A History of Microsoft Windows – Timeline

Don’t be surprised if I say that 9 out of 10 computers run some version of the Windows operating system, today. However, no one could have predicted this outcome when the whole journey started with MS-DOS and a vision to have every computer on a desktop. Below, you will find a chronology of events that take you through highlights from the first 25 years of Windows, more preferably – A History of Windows.

History of Windows

In 1975, Gates and Allen formed a partnership called Microsoft. Like most start-ups, Microsoft began small but had a huge vision—a computer on every desktop and in every home. During the next years, Microsoft began to change the ways we work.

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

IBM approached Microsoft about a project code-named “Chess.” In response, Microsoft focused on a new operating system—the software that manages, or runs, the computer hardware and also serves to bridge the gap between the computer hardware and programs, such as a word processor. It’s the foundation on which computer programs can run. They named their new operating system “MS-DOS.”

When the IBM PC is running MS-DOS shipped in 1981, it introduced a whole new language to the general public.

Microsoft worked on the first version of a new operating system. Interface Manager was the code name and was considered as the final name, but Windows prevailed because it best described the boxes or computing “windows” that were fundamental to the new system. Windows was announced in 1983, but it took a while to develop. Skeptics called it “vaporware.”

On November 20, 1985, two years after the initial announcement, Microsoft shipped Windows 1.0.

History of Windows


Windows 1.0 required a minimum of 256 kilobytes (KB), two double-sided floppy disk drives, and a graphics adapter card. A hard disk and 512 KB memory was recommended for running multiple programs or when using DOS 3.0 or higher.  It was originally developed by Microsoft for  IBM-compatible personal computers. Although the first version of OS from Microsoft, MS-DOS was a little-used or preferred alternative to Apple’s Macintosh. Despite witnessing little success, Microsoft continued to offer support for MS-DOS till the development of Windows XP.


Q: Ever wondered, what MS-DOS stood for?

Microsoft Disk Operating System

Windows 1.0 – 2.0 (1985-1992)

Instead of typing MS-DOS commands, Windows 1.0 allowed users to point and click to access the windows.

In 1987 Microsoft released Windows 2.0, which was designed for the designed for the Intel 286 processor. This version added desktop icons, keyboard shortcuts, and improved graphics support.

Q: Why was Windows OS named so?

Microsoft Windows 1.0 was named so since the computing boxes, or Windows  design represented a fundamental aspect of the operating system.

Windows 3.0 – 3.1 (1990–1994)

Microsoft released Windows 3.0 in May 1900 offering better icons, performance and advanced graphics with 16 colors designed for Intel 386 processors. Its popularity grew by manifolds following the release of SDK that helped software developers focus more on writing and less on writing device drivers. With Windows 3.0 Microsoft completely rewrote the application development environment. The OS included Program Manager, File Manager and Print Manager and games, remember Solitare, a complete time waster??

Q: What does SDK stand for?

SDK refers to a set of tools that allows for the creation of applications for certain software.

Windows 95 (August 1995)

A major release of the Microsoft Windows operating system that caused Apple’s Market share to decline or shrink was Windows 95. Windows 95 as the name suggests was released in 1995 represented a significant advance over its precursor, Windows 3.1. By the way, this was also the time when the first version of Microsoft’s proprietary browser – Internet Explorer 1 was rolled out in August 1995 to catch up the Internet wave.

Windows 95

Windows 98 (June 1998)

Described as an operating system that “Works Better & Plays Better, ‘Windows 98’ offered support for a number of new technologies, including FAT32, AGP, MMX, USB, DVD, and ACPI. Also, it was the first OS to include a tool called Windows Update. The tool alerted the customers when software updates became available for their computers.

Q: Which was the last version based on MS-DOS application?

Windows 98 indeed, was the last version based on MS?DOS.

Windows ME – Millennium Edition (September 2000)

The Windows Millennium Edition, referred as “Windows Me” was an update to the Windows 98 core that included some features of the Windows 2000 operating system. The version had the “boot in DOS” option removed but included other enhancements like Windows Media player and Movie Maker for basic video editing.

Q: System Restore, a feature that rolled your PC software configuration back to a date or time before a problem occurred first appeared in which version of Windows?

Windows ME – Millennium Edition

Windows NT 3.1 – 4.0 (1993-1996)

A version of the Windows OS with 32-bit support for preemptive multitasking. Two versions of Windows NT:

  1. Windows NT Server – Designed to act as a server in networks
  2. Windows NT – Workstation for stand-alone or client workstations

Windows 2000 (February 2000)

W2K (abbreviated form) was an operating system for business desktop and laptop systems to run software applications, connect to Internet and intranet sites, and access files, printers, and network resources. Windows 2000 4 versions released by Microsoft

  1.  Professional (for business desktop and laptop systems)
  2.  Server (both a Web server and an office server)
  3.  Advanced Server (for line-of-business applications)
  4.  Datacenter Server (for high-traffic computer networks)

Windows XP (October 2001)

This version of the OS was built on Windows 2000 Kernel and was introduced in 2001 along with a redesigned look and feel. It was made available to the public in 2 versions

  1. Windows XP Home
  2. Windows XP Professional

Microsoft focused on mobility for both editions, including plug and play features for connecting to wireless networks was introduced in this version of Windows, and it proved to one of Microsoft’s best-selling products. Its use started declining with more Windows 7 deployments.

Windows XP

Windows Vista (November 2006)

A marketing flop! People expected too much from its WOW factor. Windows Vista released in November 2006 was widely criticized for performance related issues.

Windows 7 (October 2009)

Windows 7 made its official debut on October 22, 2009. The OS included enhancements in the form of fast start-up time, Aero Snap, Aero Shake, support for virtual hard disks, a new and improved Windows Media Center, and better security features.

Windows 7

Windows 8

Bill Gates’ vision of the future computing was Touch and voice replacing mouse and keyboard. We already have the touch with Windows 8, a completely redesigned OS built from the ground up.

windows 8.1 logo

The OS replaces the more traditional Microsoft Windows OS look and feels with a new “Modern Interface” consisting of flat tiles that first debuted in the Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system.

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 changed a few things for the better which were found wanting in Windows 8.

Notable changes included a visible Start button, improved Start screen, Internet Explorer 11, tighter OneDrive integration, Bing-powered unified search box, the ability to land on the desktop on login instead of the Start screen.

Windows 10

Windows 10 has been described as the ‘last operating system’ from Microsoft. It is now a series of releases that receives half-yearly feature updates. They are referred to as Windows 10 v1501, Windows 10 1803 and so on..


The OS introduced Edge a new browser meant to replace Internet Explorer. It supports Universal Apps which Universal apps can be designed to run across multiple Microsoft product families like PCs, tablets, smartphones, embedded systems, Xbox One, Surface Hub and Mixed Reality. It has been well received – but its Automatic Windows Update system is one area that is disliked by some.

Source: Microsoft.

Posted by on , in Category Windows with Tags
Anand Khanse is the Admin of TheWindowsClub.com, a 10-year Microsoft MVP Awardee in Windows (2006-16) & a Windows Insider MVP. Please read the entire post & the comments first, create a System Restore Point before making any changes to your system & be careful about any 3rd-party offers while installing freeware.


  1. Compuguru4u

    Thanks for taking us down the memory lane. I remember using WIndows 1 to be installed with 1 5.5″ Floppy drive.

  2. I’m 57, and date — computer industry-wise, at least — back to the desktop PC industry as it existed back in the 1970s… which means CP/M, then Apple I and II; then the IBM PC and PC-DOS, then Microsoft’s MS-DOS…

    …and somewhere in there I screwed around a bit in the mini- and mainframe computer world, too. So I definitely remember LOOOONNNNGGG before Windows; as well as every single moment of Windows, since. Every single one!

    So I can say, with authority, that there is one error, and one slight leaving-out of something in this otherwise excellent piece!

    First, the leaving-out: Remember that there were actually two versions of Win98, the second being SE. And, technically, there was kinda’ the same thing with Win95, but it was just less official.

    Second, the error: Windows 98 was *NOT* the last FAT-32, MS-DOS-based version. Windows ME was. Windows ME was nothing more than Windows 98, but with Windows 2000-like graphics and icons. Of course that’s an oversimplification, but it pretty much captures the essence of it. ME was entirely based on the 98 kernel. It was the last version of Windows before all versions became NTFS-based.

    It’s confusing, I know, because Microsoft, from the outset of Windows 9x, tried, in how talk about Windows in a way that blurred the line between Windows and DOS, calling Windows an “operating system,” when, in fact, all versions of Windows prior to NTFS-based NT — including ME — were nothing more than graphical user interfaces sitting atop FAT-based MS-DOS… and no amount of Microsoft’s wishing, either then or now, changes that. What made it a little more confusing in ME’s case was how MS-DOS was… well… the word “hidden” is too much; but there’s no question that Microsoft thought it could get away, with ME, with just pretending that DOS didn’t exist; that ME, alas, really was an operating system… and that was just bunk.

    Only with the advent of NTFS-based Windows NT did Windows, itself, finally become a operating system, in its own right; and with that came that the command line only actually approximated — faked, in effect — the look and feel of the old FAT-based MS-DOS C:: prompt.

    The easiest way to think of Windows 2000 was that it was nothing more than Windows NT, but with fancy-dancy Windows ME-like graphics and icons to spruce it up a bit. One thing Win2K had, though, that was REALLY nice, was a TCP/IP stack straight from Sun Microsystems… the only time Microsoft ever did anything like that, thereby making it the best one in any version of Windows, ever! Too bad Microsoft decided it didn’t want to pay Sun Microsystems a little tiny piece of every copy of Windows it sold, and went back to the glitchy-to-this-day Microsoft TCP/IP stack with all subsequent version. Ugh. The dark and dirty little secret of Windows 2000 was that Microsoft realized its mistake, and succumbed to its own greed, so soon after Win2K’s release that that, in reality, is why Win2K lasted so short a time. It was like a flash in the pan… here, today; gone, tomorrow. The truth is that it was originally SUPPOSED to be what XP ended-up being; but Microsoft killed it, in effect, so it could stop paying Sun and get XP out.

    Microsoft basically rushed Vista onto and off the market, too, if you think about it; and one can argue that all of Vista’s service packs were really just to finally get Win7 where they wanted it so that THAT could become the new flagship to finally allow Microsoft to retire XP.

    Truth be known, Windows XP was the first truly new and different version of Windows since Windows NT, and Windows 95 before it, and Windows 1.0 before that. In fact, those are the real “new and different” demarcation points…

    1) Windows 1.0 (of which 2.0, 3.1 and 4.0 are family members)
    2) Windows 95 (of which Win98 and WinME are family membes)
    3) Windows NT (of which Win2K is a family member)
    4) Windows XP (truly unique among Windows versions)

    …followed, of course by Vista (of which Win7 is a family member… most, in fact, think of Win7 as little more than Vista, but finally fixed); and then, now, finally, Windows 8 and 8.1, which is an animal unto itself… unique, like WinXP.

    And so the complete list of “new and different” demarcation points is:

    1) Windows 1.0 (of which 2.0, 3.1 and 4.0 are family members)
    2) Windows 95 (of which Win98 and WinME are family membes)
    3) Windows NT (of which Win2K is a family member)
    4) Windows XP (truly unique among Windows versions)
    5) Windows Vista (of which Win7 is a family member)
    6) Windows 8 (and its, in effect, service pack Win8.1)

    That’s really the way to think of it.

    All versions described it items “1)” and “2)” above are FAT, and/or FAT-16, and/or FAT-32 based; and all versions described in item “3)” and onward are NTFS-based.

    Hope that helps!

    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

    Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi.
    Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.


    Regarding Win8, I also beg to differ with “[t]he OS replaces the more traditional Microsoft Windows OS look and feel with a new “Modern Interface” consisting of flat tiles that first debuted in the Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system.”

    That’s actually not exactly accurate. What’s accurate is that Win8 contains almost exactly the same basic interface as Win7, sans (more accurately, crippled by the absence of) the “Start” button (which button even Win8.1 didn’t completely properly replace).

    However, what Win8 *ALSO* has, which no previous Windows version had, is an alternative interface — actually, the default interface… that is, until Win8.1 allowed the user to easily change it, and Win8 allowed the user to more difficultly change it — which caters to the world of touch screen (primarily mobile) devices like tablets and phones.

    That’s really the truth of it. Saying it any other way is playing right into Microsoft’s classic manipulations of truth for purely marketing purposes… just as it did with ME; and just as it did with Win9x before it, whenever it tried to call them “operating systems,” when, in fact, MS-DOS was the operating system, and Win9x and ME were but graphical user interfaces (GUI) sitting atop.

    It’s important that we give Microsoft its due; but it’s even MORE important that we call it — and its disciples — on it’s trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Remember that Microsoft is the same company which once insisted that the Internet’s Worldwide Web was just a passing fad, and so made no browser for it, leaving, initially, Netscape to be pretty much all there was at first; and then when Microsoft finally realized how desperately wrong it was, it came-out with Internet Explorer; but in its arrogance, thought that it could make-up its own Internet standards in it.

    Microsoft has always been a bad-boy bully, and it’s important that that fact is never lost to history; and it’s eye-witnesses like me who are just the people to help us all never forget.

    It’s one of being old’s few advantages.

    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

    Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi.
    Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.

  4. Actually, Compuguru4u, they were 5.25-inches in size. But they were, indeed, “floppy”… the last disks (actually “diskettes”), in fact, that were truly “floppy.” The later 3. 5-inch ones were actually quite firm… at least on the outside.

    Were you around to see the even LARGER truly floppy ones BEFORE the 5.25-inch ones; the ones commonly used in DEC and other machines? Yikes! I remember working for Automatic Data Processing (ADP) Dealer Services Division, and installing some of the first “factory communication systems” into GM dealerships using the old…

    DEC PDT-11
    SEE | http://bit.ly/1gMsTZ1

    …which, as you can see, was almost bigger than today’s laser printers. Those are 8-inch floppy (truly floppy) diskette drives you see, there, with the red handles on the front.

    Ahhh…. THOSE were the days, eh?

    Yikes! [grin]

    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

    Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi.
    Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.

  5. Hunky

    Lets see,

    Windows 2000 -> No visual effect, no non sense pure computing for work.
    Windows XP -> 500MB, CD based installation had everything we needed, work play, what ever

    Windows Vista / 7 -> almost 4gigs, still you can have both world of simple no non sense computing and work.

    Windows 8 / 8.1 -> Man, its all play play play.. why with 4 gigs of OS had to omit classic computing feels and looks ?? I mean with even 4 gigs of space, you cant keep the classic windows feel, basic start menu and all that??

    Seriously, I find it easy now a days to teach Ubuntu compare to Windows 8 as Xp / or 7 had that classic Windows feel and was much easy to explain to new users compare to Windows 8..


    Surely things are going more complicated and now a days for basic work and Internet, ubuntu feels easy.. lol..

  6. anonymous

    Any one remember the day that xp came out! One of the best operating systems around and will always be! Windows 8.1 was ok but not the best but windows 10 looks like the windows 7 it should have been

  7. Homer

    Canyonaroooooooo watish!!

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