How Windows came to be? – a Windows OS history

The term “Micro-soft” was first used by Bill Gates in a letter to Paul Allen in 1975, and a year later the trademark “Microsoft” was registered. Microsoft’s destiny was determined when they landed the world’s most famous business deal with IBM – to provide them with an operational system. This ties up, however, with the world’s worst business deal which was made by Gary Kildall’s wife, Dorothy, meaning not to sign a license agreement with IBM for their own OS, the PC/M.

Everything started in 1980 when IBM approached Bill Gates and his new company, Microsoft, on a meeting about home computers and Microsoft products. Gates came up with a few ideas about how a personal computer should act, and among them was the one to incorporate Basic into the ROM chip. This was actually not a new idea, since 1974 when Bill Gates and colleague Paul Allen created a Basic code for the first microcomputer kit, the Altair 8800.

As for operating systems, because Microsoft had never written one before, Gates suggested that IBM should approach an OS called the Control Program for Microcomputers, or CP/M, from Digital Research owned by the Kildalls. Upon coming to an agreement, Gary sent his wife Dorothy, as he always did when it came down to business bargains, but this proved to be quite uninspired, since Dorothy made the worst business deal in history, refusing to sign the IBM non-disclosure agreement.  Tough luck for them, because IBM went back to Gates and gave him the contract for providing an operating system that would pair up with every personal computer that IBM would create. Gates did not let the opportunity to slip away so he went to search for an already existing operating system.

He found it at Seattle Computer Products and it was called the “Quick and Dirty Operating System” written by Tim Paterson. Paterson designed it for their own prototype Intel 8086 based computer and, ironically enough, it was based on Kildall’s CP/M. Paterson bought a CP/M manual and used it as a basis to write his own operating system in just six weeks. But because of Paterson’s keen talent, QDOS was different enough from the PC/M to be considered legal.

Bill Gates stepped in and bought the license rights for QDOS for $50,000, making sure, of course, that Seattle Computer products did not have a clue about the IBM deal. He then renamed the QDOS in MS-DOS, Micro-soft – Disk Operating System.

Afterwards, Gates approached IBM and convinced them that Microsoft should keep the license rights to MS-DOS, marketing it as a separate product from the IBM Personal Computer project. In this way, Gates managed to make a fortune out of licensing MS-DOS for IBM. In 1981, Tim Paterson left Seattle Computer Products and found employment at Microsoft, the same year when Microsoft started working on the first Windows version.

In 1983, on the 10th of November, the Microsoft Corporation officially announced at the Plaza Hotel in New York City the release of Microsoft Windows, a new generation of operating systems that provided users with a graphical user interface, a GUI, and a multitasking environment for IBM computers.

The new product was due to appear on the store shelfs by April 1984, or so it was according to the Microsoft declaration. Also, the name under which the Microsoft operating system should have appeared was Interface Manager, if the marketing manager would not had intervened and convinced Gates that “Windows” was a far better and appealing name. Later that year, in November 1983, Bill Gates first revealed a beta version of Windows to chief executives at IBM.

IBM was far from exhilarated about Microsoft’s Windows, since they were working on their own operating system called Top View which was based on the MS-DOS Microsoft had provided a few years earlier. In 1981, the MS-DOS became the most popular operating system that came together with personal computers from IBM. Top View was released in February, 1985 as a DOS based multitasking program manager without any GUI features. It was named like that just because it ran on top of DOS, and although IBM creators promised to enhance Top View with an user interface this promise was never fulfilled, and the program was discontinued after merely two years of functioning.

At this time, a graphical user interface for IBM would have come in handy. Bill Gates was well aware of this fact based on his previous acquaintances with Apple’s Lisa computer and the later, more successful, Macintosh, or simply the Mac computer. Both Apple designed computers had some high class graphical user interfaces.

As a new software written especially for an operating system, the Microsoft Windows faced potential competition from IBM’s Top View, GUIless as it was. Other players were also on the market at that time. VisiCorp had VisiOn, released in October 1983, which was the first official PC-based GUI. The second was GEM, Graphics Environment Manager, released by Digital Research in early 1985. But both VisiOn and GEM lacked support from all important third-party developers. So, if nobody wanted to write software programs for an operating system, there would be no program which can be used, henceforth, nobody would want to buy an OS without an accessible GUI.

But a certain someone was keen on writing such software programs, so Microsoft finally released Windows 1.0 on November 20, 1985, almost two years after the initial announcement date.

The first version of Microsoft Windows, 1.0, was considered brute, slow and down right ugly. This stumbled start was worsened by a threat made by Apple Computers to call to Court Microsoft for an alleged infringement of copyrights. In September 1985, Apple lawyers made an official warning to Bill Gates that Windows 1.0 infringed on Apple copyrights and patents, and that Microsoft stoled Apple’s trade secrets. This was based on the fact that Windows had similar drop-down menus, tiled windows and mouse support.

As a response, Bill Gates and his head counsel Bill Neukom, made an offer to license features of Apple’s operating system. Apple agreed and a contract was drawn up. The catch was that Microsoft wrote the licensing agreement in a way that included the use of Apple features in Microsoft Windows version 1.0, as well as all future versions of Microsoft software programs. As it later turned out, this clever move was as fortuitous as the one to buy QDOS from Seattle Computer Products and to convince IBM to let Microsoft keep the licensing rights to MS-DOS.

The first versions of Windows were thought to be just plain user interfaces, since they just ran on top of MS-DOS and used it for file system services. But even version 1.0 of Windows involved many typical system functions, such as a personal executable file format and it’s own device drivers for applications, like timer, graphics, printer, mouse, keyboard and sound. Apart from MS-DOS basic features, Windows enabled users to perform multiple graphical applications simultaneously, through cooperative multitasking.

More over, Windows implied an elaborate, segment-based, software virtual memory scheme, which allowed it to perform applications larger than the available memory, this meant that code segments and resources were swapped in and thrown away when the processor ran out of memory, and data segments moved in the memory when a given application had ended control over the processor, typically waiting for user input. Such features were familiar to the group of 16-bit Windows versions, like Windows 1.0 (1985), Windows 2.0 (1987) and its close resemblance, Windows 286. The 16-bit quality refers to, in computer architecture, to 16-bit integers (full numbers, like 1,4, 56.. etc), memory addresses, or other data units that are at most 16 bits (2 octets) wide.

Windows 1.0 stayed on the market until January 1987, when a Windows-compatible program called Aldus PageMaker 1.0 was released. PageMaker was the first desktop publishing program for the PC. Later that year, Microsoft created and released a Windows compatible spreadsheet called Excel. Other popular and useful softwares like Microsoft Word and Corel Draw helped to promote Windows, but Microsoft realized that they still had a long way to go until Windows was going to be finished.

The second version of Microsoft Windows appeared on the 1st of November, 1987, which meant a significant improvement to the original version. This one made Windows based computers look more like a Macintosh. This is why, in 1988, Apple Computer did not approve of such a resemblance and filed another lawsuit against Microsoft, claiming that Microsoft had broken the licensing agreement from 1985.

Basically, Windows 2.0 enabled windows to overlap each other, unlike Windows 1.0, which only displayed tiled windows. Few people know that actually the tiled windows from version 1.0 were a limit artificially imposed because of lawsuits from Apple Computers – in Windows 1.0, the dialogs and drop down menus were in fact also overlapping windows.
Version 2.0 also introduced the window manipulation terminology of “Minimize” and “Maximize” as opposed to “Iconize” and “Zoom” from Windows 1.0, plus a more elaborate mechanism of keyboard shortcuts which meant that shortcut keys were identified by underlining the character that, in conjunction with the “Alt” key, would cause them to be selected. Meanwhile, file management tasks were still managed by use of the MS-DOS Executive program, which was more list driven than icon oriented.

The first Windows versions of Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel ran on Windows 2.0. At this stage, third party developer support for Windows increased substantially, for example some were shipping the Windows Runtime software with their applications, for customers who had not purchased the full version of Windows. However, most developers still maintained DOS versions of their applications, as Windows users were still a distinct minority of the market.

As for the lawsuit filed in 1988, Microsoft claimed in their defense that the licensing agreement actually gave them rights to use Apple features, which was, of course, the truth. Microsoft won after a four years court case. Apple claimed that Microsoft had infringed on 170 of their copyrights. The court said that the licensing agreement gave Microsoft the rights to use all but nine of the copyrights, and Microsoft later convinced the courts that the remaining copyrights should not be covered by copyright law. Bill Gates strike back at Apple claiming that they had taken ideas from the graphical user interface developed by Xerox for Xerox’s Alto and Star computers. On June 1, 1993, Judge Vaughn R. Walker of the U.S. District Court of Northern California ruled in Microsoft’s favor in the Apple vs. Microsoft & Hewlett-Packard copyright suit. The judge granted Microsoft’s and Hewlett-Packard’s motions to dismiss the last remaining copyright infringement claims against Microsoft Windows versions 2.03 and 3.0, as well as HP NewWave.

Until the third Windows version would appear on the market, personal computer users could experiment with the Windows 386, which introduced a 32 bit protected mode kernel and virtual machine monitor. This basically meant that the hardware parts of the PC were linked in a safe mode to the software operating system thus enabling applications to run imitating a real machine. For the duration of a Windows session, it created one or more virtual 8086 environments, which allowed the execution of real mode applications that were incapable of running directly in protected mode, and provided device virtualization for the video card, keyboard, mouse, timer and interrupt controller inside each of them.

An Interrupt controller referred to an asynchronous signal from hardware indicating the need for attention or a synchronous event in software indicating the need for a change in execution. The user-visible consequence was that it became possible to preemptively multitask multiple MS-DOS environments in separate windows, although graphical MS-DOS applications required full screen mode.

On the 22nd of May, 1990, version Windows 3.0 was released. It had an improved program manager and icon system, a new file manager, support for sixteen colors and improved speed and reliability. Maybe the most important thing was that Windows 3.0 benefited from widespread third-party support. Programmers started writing Windows-compatible software, making this version more appealing to customers. Three million copies were sold the first year. On the 6th of April, 1992 Windows 3.1 was released. Three million copies were sold in the first three months.

The attractiveness of the 3.x Windows versions consisted in improvement of the design, partially due to the fact that the virtual memory and the loadable virtual drivers (VxDs) allowed the versions to share arbitrary devices between multitasked DOS windows.

Windows applications could now run in protected mode, like in Standard or 386 Enhanced Mode, which gave them access to several megabytes of memory and removed the obligation to participate in the software virtual memory scheme. They still occurred inside the same address space, where the segmented memory provided a degree of protection, and multi-tasked cooperatively. For Windows 3.0, Microsoft also rewrote critical operations from C into assembly, making this release faster and less memory-hungry than its predecessors.

Succeeding Windows 2.1x, the Windows 3.0 included a significantly revised user interface as well as technical improvements to make better use of the memory management capabilities of Intel’s 80286 and 80386 processors. Text-mode programs that were written for MS_DOS could be run within a window thus making the system usable as a crude multitasking base for legacy programs. Although this feature was previously available in a more limited form with Windows 386/ 2.1, in version 3.0 it was of limited use for the home market, where most games and entertainment programs continued to require raw DOS access.

Among the changes that Microsoft thinkers made to version 3.0 of Windows was that the MS-DOS Executive file manager, or the program launcher, was replaced with the icon-based Program Manager and the list-based File Manager, thereby simplifying the launching of applications. The MS-DOS Executive was also included as an alternative to these features. The Control Panel, previously available as a standard looking applet, which meant that it run in the context of another program performing a very narrow function with no independent use, was remodeled after the one in the Mac OS. It centralized system settings, including limited control over the color scheme of the interface. Also, a number of simple applications were included, such as the text editor Notepad and the word processor Write, both inherited from earlier versions of Windows. It also included a macro recorder, which was a new thing but latter abandoned, and a calculator. The previous Reversi game was completed with a card game named Solitaire. TrueType scalable font support was added, along with multimedia capability, object linking and embedding (OLE), application reboot capability, and more.

Windows 3.0 was the last version of Windows to advertise 100% compatibility with older Windows applications, but this only applied to real mode running. Windows 3.x became the number one operating system installed in PCs until 1997, when Windows 95 took over.

Windows 95 was released on the 24th of August, 1995, and it was so advertised that even consumers without a home computer bought copies of the program. Code-named Chicago, Windows 95 was thought to be very user-friendly, being a consumer-oriented graphical user interface-based operating system. In included an integrated TCP/IP stack, dial-up networking and long filename support. It was also the first version of Windows that did not require MS-DOS to be installed beforehand.

Featuring significant improvements over its predecessor, Windows 3.1, which were most visible in the GUI design, whose basic format and structure are still used in later version such as Vista, the Windows 95 was intended to integrate Microsoft’s formerly separate MS-DOS and Windows products, but included instead an enhanced version of DOS, often referred to as MS-DOS 7.0. The developers also made changes regarding the underlying workings, including support for 255 character mixed case long filenames and preemptively multitasked protected mode 32 bit applications. Unlike its predecessors which used only optional “operating environments”, which required MS-DOS as an operating system that was only available separately. Windows 95 was a consolidated operating system, which meant a significant market change.

Speaking of markets, Windows 95 was an unqualified success, and in no more than a year since its release it became the most successful operating system ever produced. It also had the effect of driving other major players in the DOS-compatible operating system out of business, something which would later be used in court against Microsoft.
Windows 95 originally shipped without Internet Explorer, because at its release date only IE 1.0 was available just as a part of the Plus! Add-on pack for Windows 95, which was a separate product that did not reach as many consumers as the OS itself. At the time Windows 95 was released, the web was being browsed mainly with a variety of early web browsers such as Netscape. Windows 95 OEM Service release 1 was the first release of Windows to include Internet Explorer, under the code name O’Hare, with the operating system, including version 2.0.

Windows 95 advertised the introduction of the Start button and taskbar to Microsoft’s GUI, both of which have remained features of all subsequent versions of Windows. Windows 95 went out with a bang. Everyone knew about it. Microsoft even pulled out a commercial featuring the Rolling Stones song “Start me up” (a reference to the Start button). There was also a rumor that Microsoft paid Rolling Stones up to $14 million for the use of the song, but Microsoft officials stated that this was only a strategy build up by the Stones to increase their market value and that they only paid a fraction of the amount. Nonetheless, Microsoft also paid for a 30 minute promotional video, labeled a “cyber sitcom”, featuring Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry to show off the features of Windows 95. The advertising campaign was worth $3 million dollars, and it featured tons of people waiting in line outside stores to get a copy. In UK, PC World, the largest computer chain, received a large number of oversized Windows 95 computer boxes, posters and sale material, and many branches opened at mid night to sell the first copies of the product but the customers were far fewer in number than otherwise suggested in the publicity. Also, in UK Microsoft paid for 1,5 million copies of The Times newspaper to be hand out for free on the day of the release. In New York City, the Empire State Building was lit to match the colors of the Windows logo.

Windows 98, code named Memphis, was a graphical operating system released on the 25th of June, 1998 and it was the last version of Windows based on the MS-DOS kernel, being a hybrid 16 bit/32 bit monolithic product based on MS-DOS. It was succeeded by Windows Me on the 14th of September, 2000. Windows 98 was commonly recommended over its successor, Windows Me, due to higher stability. It had Microsoft’s Internet browser built in, the IE 4, and supported new input devices like USB.

The SE, or Windows 98 Second Edition, was an update release of Windows 98, launched in 1999. It included fixes for many minor issues, improved USB support and the replacement of IE 4 with the faster and lighter IE 5. It also included Internet Connection Sharing, which enabled multiple users on a Local Area Network to share a single Internet connection through Network Address Translation. Other new features in the update version included Microsoft NetMeeting 3.0 and integrated support for DVD-ROM drives. A memory overflow issue was resolved which in the older version of Windows 98 would crash most systems if left running for 48 hours.

Windows 98 was the first operating system to use the Windows Driver Model and because this fact was not well advertised when they released Windows 98, most hardware producers continued to develop drivers for the older driver format, VxD. This had the effect of misunderstanding that Windows 98 could only use VxD drivers. The WDM standard spread years later, through Windows 2000 and XP, due to the fact that these OSs were not compatible with older VxD formats. Nowadays, even if hardware producers wouldn’t be developing drivers optimized for Windows 98, the drivers written to WDM formats will be compatible with Windows 98-based systems.

The release of Windows 98 started with a notable press demonstration at Comdex in April 1998. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates was just highlighting the operating system’s ease of use and enhanced support for Plug and Play, when program manager, Chris Capossela, plugged a scanner in, in order to install it and the operating system crashed in front of the audition, displaying a Blue Screen of Death. Gates remarked after applause and cheering from the audience “That must be why we’re not shipping Windows 98 yet”.

Microsoft planned to discontinue the support for Windows 98 in January the 16th, 2004. However, because of the increased popularity of the operating system, 27% of Google pageviews were on Windows 98 systems during October-November 2003, they decided to extend the maintenance support until July the 11th, 2006. Support for Windows Me also ended on this date.

As the heir of Windows 98, Windows Me was targeted as a “Home Edition”, unlike “Windows 2000 Professional”, which was intended for professional use and had been released seven months earlier. Windows Me included IE 5.5Windows Media Player 7 and the new Windows Movie Maker software, which provided basic video editing. Windows Me was basically designed to be easy for home users and Microsoft had updated the GUI and the shell features and Windows Explorer with some of the first introduced in Windows 2000.

Windows Millennium was a continuation of the Windows 9x model, but providing restricted access to real mode MS-DOS in order to speed up system boot time. Boot time refers to the operation required to place a computer into its normal operating configuration after power is supplied to the hardware. Basically, how long it took to start up the PC.  This was one of the most advertised changes in Windows Me, because applications that needed real mode DOS to run, such as older disk utilities, did not run under Windows Me.
Windows Me was finished by NT-based Windows 2000. Both OS were succeeded by Windows XP with their features unified. NT-based Windows versions are a family of operating systems from Microsoft, originally designed to be a powerful high-level language-based, processor independent, multi processing, multiuser OS with features comparable to Unix. Essentially, it was intended to complement consumer versions of Windows that were based on MS-DOS.

Compared to other releases of Windows, Millennium had a short marketing life of just a year, being soon replaced by the NT-based Windows XP, which was launched on October the 25th, 2001. One of the problems with Windows Me was that the System Restore feature ended up sometimes restoring a virus which the user had previously deleted. This happened because the method of keeping track of changes was fairly simplistic, by disabling System Restore, the virus could be removed but the user would have lost all saved restore points.

Windows Me was widely criticized for its instability and unreliability, due to frequent freezes and system crashes. A PC World article declared Windows Me as the “Mistake Edition” and listed it as the fourth “Worst Tech product of All Times”. The article stated that “Shortly after Me appeared in late 2000, users reported problems installing it, getting it to run, getting it to work with other hardware or software, and getting it to stop running.”

Windows 2000, also referred to as Win2K, is a preemptive, interruptible, graphical and business oriented OS. It is a part of the Microsoft Windows NT line of operating systems and it was released on the 17th of February, 2000. It has been succeeded by Windows XP in October 2001, and it is a hybrid kernel operating system.

Windows 2000 had four editions: Professional, Server, Advanced Server and Datacenter Server. Beside this editions, Microsoft marketed Windows 2000 Advanced Server Limited Edition and Windows 2000 Datacenter Server Limited Edition, which were launched in 2001 and run on 64 bit Intel Itanium microprocessors. Although each edition was targeted at a different market segment, they shared a core set of features, such as many system utilities like Microsoft Management Console and standard system administration applications. Also, support for people with disabilities was improved over Windows NT 4.0 by a number of assistant technologies, while support for different languages and locale information was increased.

Microsoft advertised Windows 2000 as the most secure Windows version ever, but reality proved to be different when Windows 2000 became the target of many high-profile virus attacks such as Code Red or Nimda. More than eight years after it’s release, it continues to receive patches for security vulnerabilities nearly every month.

This is why a number of potential security issues have been noted in Windows 2000. One of the common user complaints was that “by default, Windows 2000 installations contain numerous potential security problems. Many unneeded services are installed and enabled, and there is no active local security policy”. Besides insecure defaults, according to the SANS Institute, Windows 2000 was a common subject to exploitable buffer overflow vulnerabilities. A buffer overflow is an anomalous condition where a process attempts to store data beyond the boundaries of a fixed-length buffer. The result is that the extra data overwrites adjacent memory locations. Other criticized faults include the use of vulnerable encryption techniques.

The world learned about computer worms for the first time when Windows 2000 was the dominant server operating system. Code Red and Code Red II were famous and infamously discussed worms that  took advantage of the vulnerabilities of the Windows Indexing Service of Windows 2000’s Internet Information Services. Things came to a peek in August 2003, when two major worms called Sobig and Blaster began to attack millions of Microsoft Windows computers, resulting in the largest downtime and clean-up cost to that date. Also, the 2005 Zotob worm was guilty of security compromises on Windows 2000 machines from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the New York Times Company, and the television posts ABC and CNN.

Windows XP was the first consumer-oriented operating system produced by Microsoft to be built on the Windows NT kernel, version 5.1, and architecture. It was first released on the 25 of October, 2001 and, according to an estimate by an IDC analyst, over 400 million copies were in use in January 2006. The name “XP” comes from “eXPerience”.

Windows XP had two common editions, Windows XP Home Edition, which was targeted at home users, and Windows XP Professional, which included additional support features for Windows Server domains and two physical processors, and which was targeted at power users and business environments. Windows XP Media Center Edition was a special edition with additional multimedia features improving the ability to record and watch TV shows, view DVD movies and listen to music. Another special edition was the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition which was designed to run ink-ware applications built using the Tablet PC platform. Other two separate 64 bit versions were also released, like Windows XP 64 bit for IA-64, the Itanium processor and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition for x86-64.

The most common thing that Windows XP was known for was its improved stability and efficiency over the 9x versions of Microsoft Windows. It displayed a significant redesigned graphical user interface, a change advertised by Microsoft executives as a more user-friendly version than previous ones. New software management capabilities were introduced to avoid the “DLL hell” that obstructed the older consumer oriented 9x Windows versions. The DLL Hell is a colloquial term introduced for the complications that arise during work with dynamic link libraries, DLLs, in Microsoft Windows operating systems. Although the term is part of the Windows slang language and the more general term is dependency hell, the rhyme is often used to denote a dependency hell case.

Windows XP was also the first Windows version to use product activation against software piracy, a restriction that did not go well for some users and privacy advocates. Critiques have been made against some security vulnerabilities, tight integration of applications such as Internet Explorer 6 and Windows Media Player and for aspect of the default interface. As an answer, later versions with Service pack 2 and IE 7 dealt with some of the issues.

A trivia fact regarding this version is that during development the project was code named “Whistler”, after the town Whistler from the district of British Columbia, where many Microsoft employees skied at Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort.

The new features added to the XP version include faster start-up and hibernation sequences, the ability to discard a newer device driver in favor of the previous one (aka driver rollback), in case a driver upgrade did not produce desirable results, a new, arguably more user-friendly interface, including the framework for developing themes for the desktop environment, fast user switching which allows a user to save the current state and open applications of their desktop, and allow another user to log on without losing that information, the ClearType font rendering mechanism, which is designed to improve text readability on Liquid Crystal Display, LCDs, and similar monitors. Other are Remote Desktop functionality, which allows users to connect to a computer running Windows XP from across a network or the Internet and access their applications, files, printers and devices; support for most DSL modems and wireless network connections, as well as networking over FireWire and Bluetooth.

Windows Vista is the latest Microsoft version of operating system developed for personal computers, including home and business desktops, laptops, Tablet PCs and media center PCs. Before its announcement on the 22nd of July, 2005, Windows Vista was known by its code name “Longhorn”. The process of development was completed on the 8th of November, 2006 and over the following three months it was released in stages to computer hardware and software manufacturers, business costumers and retail channels.

On the 30th of January, 2007 it was released world wide and was made available for purchase and download from Microsoft’s website. The release of the last Windows version came after more than five years since the release of its predecessor, the Windows XP version, which meant the longest time span between two successive releases of Microsoft Windows versions.

This Microsoft Windows version contained many changes and new features, like an updated graphical user interface and visual style named Windows Aero, enhanced searching features, redesigned networking, audio, print and display adjacent systems, and new multimedia creation tools such as Windows DVD maker. The Microsoft creators also intended to increase, through Vista, the level of communication between machines on a home network, using peer-to-peer technology in order to simplify sharing files and digital media between computers and devices. The Windows Vista was equipped with version 3.0 of the .NET framework, whose scope was to significantly facilitate the writing of applications for software developers than it was with the traditional Windows API.

But Microsoft had in mind another objective for Windows Vista when they developed it. The main purpose for it was to improve the state of security in the Windows OS. One common criticism for the previous Windows versions, namely Windows XP, was that of their commonly exploited security vulnerabilities and overall susceptibility to malware, viruses and buffer overflows. Driven by this situation, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates announced in early 2002 a company wide “Trustworthy Computing Initiative” which was aimed to incorporate security work into every aspect of software development carried on in the company. Microsoft declared that it had prioritized improving the security of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 above finishing Windows Vista, in this way delaying its completion.

While the Microsoft initiative and the new features included in Windows Vista were welcomed by owners of personal computers worldwide, Vista was not spared of some harsh criticism from the press. These harsh critiques were pointed at high system requirements, the more restrictive licensing terms, the inclusion of a number of new digital rights management technologies aimed at restricting the copying of protected digital media, lack of compatibility with certain pre-Vista hardware and software, and the number of authorization prompts for User Account Control. As a consequence related to these and several other issues, Vista was faced with much lower rates of installment and customer satisfaction than its predecessor, Windows XP.

Created in order to undo the harm that Vista has done, the latest Windows version was introduced last year at the Microsoft conference, three years after its predecessor. Set for retail release in October, 2009Windows 7 is already everything that Vista should have been, and a little more.

Built to function in more or less the same hardware requirements as XP, Windows 7 loads, deploys and shuts down in about the same time as XP, but definitely works faster than Vista, making it a fairly better version of former OSs. The software architecture was redesigned to a great extent, resulting in an operating system that has received “good” to “great” reviews. Although the majority of opinions have placed Windows 7 in the top ten Microsoft products, the version is not tied to the first place, as maybe this spot is left empty until everybody can reach a consensus about some MS product (if that’s ever going to happen), or perhaps, for another future version which can hold Windows 7 as a good starting point.

With less new features, but improved reliability and system performances, this MS offspring can be a handful to deal with even for Apple. The Windows 7 interface is worthy of a Mac OS 10 one, with its new Taskbar and Aero Peek. Large, translucent icons are part of the new taskbar and can preview users with the windows they wish to engage. Simple actions can get them to perform actions previously executed with two or more mouse clicks. Everything is accessible and has a nice flow, adding to the impression that Windows 7 already works faster than previous versions.

All peripherals are easily managed with the new Device Stage, which brings all extra hardware into the same place. Large photos of peripheral equipment summarize technical stats of important devices, and users have an easy time figuring out which devices they are using.

The multi-touch feature, a novelty for any version of Windows operating systems, performs rather well and it proves fruitful as more and more laptops and desktop systems are released with touch capabilities. Similar to the all-known iPhone interface, a touch monitor powered by Windows 7 will provide similar actions, flip, rotate, zoom in and out etc., but it’s mostly a feature that designers and illustrators will find most rewarding.

One of the features that put Windows 7 in the starlight is a support one and it’s related to file usage. When a user tries to access a file that is already in use, Windows 7 lets the user know both that the respective file is used, and where it is used, so the situation is managed faster. Windows 7 will also support both 32-bit and 64-bit systems. For users that require programs that are currently incompatible with Win 7, the OS offers an XP mode that runs on a virtual machine and which redirects XP programs to the Windows 7 desktop, so users can manage and access crucial programs that haven’t been yet updated. More accessible than previous versions, Windows 7 allows users to disable a lot of Windows components such as Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, Media Center, Windows Search and the Windows Gadget Platform. Last, but not least, Windows 7 has native support for virtual hard disks (VHD) as normal data storage and the OS will be able to boot the system from a VHD, along with a better implemented support  for Solid State Drives, including the new TRIM command, Windows 7 also being able to uniquely identify a SSD.

The majority of reviewers have positioned the last version of Windows OS on equal place with leading operating systems like OS X from Apple, and the open sourced Linux. Figures from Amazon sales seem to confirm this fact, as sales in UK alone of Windows 7 have surpassed demand in the first eight hours of transactions, in what took Windows Vista almost 17 weeks to achieve.

Most of us have had high expectations regarding Windows 8, as this operating system was considered to be the most important software upgrade from Microsoft, in the last decade. Even though there are still mixed feelings about Windows 8, the new operating system from Microsoft comes with a bundle of improvements, and a new perspective on desktop OS. More precisely, Microsoft improved the NT kernel (current version being NT 6.2), and this resulted in a more fluent user experience and better computer performances.

The boot time is significantly faster (sometimes 70%) – many tests have shown that Windows 8 is faster and smoother than Windows 7, while using the same hardware. This is quite an achievement, considering that Windows 7 is a fast and fluent operating system.

The desktop experience in Windows 8 is great, and although there are no major changes that the user can observe, the overall improvements provide a great user experience. Along the most important improvements, there are:
– New task manager: which can be used to show basic information, for basic users, or can be used by experienced users in a more advanced mode
– New dialog box for copying files: multiple downloads can be handled in the same dialog box, each individual download can be paused and resumed, file-name collisions have more options for resolving the conflict
– Other features, such as: the new ribbon interface – which provides shortcuts for many useful commands, cloud-based account syncing, improved support for multi-monitor setups etc.

Security won’t be an issue in Windows 8 due to features, such as:
– Built-in antivirus: Microsoft Security Essentials software is now an integrated part of Windows 8
– Secure boot requires a valid digital certificate for the applications that run during boot and prevents software without a valid digital certificate from running
– The Early Launch Anti-Malware (ELAM) loads anti-malware drivers before the applications, assuring that all that runs at start-up is properly verified

Also, Windows 8 has a good backwards compatibility with Windows 7 software and companies don’t need to purchase other software suites in order to replace the older ones. Also, some of the new features can prove valuable to any company:
– Refresh your PC and Reset your PC: These options allow the user to revert the operating system to default factory settings. The Refresh option will maintain the user’s personal files and configuration settings, while deleting the applications. The Reset option deletes all programs, configuration settings and user personal files
– An administrator can use Storage system to group multiple drives under the same logical drive letter and he can plug an USB hard-drive to expand the already present logical drive letter when more space is needed
– Windows To Go allows the user to boot and run Windows 8 on any machine, from a supported portable storage device (Memory stick, external HDD etc.)

However, the biggest and most controversial change that Microsoft brought to Windows 8 is the removal of the Start Menu and the introduction of Metro[1], a brand new user interface that is suitable for touch screen devices. Microsoft wanted Windows 8 to reach both desktop and mobile market, so this hybrid operating system was the outcome. Although Metro was rejected by many users as being not very user-friendly (at least not for desktop), when using it on a tablet, the user experience is great, and even if it might take a while to get used to it, swiping through the tiles becomes very enjoyable.

The sales of Windows 8 were very weak in the first half of the year (even weaker than the sales that Vista had at launch), but things are getting better, and right now it has almost 7.5% market share. It seems that Windows 8 wanted to be the best of both worlds (desktop and mobile), but it still struggles to convince users to upgrade from Windows 7.

In spite of this, Windows 8 remains one of Microsoft’s most innovative products, and with a new free upgrade (Windows Blue), this operating system will not leave the market for a while.