I’ve worked with all versions of Microsoft Windows and have watched it evolve from a very basic graphical extension to the full-blown professional operating system that it is today.

Windows 1.0 was released back in 1985, but it didn’t really gain popularity until Windows 3.1 was released in 1992.    Later that year, Microsoft released Windows for Workgroups 3.1 which took aim at the business market.   This was the first version of windows that allowed users to easily share files and folders between computers and led to it becoming the de-facto standard for PCs in the workplace.   In the first 3 months or so, they sold 3 million copies of Windows 3.1.

It was at this point that Microsoft started to take a new approach to Windows.   The version they’d been evolving since 1985 was still based on old technology that wasn’t very stable or secure.   Businesses were becoming reliant on PCs and needed something that, would work without crashes, and was secure enough to store increasingly important data.  So came Windows NT (New Technology).   Unless you were in business, you probably never saw or heard of Windows NT.  It looked like the old Windows 3.1 but was far more advanced behind the scenes.

This led to two branches of Windows – NT for the business world and soon, Windows 95 which changed the look of Windows and introduced the Start Menu.   I remember Microsoft employed the Rolling Stones to help promote it with their song Start Me Up – a sure sign that Windows was becoming mainstream.   In the first year, Windows 95 sold 40 million copies!

This two-pronged approach continued with releases of Windows 98 for consumers and Windows NT 4.0 for businesses.

Microsoft had now backed itself into a corner where it had to support two versions of Windows.   NT had the old-style interface of 3.1, whereas 98 looked more modern but was less stable and secure.   The solution – Windows 2000 which merged the two together.    This was a huge step and laid the groundwork for the future of Windows.   Combining a secure business platform, with one aimed at home users and gamers wasn’t easy, but they pulled it off.   2000 was a hit with businesses as it was easy to use, but also reliable.   It wasn’t as popular with home users though, as the business features and security were somewhat off-putting.

So along came Microsoft’s first disaster – Windows ME.  ME stood for Millennium Edition and was an evolution of 98.   What a train wreck – compared to 2000 it was really buggy.   You could tell that Microsoft had put all of their effort into 2000, whereas ME was more of an afterthought.   Most people don’t remember ME as it was very short lived!

A year later in 2001 came one of Microsoft’s biggest hits – Windows XP.   It was released 18 years ago and yet I’m still seeing XP machines in daily use.   XP was the best of both Windows branches.   It was fast, easy and great for gamers, but also secure, reliable and stable for business users.   In just over 2 months, they sold 17 million copies!

Unfortunately, it was followed by another disaster – Windows Vista.  Vista tried too hard.   They tried to increase the security and added lots of new features, but this just led to endless pop up warnings and bugs.   I remember being responsible for a network of hundreds of computers, of which around 50 of the machines were Vista.  One morning we came in to find a few of them not working.   They were booting to a blue screen which meant they were effectively dead?  As the day continued, more of them started dropping like flies.   We eventually discovered that an overnight security patch had a bug in it that meant that the next time the PCs rebooted – they’d die.   That was a frantic day – running around warning everyone – “Don’t reboot!!”.

Watch out for the next article where I continue the story of Windows.