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How Did They Come Up With "7" for the New Version of Windows?

written by: Lamar Stonecypher•edited by: Bill Fulks•updated: 6/9/2010

Since Mike Nash announced in the Vista Team Blog that the next version of Windows is to be officially called “Windows 7," some people have been wondering how they came up with this number. To find out, let’s take a brief look back at past versions of Windows and their numbered release sequence.

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    Windows 1.0 – December 20, 1985

    Rowland Hanson, head of marketing at Microsoft, was the person who actually named the product “Windows." Due to Apple patent restrictions, Windows could only appear “tiled" (without overlapping) and there was no “trash can." This was later resolved by a licensing agreement between Microsoft and Apple. Most folks saw Windows 1 as an unnecessary extension of MS-DOS. A friend working at IBM in Atlanta brought me an early copy of Windows 1.0 to look at, and we both thought it was a curiosity. I installed it and deleted it the same day.

    Computer enthusiasts around this time were busy typing in little “debug scripts" from PC Magazine to make tiny little programs that did something useful in DOS.

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    Windows 2.0 – December 9, 1987

    This version added a strange hybrid mode for Excel and Word for Windows. Although both versions ran under MS-DOS, they could start Windows and execute as a graphical application. I was happily learning the shift-F functions of WordPerfect in DOS at the time, and Windows 2 slid right by me.

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    Windows 3.0 – May 22, 1990

    This was the first version that was recognizably what we would call Windows today. My friend at IBM brought it to me, and we discussed it for some time. I never purchased it because he was extolling the virtues of IBM’s forthcoming OS/2, which I used for some time after. (OS/2 “Warp" got me on the Internet for the first time.) My buddy warned me about Windows 3.0, “It’ll take over your computer." That was prescient.

    Windows 3.x included Program Manager, File Manager, and Print Manager. A revised development environment was supposed to make it easier to code for Windows. A side trip was “Windows 3.0 with Multimedia Extensions" sold with a sound card and CD-ROM as an add-on. This became the basis for Microsoft’s first concept of a “Multimedia PC."

    About this time, VGA (virtual graphics array) graphics first introduced by IBM on their PS/2 PC lineup had supplanted the earlier EGA (enhanced graphics array) pioneered on the original IBM PC-AT. Most people looked at Windows 3.0 for the first time using a 640 x 480 screen resolution, although a few lucky souls had XGA (extended graphics array) and looked at Program Manager in 1024 x 768. (XGA proved amazingly durable. I bought an extravagant 13-inch “multi-sync" monitor to use with an 8514/A graphics card in my Microchannel-based PS/2 Model 70. Fifteen years later, I bought a 15-inch IBM ThinkPad notebook also with a 1024 x 768 screen.)

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    Windows 4.0 – August 24, 1995 - Windows 95, 98, 98 Second Edition, and Millennium

    All of these versions started an underlying layer of MS-DOS before Windows itself could load.

    Windows 95 used a special mode of the 80386 processors called “Enhanced Mode." This brought (theoretical) two-gigabyte memory addressing and virtual memory, which was the ability to use parts of memory that were non-contiguous (i.e., scattered around in the memory map).

    Windows 98 added USB support and integrated Internet Explorer into the OS. This was a decision that had long-reaching repercussions. United States vs. Microsoft was the first of the lawsuits.

    Windows 98 SE brought Internet Connection Sharing, fixed some stability problems, and was probably the most stable version of Windows to date.

    Windows Millennium Edition introduced System Restore, improved Internet, and multimedia features. Windows ME was as unstable as 98 SE was stable, and it earned the moniker “Windows Mistake Edition." PC World put Windows ME fourth in their list of the twenty-five worst tech products of all time.

    Windows ME was also the last version of Windows to be based on MS-DOS

    Next: Windows 5 (Windows 2000 and Windows XP), Windows 6 (Vista), Internal/External Numbering, and Further Reading

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    This page looks at Windows 5 (Windows 2000 and Windows XP). Windows XP is where the separate lines of Windows NT and Windows desktop merged into one operating system. The author relates how Windows XP was his reintroduction to Windows and offers thoughts about improving the functioning of Windows Vista. Vista number, Windows 2000, Windows XP numbering, internal and external Windows versions
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    Windows 5.0 – Windows 2000 and Windows XP

    A seeming marketing oddity, Windows 2000 and Windows Millennium were not, as is commonly thought, the same product. Windows 2000 was part of the separate Windows NT (New Technology) business-oriented line started in 1993, becoming Windows NT Workstation in 1996 and Windows 2000 in the year 2000. Windows 2000 had a troubled beginning - installation problems and poor hardware and peripheral support were not rectified until June 2003. By that time, Windows XP was out.

    Although Windows XP merged the separate NT and 9.x lines of Windows, it was not given a separate numerical designation. Perhaps this was because XP uses the Windows NT 5.1 kernel.

    Windows XP was also my reintroduction to Windows. After OS/2 became for IBM shops only, I had ventured off and was running Red Hat Linux. I needed to support Windows for my work, so I needed a Windows machine. This was in 2005, and I bought a Media Center 2005 PC. That was four desktop computers ago, and I still buy or build PCs with TV tuners.

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    Windows 6.0 – January 30, 2007 – Windows Vista

    And here we arrive at the present. Vista brought us the visual “Aero" interface, Internet Explorer 7, and too many different versions.

    In the time leading up to the introduction of Vista, PC manufacturers had been concerned that many people would delay the purchase of an XP machine because they were waiting for the new operating system. Many computers were sold with a “Vista Capable" sticker on the box that were simply so under-powered that they could only run the most basic versions of Vista, without the slick Aero interface. PC World called Windows Vista one of the fifteen biggest tech disappointments of 2007 and said, “No wonder so many users are clinging to XP like ship-wrecked sailors to a life raft."

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    I’ve written a lot of articles about Vista here at Bright Hub. You have to dance with the one that brought you. My thought about Vista is that there’s nothing basically wrong with it that a fast CPU, a lot of RAM, and some tweaking won’t cure. My main requirements from an operating system is that it let me work with the tools I need, entertain me sometimes, and run without crashing very often. Vista does that for me, and, delightfully, it has its own share of little problems for me to write about.

    Oh, and about numbering . . .

    Windows versions, for application compatibility reasons, have an internal version number and an external named version. If you open a command prompt in Vista and type “ver," it will tell you “Microsoft Windows [Version 6.0.60001]." Windows 7, Mike Nash says, will have a 6.1x internal version number.

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    Further Reading

    Hands On With iTunes 8 - After brewing for almost two years, iTunes 8 has arrived. The Windows and other versions try to be all-things-connected, bringing together Apple and us in music, TV, movies, and now HDTV. How well does it do? Bright Hub goes hands-on to bring you the facts.

    Holographic Storage for Computer Systems - Leaping from the pages of science fiction, holographic data storage on a disc is available for computer systems at last. The industry is young and the entrance pricey, but it offers many benefits over conventional storage. The creation of this device required science, dedication, and serendipity.

    How to FIX Slow File Copying in Vista - Growing old waiting for Vista to complete a file copy operation? Although Service Pack 1 improved copy performance, we CAN do better. Here we'll look at what else is out there.

    How to Track a Stolen Laptop - It's a jungle out there. According to a recent report, 672,000 notebooks are lost in airports every year in the US and more than half are never recovered. It makes sense to assume eventual loss and take precautions before the loss or theft happens. Free tracking application Adeona can help.

    Automatic Encryption/Decryption for Your USB Flash Drive - Want to keep the data on your thumb drive away from prying eyes? TrueCrypt, running in "Traveler" mode on your flash drive, provides transparent, seamless encryption and decryption and can automatically run itself upon insertion. This article guide provides step-by-step instructions to set it up.