The History of the Microsoft Windows Operating System

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Microsoft Windows 1.0

The Microsoft Windows operating system has had many versions over its history. Many people are familiar with Windows 3.1, which was released in 1992. While Windows 3.1 was Microsoft’s first popular Windows operating system, it was not the first version of Windows that was ever sold. Windows 1.0, which was released in 1985, was basically an extension of the MS-DOS operating system. While Windows wasn’t the first graphical user interface (GUI) designed for the PC, it was the most successful. Sold as Windows 1.01, this first Windows operating system was error-prone and had a clunky interface, using tiled windows and primitive graphics. As a consequence, Windows 1.0 was not a popular product, despite its low price.

The History of Early Windows Operating Systems

Microsoft Windows 1.0 was a 16 bit operating system that originally sold for $99. The project to develop a Microsoft GUI for the PC began in 1981, and was originally announced in 1983. Windows 1.0 features included a calendar, a calculator, a card file, a clock, a notepad and a file management program. As with today’s Windows versions, users of Windows 1.0 could use a mouse to navigate the graphical interface. Windows 1.0 also had color, a menu bar and scrolling windows. The program was sold on floppy disks and required DOS 5.0 and 1 MB of hard drive space to run. Windows 2.0, which was released in 1987, supported higher processor speeds, expanded memory, overlapping windows and a more customizable screen layout. Many of these improvements made Windows look more like Apples’ Mac OS, a resemblance that eventually led to trouble.

Apple vs. Microsoft Lawsuit

Microsoft had licensed certain features of Apple’s operating system for use in their Windows 1.0 operating system. However, the appearance of Apple look-alike features in Windows 2.0 sparked Apple to file a lawsuit against Microsoft in 1988. Apple claimed that Microsoft had broken the original licensing agreement the two companies has made in 1985. They also claimed that Windows violated the “look and feel” of the Macintosh operating system. Apple claimed that there were 189 visual displays within Windows that violated Apple’s copyright. In 1989, the judge in the case ruled that 179 of these displays were covered by the license between Apple and Microsoft. In 1992, the remaining 10 displays were dismissed as not being subject to copyright. In 1993, Microsoft won the lawsuit.

Later Versions of Microsoft Windows

Microsoft Windows’ graphics, features and performance were to improve dramatically over the years to come. Windows 3.1 was a commercial success largely because of its improved features, which included the use of 16 colors, as well as program, file and print management programs, overlapping windows and improved icons. In 1993, Microsoft released Windows NT (New Technology), a completely new, advanced Windows operating system which was more secure and stable than previous versions of Windows, and which was intended for business use. Windows for Workgroups 3.11 introduced workgroup and networking support. Windows 95 included a completely new look, and features such as built-in Internet and network support and Plug and Play hardware detection. Windows 98 brought support for DVD players and USB devices. Windows Me was the first Windows operating system to include System Restore, and the last to be based on the Windows 95 source code.

The next two operating systems, Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional and Windows XP, were built on the Windows NT code base. Both Windows 2000 and Windows XP were network-ready and supported USB and FireWire. Windows XP had an improved appearance, as well as improved support for multi-media. Windows Vista brought many improvements, such as Instant Search, parental controls, multiprocessor support and 64 bit editions, but it was reviled by much of the PC community due to bugs and other problems with the function of the operating system. Windows 7 is believed to correct many of these problems. Windows 7 has many of the features of Windows Vista and includes new feature enhancements such as improved navigation, improved home networking and touch screen support.

For more information about the history of the Microsoft Windows operating system and other computer GUIs, browse the “Sources” below.


“Windows History.”

“A History of Microsoft Windows.”

“A History of the GUI.”

“The Unusual History of Microsoft Windows.”

“Apple-Microsoft Lawsuit Fizzles To A Close – `Nothing Left’ To Fight About.”