This isn’t a complete history of the series of Microsoft Windows. These are my views and opinions of events that took place as I experienced them. My account of events might not even hold true, but it’s my account of things that happened, how I experienced them. It starts when I started in the tech business. A complete timeline of Windows and the Microsoft organization (including the Evolution of Windows) can be found at about.com.
I remember when I could do just about anything you wanted on God’s green earth in DOS 6.22. It was great, if my hands weren’t fast enough then you demanded too much. Take DOS and couple that with the GUI of Windows 3.11 and I was moving right along. Then I sat down in front of a first line, Windows 95 box. Now that was rather interesting. Everyone had gotten so used to using DOS and Windows 3.11’s clunky GUI that hardly anyone knew what they were doing in the first mainstream desktop 32-bit operating system. Until they clicked their way through a few things, then realized that Windows 95 was built on DOS and the tasks they were doing before became easier than ever, oh, and the wonderful “Start” button. Everyone went along with that and it was probably one of the best things to happen to the “home” PC due to the fact that the ease of use of the OS made PCs go up in demand. The PC went from being the family computer to “Dad’s Computer” and “Mom’s Computer” and “Your sister’s computer.”
Windows 95 did open quite a few eyes at first. Then the now all too typical Microsoft effect hit. The “wow” OS turned into the crashing OS. The “powerful” OS had a backdoor. Advents in technologies forced five versions of Windows 95 (4.00.950, 4.00.950A, 4.00.950B, 4.00.950B (2.1), and 4.00.950C) and a myriad of security and bug fixes. But still it was the easiest thing out there to use and teach people and this made the PC get on everyone’s desk.
Microsoft being the marketing moguls they are then decided to take a ball of advances and create Windows 98. This was probably the most anticipated launch of an operating system ever. Even as a high school student I found myself waiting in line at a Media Play in Hickory, NC so I could buy Windows 98 and Plus! for Windows 98. The hype was a multimedia realm beyond that of anything seen before. That’s what the DVD guys were saying and Windows 98 had support for DVD so Microsoft could use that line too, right? Being familiar with the new operating system and having knowledge of web design actually landed me a job shortly after the Windows 98 launch. Again, Win98 addressed ease of use and inherent flaws in Windows 95. Win98 also saw a slow movement away from the now outdated DOS foundation it stood on.
During the lives of Windows 95 and 98, Microsoft was pumping up its NT line of operating systems as business class or workstation operating systems for power users and servers. Little did the Gates empire realize that consumers wanted that “stability” and “security” at home as well. Users were completely ready to abandon the DOS foundation that we were all once so comfortable with as soon as Microsoft could make a few things more user friendly, of course.
Microsoft made a much-needed second release (or “Second Edition”) of Windows 98. I say much needed because at one point the hardware of PCs went beyond the operating system’s capabilities. For example, Intel’s MMX instruction set and Pentium III processors and USB technologies received better support under this release. Let’s not even discuss the “Year 2000 Updates” that were included in this release. If my memory serves me right that was one of the major pitches to consumers. I’m sure quite a few people were duped by this scheme of Microsoft’s. It was actually a hell of a lot cheaper just to download from the Microsoft web site the year 2000 updates but the “new” OS came right out of the box Y2K compliant. I actually saw such a demand for the new OS that stores couldn’t keep it on the shelves and OEM versions were, at first, hard to come by for smaller vendors (that might have had something to do with Microsoft’s Gestapo OEM tactics at the time but that’s an entirely different story). The best thing about Win98SE was the monthly “fresh” installs were a little bit easier (some of you know what I mean).
Then along came a relatively long, dry period where Microsoft tried and tried and tried some more to make their more stable, more robust NT kernel work in the home environment. For a while Microsoft faltered by making a few service packs for NT 4.0 a little “controversial.” Service Pack 4 was an immediate “DO NOT INSTALL” on everyone’s list about two days after its release.
After numerous delays Microsoft finally spit out an OS that took Windows 98SE’s great, easy to use GUI and combined it with their NT kernel to make Windows NT 5.0, no wait… Windows 2000. The thunderous entrance of this new operating system had everyone saying, “It’s about time,” when it was released in mid-February of 2000. In less than a month it had sold over a million copies. In less than six months it was so riddled full of security holes and bugs that it needed a massive service pack. But, it was a good OS. Didn’t have quite the hardware support that everyone wanted and don’t even think of trying to use a DOS program. But, it was surely more stable than the crash an hour OS that Windows 95 and 98 were. It opened doors for administrators to better manage their now complex and to a certain extent held down networks.
Then along came the laughing stock and bastard child of operating systems, Windows Millennium Edition (ME). In September 2000, after foreseeing a bad omen of completely throwing to the wayside the DOS base on which all previous “home” versions of Windows were built, Microsoft (for some reason) saw a need to release this version, pretty much killing any chances of Microsoft being able to build another OS on the DOS platform ever again. Home users embraced it at first because they could play Duke Nukem again and the clout of marketing behind this OS was that it was more multimedia friendly than any release of Windows. But, it seemed Microsoft had rushed the release of this OS and it was more of a “Service Pack 4” for Windows 98. It was hit or miss whether it would even install with your combination of hardware, but Microsoft ran with it anyway, for a little while. It was quite bad; people were trying to give away copies of WinME. I even saw a guy offer someone money to take it away from him. Microsoft goofed up bad on this one. I actually installed it on my computer and after a month my entire computing experience was comparable to being stuck in quick sand. I went back to Windows 98SE and shortly after moved up to Windows 2000.
Then the highly anticipated answer to everyone’s wants finally broke out in the Windows XP series of operating systems in October of 2001. It addressed the home users want for ease of use and stability, the power users want for greater hardware compatibility, and the newbie need for a kinder, gentler GUI. It was the Windows 2000 for everybody. Initially offered in two forms, Home which a stripped down version of Professional, it made everyone happy, from the laptop to the desktop. Windows XP Professional is the version I use today. It’s really probably the best release of a Windows operating system ever. Only time can tell what Microsoft will release next.