From MS-DOS to Windows 10: The 34-year-long history of Microsoft operating systems

From MS-DOS to Windows 10: The 34-year-long history of Microsoft operating systems

With the release of Windows 10, Microsoft continues more than three decades of making operating systems for personal computers.

  • IBNLive.com
  • Last Updated: November 20, 2015, 10:41 AM IST
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With the release of Windows 10, Microsoft continues more than three decades of making operating systems for personal computers.

This timeline of Microsoft's operating systems traces the software giant's journey over the last 34 years.

1981: MS-DOS

IBM PC 5150 running MS-DOS 5.0 (Image: Wikimedia)

Microsoft got its start on PCs in 1981 through a partnership with IBM. Microsoft made the software that ran IBM's hardware, and later machines made by other manufacturers. That first operating system was called MS-DOS and required people to type instructions to complete tasks such as running programs and deleting files.

1985: Windows 1.0

Screenshot of Microsoft Windows 1.0 operating environment showing MS-DOS Executive and other applications (Image: Wikimedia)

It wasn't until 1985 that Microsoft released its first graphical user interface, which allowed people to perform tasks by moving a mouse and clicking on icons on the screen. Microsoft called the operating system Windows.

Windows was a shift from the command line to a much simpler to use graphical user interface.

Windows 1.0 commercial. Steve Ballmer describing the features of the OS

Windows 1.0 came out in November 1985, nearly two years after Apple began selling its first Macintosh computer, which also used a graphical operating system. Apple sued Microsoft in 1988 for copyright infringement, claiming that Microsoft copied the "look and feel" of its operating system. Apple lost.

1987: Windows 2.0

Screenshot of Microsoft's Windows 2.0 operating environment. (Image: Wikimedia)

Microsoft followed Windows 1.0 with Windows 2.0 in December 1987, 3.0 in May 1990 and 3.1 in April 1992. Windows 2.0 had an improved user interface and allowed keyboard shortcuts.

1990: Windows 3.0

Windows 3.0 logo

Windows 3.0 was released in 1990 and was more successful than its predecessors. It also posed a serious challenge to the Mac. Multimedia features were added subsequently.

1993: Windows NT

Windows NT 3.1 Workstation

In July 1993, Microsoft released Windows NT, a more robust operating system built from scratch. It was meant as a complement to Windows 3.1 and allowed higher-end machines to perform more complex tasks, particularly for engineering and scientific programs that dealt with large numbers. NT stood for "new technology".

1995: Windows 95

Windows 95 'Start Me Up' television commercial

Microsoft had its first big Windows launch with the release of Windows 95 (originally codenamed Chicago) in August 1995. The company placed special sections in newspapers, ran television ads with the Rolling Stones song 'Start Me Up' and paid to have the Empire State Building lit up in Windows colours.

Comedian Jay Leno joined co-founder Bill Gates on stage at a launch event at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Washington. "Windows 95 is so easy, even a talk-show host can figure it out," Gates joked.

Windows 95 launch video

The hype worked: Computer users lined up to be the first to buy it. Microsoft sold millions of copies within the first few weeks. Windows 95 brought built-in Internet support and "plug and play" tools to make it easier to install software and attach hardware. Windows 95 was far better - and more successful - than its predecessor and narrowed the ease-of-use gap between Windows and Mac computers.

In this August 24, 1995, file photo, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates sits on stage during a video portion of the Windows 95 Launch Event on the company's campus in Redmond. (AP Photo)

With Windows 95, Microsoft started branding the Windows OS with the year of its release.

At around the same time, Microsoft released the first version of its Internet Explorer browser. It went on to tie IE and Windows functions so tightly that many people simply used the browser over the once-dominant Netscape Navigator.

Yahoo home page displayed on Internet Explorer 1 (Image: TechPaparazzi)

The US Justice Department and several states ultimately sued Microsoft, accusing it of using its monopoly control over Windows to shut out competitors in other markets. The company fought the charges for years before settling in 2002.

1998: Windows 98

Where do you want to go today? - Windows 98 commercial

The June 1998 release of Windows 98 was more low-key than the Windows 95 launch, though Microsoft denied it had anything to do with the antitrust case. Windows 98 had the distinction of being the last with roots to the original operating system, MS-DOS. Each operating system is made up of millions of lines of instructions, or code, written in sections by programmers. Each time there's an update, portions get dropped or rewritten, and new sections get added for new features. Eventually, there's nothing left from the original.

1999: Windows 98 SE

Windows 98 SE box in a store (Image: Reuters)

Microsoft, in 1999, released an upgraded version called Windows 98 Second Edition.

2000: Windows Me

Windows Me television commercial

Microsoft came out with Windows Me (Millenium Edition) a few years later, the last to use the code from Windows 95. WIndows Me was one of Microsoft's biggest blunders. Users complained about it being slow, unsteady and buggy

2000: Windows 2000

(Image: Reuters)

Starting with Windows 2000, Microsoft worked off the code built for NT, the 1993 system built from scratch. Windows 2000 was available in six different edition to suit different requirements.

2001: Windows XP

Bill Gates with Windows XP (Image: Reuters)

2006: Windows Vista

Windows Vista commercial

Microsoft's next major release didn't come until Vista in November 2006. Businesses got it first, followed by a broader launch to consumers in January 2007. Coming after years of virus attacks targeting Windows machines and spread over the Internet, the long-delayed Vista operating system offered stronger security and protection. It also had built-in parental-controls settings. But many people found Vista slow and incompatible with existing programs and devices.

2009: Windows 7

Windows 7 ad

Microsoft launched Windows 7 in October 2009 with fixes to many of Vista's flaws. Windows 7 also disrupted users less often by displaying fewer pop-up boxes, notifications and warnings - allowing those that do appear to stand out. Instead, many of those messages get stashed in a single place for people to address when it's convenient. In a sign of what's to come, Windows 7 was able to sense when someone is using more than one finger on a touchpad or touch screen, so people can spread their fingers to zoom into a picture.

2012: Windows 8

Windows 8 in action

Apple released its first iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010. Devices running Google's Android system for mobile devices also caught on. As a result, sales of Windows computers slowed down. Consumers were delaying upgrades and spending their money on new smartphones and tablet computers instead. Windows 8 and its sibling, Windows RT, represent Microsoft's attempt to address that. It's designed to make desktop and laptop computers work more like tablets. Windows 8 is designed especially for touch screens, though it will work with the mouse and keyboard shortcuts, too.

2013: Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 update

Microsoft attempted to fix what it got wrong with its radical makeover of its operating system with Windows 8. The free upgrade tried to make the operating system easier to navigate and enabling users to set up the software so it starts in a more familiar format designed for personal computers.

2015: Windows 10

Windows 10 is the most ambitious and comprehensive update in Microsoft's history and one that aims to unify different types of static and mobile devices and usher the PC firmly into the modern, connected, always-on world.

Developed based on feedback from over 5 million users as well as general criticism regarding Windows 8 and its over-zealous focus on touchscreens and mobile devices, the new version sees the return of the Start button and the addition of Cortana, a personal digital assistant who can answer questions and complete tasks via voice command.

Windows 10 features

But as well as new types of input, Windows 10 is focused on inclusion. The software comes with a host of apps focused on multimedia entertainment including Microsoft Groove, its new dedicated music service, and compatibility with OneDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage service, is backed in.

More importantly, Microsoft has recognized that the PC is just one element of the current computing landscape and so the new operating system will play nicely with other devices thanks to the Microsoft Phone Companion app. It will allow iPhone and Android smartphone owners to connect to a Windows 10 PC and move documents and files about.

There's also a completely overhauled web browser - Microsoft Edge - and better integration with the Xbox One games console.

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