Microsoft Windows is 30 today!

Windows 10

Windows 10 is that latest, greatest (and possibly last) version of the venerable operating system that has graced billions of desktops and millions of servers. But how did the OS manage to help Bill Gates' dream of a computer on every desktop become reality/

Getting dirty (and quick)

Before Windows, the story starts in 1975 when two school friends, Paul Allan and Bill Gates start a firm called Micro-Soft in New Mexico. It was five years before IBM approached the firm about creating an operating system for its new line of personal computers, codenamed "Chess". Neither Gates nor Allan had written an OS, so they went out and bought an OS called QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System), changed the name to MS-DOS and licenced that to IBM.

It was no more than a command line interface. Users had to type in instructions to get the computer to do anything. Microsoft knew that something simpler was needed to make the computer more accessible to ordinary people. Codenamed "Interface Manager", this new style of computing would feature drop-down menus, scroll bars and icons all controlled by a mouse.

In June 1980, Gates and Allen hired Gates' former Harvard classmate Steve Ballmer to help run the company.

First contact

While Interface Manager was the codename of the new product and for some time was going to be the final name of it, Windows prevailed as it best described the squares graphically representing the applications being used.

Windows was announced in 1983, and promised to ship in April the following year, but it would be around two years later when on 20 November 1985 Windows 1.0 first went on sales. During that phase, critics described the software as "vapourware"; a product talked about but never destined to see the light of day.

Between announcing Windows and it being launched, another company by the name of Apple launched a computer sporting a graphical user interface called the Mac. But that's another story.

Going up to 10 (and missing 9)

For Microsoft and Windows, it hasn't all been soon sailing. For every Windows XP and Windows 7, there has been a Windows ME and Windows Vista. Usually the missteps have come about because of radical design changes foisted on the public which roundly rejected them.

Over the last few years, and despite its dominance on the desktop, Windows has had competition from smartphones and tablets from Apple and Google. This has seen Microsoft losing market share and also mind share as users look to different ways of working with computers and the internet.

That combination of growing threats from rivals alongside design miscues prompted by those threats led to the decision to make Windows 10 free to users of Windows 7 and 8. Whether this will be enough to maintain Microsoft's pre-eminence in the computer world is anything but certain. Here's a brief history of Windows.

A Windows timeline

Swipe to scroll horizontally
20 November 1985Windows 1.0
9 December 1987Windows 2.0
27 May 1988Windows 2.10
13 March 1989Windows 2.11
22 May 1990Windows 3.0
20 October 1991Windows 3.0 with Multimedia Extensions
6 April 1992Windows 3.1
27 October 1992Windows for Workgroups 3.1
27 July 1993Windows NT 3.1
8 November 1993Windows for Workgroups 3.11
21 September 1994Windows NT 3.5
30 May 1995Windows NT 3.51
24 August 1995Windows 95
24 August 1996Windows NT 4.0
25 June 1998Windows 98
5 May 1999Windows 98 SE
17 February 2000Windows 2000
14 September 2000Windows ME
25 October 2001Windows XP
8 November 2006Windows Vista for Business use
30 January 2007Windows Vista for Home use
22 October 2009Windows 7
26 October
Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.