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windowsThirty years ago today, Microsoft joined a competitive race with the introduction of Windows 1.0. Apple had already introduced its Mac OS and Microsoft was a year and a half late in shipping their response. But Windows quickly caught up.

And today, more than 1 billion machines are capable of running the latest version of Microsoft’s flagship OS.

Windows has had some quirks over the years. The first version was basically a skin of MS-DOS, letting users tile, but not overlap, application windows running programs like Calculator, Cardfile and Paint.

Windows has since ballooned into an operating system that does everything from console gaming to controlling satellites. Below, we look at how Windows has transformed over the years.

Windows 1.0. Image via Microsoft/Wikipedia
Windows 1.0

Windows was originally designed as a way for Microsoft to use its existing MS-DOS operating system as a windowed environment, making it easier for everyday users to complete tasks with the computer without having to manually type commands. Microsoft maintained the MS-DOS backend through Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows ME. It wasn’t until Windows XP that Microsoft moved away from the underlying MS-DOS.

Windows 95 was the first OS to run Internet Explorer.
Windows 95 was the first OS to run Internet Explorer. Image via Microsoft/Wikipedia

While Windows saw strong success with home users, it greatly benefited from business customers who increasingly used computers for workplace tasks.

Windows 3.11 introduced the first Windows system that hooked to the commercial internet using TCP/IP networking, and Internet Explorer was introduced shortly after Windows 95, ushering in a world of connected devices.

Microsoft encountered some well-documented blunders with later versions of the Windows operating system as well though. Both Windows Vista and Windows 8 drew criticism from professionals and novices alike.

Windows Vista. Image via Microsoft/Wikipedia
Windows Vista. Image via Microsoft/Wikipedia

Windows Vista required high hardware requirements that many older computers couldn’t achieve. Many users also found their Vista systems running slower even with compatible hardware. On top of complaints over new DRM in Vista, these complaints forced Microsoft to keep selling the older Windows XP long into the Vista lifecycle. People were happy to move to Windows 7 when it came out, with 100 million copies sold in just 6 months.

The new Windows 8 Consumer Preview Start screen
Windows 8 and the Start screen

With Apple growing its share of desktop users and the mobile industry taking off, Microsoft made perhaps its most significant change to Windows’ appearance with Windows 8. While it didn’t have the jump in hardware requirements as compared Windows Vista, the change to a touchscreen-friendly user interface left many at a loss for how to navigate their system. While Windows 8.1 brought back the Start Menu, many were still disappointed by dumbing down of the system overall.

windows10-machine1
Windows 10 running on a laptop

While the touch-based system was kept for Windows 10, Microsoft added some historical features back into the mix. The traditional Start Menu was augmented with Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant, and users had more control over settings. It’s also made to run on virtually any device, controlling not just PCs and tablets, but also it’s running on Microsoft’s Xbox game console and soon to be running on smartphones.

Microsoft also introduced the new OS as a free upgrade for Windows 7 and 8.1 users, showing the shifting attitudes of the software giant. It now relies on other sources of revenue to sustain development, sources of revenue that require its users to run an up-to-date operating system.

Windows 10 may be the last big update to Windows we see in a while. Microsoft is working on smaller, more frequent updates to its operating system, enabling the company to be more nimble and keep users more secure. Yes, Windows will still be around, and it’ll still get major updates as Microsoft develops new tech.

But after three decades, the operating system may be ready for less drastic change and a more gradual approach to the technical revolution.

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