop and laptop systems to run software applications, connect to Internet and intranet sites, and access files, printers, and network resources. Microsoft released four versions of Windows 2000: Professional (for business desktop and laptop systems), Server (both a Web server and an office server), Advanced Server (for line-of-business applications) and Datacenter Server (for high-traffic computer networks).

Windows XP (October 2001)

Windows XP was first introduced in 2001. Along with a redesigned look and feel to the user interface, the new operating system is built on the Windows 2000 kernel, giving the user a more stable and reliable environment than previous versions of Windows. Windows XP comes in two versions, Home and Professional.  Microsoft focused on mobility for both editions, including plug and play features for connecting to wireless networks. The operating system also utilizes the 802.11x wireless security standard. Windows XP is one of Microsoft's best-selling products.

Windows Vista (November 2006)

Windows Vista offered an advancement in reliability, security, ease of deployment, performance and manageability over Windows XP. New in this version was capabilities to detect hardware problems before they occur, security features to protect against the latest generation of threats, faster start-up time and low power consumption of the new sleep state. In many cases, Windows Vista is noticeably more responsive than Windows XP on identical hardware. Windows Vista simplifies and centralizes desktop configuration management, reducing the cost of keeping systems updated.

Windows 7 (October, 2009)

Windows 7 made its official debut to the public on October 22, 2009 as the latest in the 25-year-old line of Microsoft Windows operating systems and as the successor to Windows Vista (which itself had followed Windows XP). Windows 7 was released in conjunction with Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 7's server counterpart. Enhancements and new features in Windows 7 include multi-touch support, Internet Explorer 8, improved performance and start-up time, Aero Snap, Aero Shake, support for virtual hard disks, a new and improved Windows Media Center, and improved security.

Windows 8 (Codename, Expected Release 2012)

Windows 8 is a completely redesigned operating system that's been developed from the ground up with touchscreen use in mind as well as near-instant-on capabilities that enable a Windows 8 PC to load and start up in a matter of seconds rather than in minutes. Windows 8 will replace the more traditional Microsoft Windows OS look and feel with a new "Metro" design system interface that first debuted in the Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system. The Metro user interface primarily consists of a "Start screen" made up of "Live Tiles," which are links to applications and features that are dynamic and update in real time.  Windows 8 supports both x86 PCs and ARM processors. Online media sites indicate that this version will be available in 2012, with October and Fall being the most often quoted time frame.

Microsoft Operating Systems for Servers and Mobile Devices

Aside from operating systems designed for use on personal computers (PCs) and laptops, Microsoft has also developed operating systems for services, handheld devices, and mobile phones.

Key definitions to know: server, mobile operating system, handheld device, Microsoft.

Windows Server (March 2003)

Windows Server is a series of Microsoft server operating systems. Windows servers are more powerful versions of their desktop operating system counterparts and are designed to more efficiently handle corporate networking, Internet/intranet hosting, databases, enterprise-scale messaging and similar functions.  The Windows Server name made its debut with the release of Windows Server 2003 and continues with the current release, Windows Server 2008 R2, which shares its codebase with Windows 7. Windows Server 2008 R2 debuted in October 2009.

Windows Home Server ( January 2007)

Announced in January 2007, Windows Home Server (WHS) is a "consumer server" designed to use with multiple computers connected in the home. Home Server allows you to share files such as digital photos and media files, and also allows you to automatically backup your home networked computers. Through Windows Media Connect, Windows Home Server lets you share any media located on your WHS with compatible devices.

Windows CE (November 2006)

A version of the Windows operating system designed for small devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) (or Handheld PCs in the Microsoft vernacular). The Windows CE graphical user interface (GUI) is very similar to Windows 95 so devices running Windows CE should be easy to operate for anyone familiar with Windows 95.

Windows Mobile (April 2000)

A mobile operating system for smartphones and mobile devices from Microsoft based on the Windows CE kernel and designed to look and operate similar to desktop versions of Microsoft Windows. Windows Mobile has largely been supplanted by Windows Phone 7, although Microsoft did release,  in 2011, Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5, a mobile OS compatible with Windows Mobile 6.5 that's designed for enterprise mobile and handheld computing devices.

Windows Phone (November 2010)

A mobile operating system for smartphones and mobile devices that serves as the successor to Microsoft's initial mobile OS platform system, Windows Mobile. Unlike Windows Mobile, Windows Phone 7 (also referred to as WinPhone7) is targeted more to the consumer market than the enterprise market, and it replaces the more traditional Microsoft Windows OS look and feel with a new "Metro" design system user interface. Windows Phone 7 features a multi-tab Internet Explorer Mobile Web browser that uses a rendering engine based on Internet Explorer 9 as well Microsoft Office Mobile, a version of Microsoft Office that’s tailored for mobile devices.






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