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Microsoft Windows has a storied history, stretching back to the 1980s and the dawn of the modern computing era, from a simple GUI add-on for MS-DOS, to a full-fledged OS that dominates the home and business PC market today. While the system has had its ups and downs and seen its share of criticisms, Microsoft has managed to successfully steer it into the 21st century.
On November 20, 1985, Microsoft released Windows 1.0 to the public. Though it was no more than an executable that ran inside of MS-DOS, it offered a tile-based, multi-tasking operating environment, complete with rudimentary support for mice, keyboards, multimedia cards, and serial devices. It competed (poorly) with Macintosh’s GUI and several other operating systems. A couple years later, Microsoft introduced Windows 2.0, which brought with it several negligible upgrades to the first version, but didn’t see significant sales improvements.
The first major change for Windows came in 1990 with the advent of Windows 3.0 and 3.1, the biggest sales breakthrough for Microsoft. Introducing the Program Manager, greatly enhanced color and multimedia support, much improved memory management, and an expanded stable of included software, Windows 3.0 propelled Microsoft into the forefront of the OS wars. The 3.1 revision emphasized increased usability in the home, along with CD-ROM and other multimedia support.
The biggest leap for Windows since its inception, Windows 95 replaced the aging 16-bit OS structure with a primarily 32-bit system. The point-and-click interface was smoothed over, and the MS-DOS base was moved even more to the background. Internet Explorer would later be introduced into the Windows 95 operating system. A few years later, Microsoft released the Windows 98 revision, which shared many similarities with 95, but continued to improve usability and other feature support, especially networking and internet access.
After a few more OS revisions, Microsoft released Windows XP, the most important version of Windows since 95. Using the Windows NT kernel as a base, XP and its successors Vista and Windows 7 grew the platform into the dominant position in the marketplace that it still holds today. The next major change for Windows came recently in the form of Windows 8, a major paradigm shift in the way operating systems look and feel. We don’t know at this point whether Microsoft will continue to be successful, but there is no doubt that they have changed computing for good over the past several decades.
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