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WINDOWS VERSIONS: Version 1, circa 1985 through Version 10 circa 2015

Windows 1 released in November 1985, was Microsoft’s first true attempt at a graphical user interface in 16-bit. Development was spearheaded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and ran on top of MS-DOS, which relied on command-line input. It was notable because it relied heavily on use of a mouse before the mouse was a common computer input device. To help users become familiar with this odd input system, Microsoft included a game, Reversi that relied on mouse control, not the keyboard, to get people used to moving the mouse around and clicking onscreen elements.

Windows 2 replaced Windows 1 in December 1987. The big innovation for Windows 2 was that windows could overlap each other, and it also introduced the ability to minimize or maximize windows instead of “iconising” or “zooming”. The control panel, where various system settings and configuration options were collected together in one place, was introduced in Windows 2 and survives to this day. Microsoft Word and Excel also made their first appearances running on Windows 2.

Windows 3 was the first Windows that required a hard drive launched in 1990. was the first version to see more widespread success and be considered a challenger to Apple’s Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga graphical user interfaces, coming pre-installed on computers from PC-compatible manufacturers including Zenith Data Systems. Windows 3 introduced the ability to run MS-DOS programs in Windows, which brought multitasking to legacy programs, and supported 256 colors bringing a more modern, colorful look to the interface. More important - at least to the sum total of human time wasted - it introduced the card-moving time sink (and mouse use trainer) Solitaire.

Windows 3.1 released in 1992 is notable because it introduced TrueType fonts making Windows a viable publishing platform for the first time. Minesweeper also made its first appearance. Windows 3.1 required 1MB of RAM to run and allowed supported MS-DOS programs to be controlled with a mouse for the first time. Windows 3.1 was also the first Windows to be distributed on a CD-ROM, although once installed on a hard drive it only took up 10 to 15MB (a CD can typically store up to 700MB).

Windows 95 arrived in August 1995 and with it brought the first ever Start button and Start menu (launched with a gigantic advertising campaign that used the Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up, and a couple of months later Friends stars Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry. Could it be any more up-to-date?) It also introduced the concept of “plug and play” – connect a peripheral and the operating system finds the appropriate drivers for it and makes it work. That was the idea; it didn’t always work in practice. Windows 95 also introduced a 32-bit environment, the task bar and focused on multitasking. MS-DOS still played an important role for Windows 95, which required it to run some program and elements. Internet Explorer also made its debut on Windows 95, but was not installed by default requiring the Windows 95 Plus! pack. Later revisions of Windows 95 included IE by default, as Netscape Navigator and NCSA Mosaic were popular at the time.

Windows 98 released in June 1998, was 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 the back and forward navigation buttons and the address bar in Windows Explorer, among other things. One of the biggest changes was the introduction of the Windows Driver Model for computer components and accessories – one driver to support all future versions of Windows. USB support was much improved in Windows 98 and led to its widespread adoption, including USB hubs and USB mice.

Windows Millennium Edition (ME) is considered a low point in the Windows series by many, at least, until they saw Windows Vista. Windows ME was the last Windows to be based on MS-DOS, and the last in the Windows 9x line. Released in September 2000, it was the consumer-aimed operating system twined with Windows 2000 aimed at the enterprise market. It introduced some important concepts to consumers, including more automated system recovery tools. IE 5.5, Windows Media Player 7 and Windows Movie Maker all made their appearance for the first time. Autocomplete also appeared in Windows Explorer, but the operating system was notorious for being buggy, failing to install properly and being generally poor.

Windows 2000 the enterprise twin of ME, was released in February 2000 and was based on Microsoft’s business-orientated system Windows NT and later became the basis for Windows XP. Microsoft’s automatic updating played an important role in Windows 2000 and became the first Windows to support hibernation.

Windows XP was arguably one of the best Windows versions, was released in October 2001 and brought Microsoft’s enterprise line and consumer line of operating systems under one roof. It was based on Windows NT like Windows 2000, but brought the consumer-friendly elements from Windows ME. The Start menu and task bar got a visual overhaul, bringing the familiar green Start button, blue task bar and vista wallpaper, along with various shadow and other visual effects. ClearType, which was designed to make text easier to read on LCD screens, was introduced, as were built-in CD burning, autoplay from CDs and other media, plus various automated update and recovery tools, that unlike Windows ME actually worked. Windows XP was the longest running Microsoft operating system, seeing three major updates and support up until April 2014 – 13 years from its original release date. Windows XP was still used on an estimated 430,000,000 PCs when it was discontinued. Windows XP biggest problem was security: though it had a firewall built in, it was turned off by default. Windows XP’s huge popularity turned out to be a boon for hackers and criminals, who exploited its flaws, especially in Internet Explorer, mercilessly - leading Bill Gates to initiate a “Trustworthy Computing” initiative and the subsequent issuance of two Service Pack updates that hardened XP against attack substantially.

Windows Vista replaced Windows XP in January 2007 after staying the course for close to six years before being replaced. Vista updated the look and feel of Windows with more focus on transparent elements, search and security. Its development, under the codename “Longhorn”, was troubled, with ambitious elements abandoned in order to get it into production. It was buggy, burdened the user with hundreds of requests for app permissions under “User Account Control” - the outcome of the Trustworthy Computing initiative which now meant that users had to approve or disapprove attempts by programs to make various changes. The problem with UAC was that it led to complacency, with people clicking “yes” to almost anything - taking security back to the pre-UAC state. It also ran slowly on older computers despite them being deemed as “Vista Ready” - a labeling that saw it sued because not all versions of Vista could run on PCs with that label. PC gamers saw a boost from Vista’s inclusion of Microsoft’s DirectX 10 technology. Windows Media Player 11 and IE 7 debuted, along with Windows Defender an anti-Malware program. Vista also included speech recognition, Windows DVD Maker and Photo Gallery, as well as being the first Windows to be distributed on DVD. Later a version of Windows Vista without Windows Media Player was created in response to anti-trust investigations.

Windows 7 is considered by many as what Windows Vista should have been, (Windows 7 is still my personal favorite for many reasons – but primarily the ability to control the installation of updates) was first released in October 2009. It was intended to fix all the problems and criticism faced by Vista, with slight tweaks to its appearance and a concentration on user-friendly features and less “dialogue box overload”. It was faster, more stable and easier to use, becoming the operating system most users and business would upgrade to from Windows XP, forgoing Vista entirely. Handwriting recognition debuted in 7, as did the ability to “snap” windows to the tops or sides of the screen, allowing faster more automatic window resizing. Windows 7 saw Microsoft hit in Europe with antitrust investigations over the pre-installing of IE, which led to a browser ballot screen being shown to new users allowing them to choose, which browser to install on first boot. Windows 7 was still in use by over 300,000,000 computers world wide (not including China) when Microsoft ended it's extended support on January 14, 2020. Businesses can still run Windows 7 and get security updates through the Extended Service Updates (ESU) program where they pay a fee per computer for an additional 3 years support.

Windows 8. Released in October 2012, was Microsoft’s most radical overhaul of the Windows interface, ditching the Start button and Start menu in favor of a more touch-friendly Start screen. The new tiled interface saw program icons and live tiles, which displayed at-a-glance information normally, associated with “widgets”, replace the lists of program and icons. A desktop was still included, which resembled Windows 7. Windows 8 was faster than previous versions of Windows and included support for the new, much faster USB 3.0 devices. The Windows Store, which offers universal Windows apps that run in a full-screen mode only, was introduced. Programs could still be installed from third-parties like other iterations of Windows, but they could only access the traditional desktop interface of Windows. The radical overhaul was not welcomed by many. Microsoft attempted to tread a fine line between touch screen support and desktop users, but ultimately desktop users wanting to control Windows with a traditional mouse and keyboard and not a touch screen felt Windows 8 was a step back. There were also too few touch screens in use, or on offer, to make its touch-oriented interface useful or even necessary - despite the parallel rise of tablets such as the iPad, and smartphones, which had begun outselling PCs by the end of 2010.

Windows RT, which runs on ARM-based processors traditionally found in smartphones and non-PC tablets, was introduced at the same time as Windows 8 with the Microsoft Surface tablet. It looked and felt like Windows 8, but could not run traditional Windows applications, instead solely relying on the Windows Store for third-party apps.

Windows 8.1 A free point release to Windows 8 introduced in October 2013, Windows 8.1 marked a shift towards yearly software updates from Microsoft and included the first step in Microsoft’s U-turn around its new visual interface-introduced the Start button, which brought up the Start screen from the desktop view of Windows 8.1. Users could also choose to boot directly into the desktop of Windows 8.1, which was more suitable for those using a desktop computer with a mouse and keyboard than the touch-focused Start screen.

Windows 10 came out in 2015 and is Microsoft’s current iteration of its Windows OS. When it debuted, it was apparent that Microsoft wanted to refine its use of Live Tiles rather than get rid of them altogether. In Windows 10, it compromised: It got rid of the unloved Start screen from Windows 8 and replaced it with a larger Start menu that features the use of Live Tiles, among other kinds of app icons. This start menu is still confusing to most new users. Windows 10 – despite being the ninth version of Windows  it is designed to unify all Windows platforms across multiple devices, including Windows Phone and tablets, with universal apps that can be downloaded from the Windows Store and run on all Windows devices. Other features that came with Windows 10 included the introduction of Cortana, a native digital personal assistant; the ability to switch between tablet and desktop mode; and a new web browser (Microsoft Edge) Windows 10 has also received fairly frequent updates since its launch in 2015. They’re called Feature updates, and currently they happen every six months. They’re always free and available within Windows Update. Many of these feature updates have in fact caused many problems and heartaches with many users. The next feature update isn’t that far away: Windows 10 20H2 is slated to be released some time in late fall 2020, possibly October/November 2020. This update is expected to include changes such as an overhauled Cortana experience and a new ability to reinstall Windows “by choosing the option to Cloud download Windows, without having to create installation media.” Informed users postpone any feature updates for at least a month before installation. To do so right away is to become one of Microsoft's beta testers (guinea pigs) and thereby take a chance to experience any nasty surprises that the new feature update may contain. As you may surmise I am not fan of these feature updates and the users limited ability to control when these updates occur. Unlike the updates in Windows 7.


Will there be a Windows 11? I can't say. However, when Windows 10 was rolled out by Microsoft in 2015 the program manager said this is the LAST Windows Operating System. However, at the same time the Enterprise version of Windows 10 was NOT an operating system it was a Widows Service. Meaning large commercial customers with hundreds/thousands of computers would be running Windows 10 Enterprise Service and paying a yearly license fee for every computer running it. Unlike, the Windows 10 Home and Professional versions where the license is paid for one time, in most cases by the user when they purchase their new computer. Also the Enterprise version doesn't get it Feature Updates until all the bugs are worked out on the Home/Professional versions. We don't want those multimillion dollar customers to have all those computers crash due to any bugs now do we? Let the home/small business be the guinea pigs and find the flaws in the new updates first. Plus, it’s not like those feature updates leave Windows users looking for new features and design tweaks to Windows 10. They happen all too often in my opinion and most of them are cosmetic changes. Once per year should be just fine and maybe just maybe if they only had one feature update per year Microsoft might spend more time with them and not release them to the world without substantial testing.