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Microsoft Windows history: A 30-year timeline

Microsoft celebrates 30 years of the Windows operating system when it ships Windows 10 this fall. Here's a look at Windows history -- bumps and all.

Three decades ago, Microsoft introduced the Windows operating system, and though there have been some stumbles throughout its evolution, the technological changes it brought forth have been monumental.

When Windows 1.0 first shipped, it was panned by the critics for using a mouse when, well, a mouse just wasn't popular as an input device.

It wasn't until Windows 3.0's graphical user interface came along that businesses and consumers began to see how helpful a mouse is. Between Windows 3.0 and 3.1, Microsoft sold over 10 million copies -- not too shabby with the personal computing industry still in its early stages.

Microsoft's 30-year history of Windows

By the time Microsoft unveiled Windows XP in 2001, the company's OS and software were fully entrenched in businesses and in homes. An entire ecosystem of app developers surrounding Windows had been born, and Windows XP and later Windows 7 became the standard operating system for business.

Microsoft would probably rather forget the debacle of its initial Windows 8.0 launch, but the company regrouped and is now slated to ship Windows 10 this fall. New features such as a tighter integration between the traditional desktop interface and Windows tiles, as well as containers, could make the new OS attractive to businesses.

While the industry awaits Microsoft's Windows 10, Microsoft is reorganizing its ISV program to entice more developers to create apps for Windows mobile devices in the hopes that apps will drive sales of devices, software and services.

This coming year will be crucial for Microsoft in this mobile-only and cloud-first-only world, and only time will tell whether the company prevails.

Next Steps

What can we tell about Windows 9 (now Windows 10) from Windows 8.1?

IT shrugs at Windows 8.1 as Microsoft begins prepping Windows 9

Enterprises put off migrating to Windows 8

Face-off: Windows 7 vs. Windows 8

This was last published in January 2015

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What do you think were the most notable events in Windows history?
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For me, it comes down to Windows 95. Not only was it a major success for the company, it launched several functions and features that are still seen today (Start button for example).
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I think Windows 8 was actually pretty notable - not for its success, obviously, but for its demonstration of how Microsoft wanted to change its focus and take some risks. Whether they get it right, who knows - but I think we'll be talking about it as a pivotal moment for a long time. 
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Two notable moments in Windows history for me were:

1 - NT 4.0 Service Pack 2 debacle
2 - Windows Me (big joke).


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The definitive answer is, "MAC".
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Where Windows OS is concerned I think one of the most notable events in its history was June 1991 when MS-DOSeditor got its first retail upgrade. This paved the way for consumer desires for the newest and latest Windows OS. Fast forward the clock to 2015 and the introduction of Windows 10 and we see that same level of consumer enthusiasm rise for cutting edge and modern Windows OS offerings.
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Surely the most notable event for Microsoft was the sale by Mr Gates of a Disk Operating System, that wasn't his, to IBM when Gary Kildell of Digital Research wasn't available to supply CP/M (and CP Net, MP/M...) for the IBM Personal Computer - an out-of-date clunky microprocessor.

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How about the BSOD?... people still talk about it even though it has not been seen in years.
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Win 3.1 seemed to change everything. Suddenly "windows" was a real thing. An environment suddenly, not just an OS. That was actually stunning.

But it still didn't quite smack everyone quite as much as Win95. That became the operating standard for a long time, despite MS' full-time efforts to, uh, oh, what's the polite word...? To diminish it, yeah, that's it, DIMINISH their core product....

Window ME comes to mind, followed all too rapidly by a series of pointless updates (which happily rarely come to mind).

But of them all, searingly, there was Win8. Which almost managed to undo everything Microsoft. How could one company be so wrong so convincingly? It seemed obvious that no one at MS had actually used their big upgrade and that made it an unlikely option for anyone who wasn't at Microsoft.

Perhaps Win10 will be The Next Big Thing. The Most Notable.
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Another is the exposure to .MP3 file formats. This has led to a lot of hardware developed to take our music with us. 
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I think for me, the most notable moments and the ones with the most impact were Windows 95, Windows XP, and Windows 7. Those three releases made solid strides in the Microsoft Windows environment being taken seriously as a workstation platform. I'll also give a nod to Windows 3.11, as it was the first version of Windows that felt solid and stable, though it needed some TLC and some extra software to configure to make it a proper workstation (oh the days of having to buy FTP Software's TCP/IP for Windows, not to mention the various other Windows based Network OS systems like Novell Netware, Banyan Vines, and AppleTalk plug-ins).
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I still remember the Windows for workgroups back in the early 80's. Pretty impressive considering the hardware we at the times. My first "real" computer was a 286 processor, with a 20 meg HD, 3.5 and 5.25 floppies 128k video  can't remember the ram, but it cost over 3,000 at the time.
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It’s hard to believe that it has already been thirty years. I had played around with Windows for a while, but really cut my teeth on Windows 3.11 for workgroups. I think that was the first time that I had catastrophically broken the operating system and had to go in, figure out what I had done, and get it fixed. I remember how devastated I was when Windows 95 came out with the new look and feel. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!
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Why didn't Millenium get more of a mention? It was such a failure it deserves more acknowledgement as one of Microsofts worsts flops.
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Wow...Flash back to my Windows for workgroups days. Some program installations involved up to (10)  3 1/4 inch floppies. TO beat the storage you could buy a punch for the disk to make it a 1.44 meg..Ooooo massive .. I started on an old Radio Shack PC that had a 20 meg external 5 1/2" floppy drive and a 720k 3 1/4" internal drive and had a whopping 128k on the video card and cost over $3,000...I do not miss the BSOD (blue screen of death). It's amazing.... Just think where we will be in another 30 years..
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The walk down memory lane is fun and helps us appreciate how far technology has come in the last 30 years. It's incredible. Today, we don't need floppy disks, you can buy a cheap notebook for $300 and nowadays you can still get your work done without using a PC. Technology has changed the way we work and interact in our daily lives. Who knows what'll be next?
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With all the new media technologies out there we are becoming pack rats. We save a lot more data and files than we probably need. Between videos, pictures and mp3 audio we need more & more storage. Makes me wonder if Microsoft has any stake in the disk storage market ?? What will Microsoft have down the road for us next? Who knows, but I'm ready. I recently picked up a 4TB external drive for $119 I hope that's enough to last at least a few years. Come on Microsoft.. Give me your best shot !!
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Todd, why disk storage over cloud storage? Guessing the answer is security and backup, but curious - the cloud seems to be where Microsoft is putting more of its stock, for both enterprises and consumers. 
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Call me old school. I still like to have my data under my control to the best of my ability. The cloud storage most likely is the way of the future, I'm still not feeling comfortable enough with personal data on it.
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Good stuff. I owe a debt of gratitude to Microsoft and the Windows engineers/developers for helping me in my career. I'm pretty sure most IT veterans wouldn't be where they are today had it not been for the bad, the ugly, but mostly the good that has come from Windows.
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