Microsoft Windows — Version 1.0 to Windows 11

Windows 1

Today, 90% of personal computers and 70% of network computers worldwide use Microsoft’s Windows versions. No other software has ever achieved such widespread acceptance and adoption.

Microsoft released Windows 1.0, the first graphical user interface (GUI) operating system, on November 20, 1985. At that time, Interface Manager was the name of the project. It was renamed to a more acceptable name —’Windows’ at the time of final release.

It has been 36 years since Microsoft launched the first version of Windows. We’re going to look at how Windows generations have evolved throughout the years while we count down the days to Windows 11.

Windows 1.0

The most important feature of Windows 1.0 was the transition from Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS) to a GUI. Instead of using MS-DOS commands, you could use the mouse to click anywhere on the screen, the scroll bar and the icons making Windows 1.0 an easy-to-use operating system.

Windows 1.0 was released with many new applications that we currently use today. Some of these are Paint, Notepad, and Calculator.

Windows 2.0

The next version, Windows 2.0, was released in 1987.  In addition to an easier-to-manage interface, the memory management was excellent. This new version also included the first version of popular software, MS Word, and MS Excel. Naturally, the second version gained more acceptance than the first version.

Windows 3.0 to 3.1

Launched in 1990, Windows 3.0 included several changes to the graphics and virtual memory. Windows 3.0 had an improved program manager, icon system, and a new file manager.

Windows 3.0 gained widespread support and many developers started writing Windows-compatible software, giving end users a reason to buy Windows 3.0.

Just 2 short years later, Microsoft released Windows 3.1. This was the first version of windows to enable TrueType fonts, screen savers and drag-and-drop operations making this version of Windows indispensable.


Windows 3.1 for Workgroups

Windows for Workgroups 3.1 was released in October 1992 and is an extended version of Windows 3.1 that includes native networking support. WFW is the first Windows release that separates the consumer and corporate paths: Windows 3.1 is designed for use on single PCs, and the upcoming Windows 95 is designed for use on multiple PCs over a network. WFW supports both consumer and corporate versions.

Windows NT 3.1

Released in 1983, Windows NT 3.1 was the first release of Microsoft’s Windows NT line of server and business desktop operating systems. The basic Operating System kernel introduced in NT 3.1 remains in use today for the 32-bit version of Windows 7 and the 64-bit version, as well as the NTFS file system.

Windows 3.11

At the end of 1993, Microsoft released an update for Windows 3.1 known as Windows 3.11. This is not a standalone version of Windows but rather a software update for Windows 3.1. This version consisted mainly of bug fixes but was considered a huge improvement and contributed to the overall popularity of Windows 3.1.


Windows 3.11 for Workgroups

Windows for Workgroups 3.11 was a version of Windows 3.1, released in 1994 that included high-performance 32-bit networking access.  Windows for Workgroups was released as both a stand-alone product and as an add-on for Windows 3.1.

A few of the features this update included were integrated fax and mail software, password-protected login, and additional network utilities such as Chat, Net Watcher, and WinPopup.

Windows 3.2

Released at the end of 1993, Windows 3.2 was a Chinese language-specific release. The only difference from 3.1 was additional support for Chinese characters and bug fixes for issues related to the complex writing system of the Chinese language.

Windows NT 3.5 to Windows NT 3.51 Workstation

Windows NT 3.5 was the second release of the Windows NT operating system. The primary goal during Windows NT 3.5’s development was to increase the speed of the operating system. Only 12Mb of RAM was required to run either of these two versions of Windows on a PC.

Windows NT 3.5 can share files via the File Transfer Protocol, and printers through the Line Printer Daemon protocol. It can act as a Gopher, HTTP, or WAIS server,[11] and includes Remote Access Service for remote dial-up modem access to LAN services using either SLIP or PPP protocols.

Windows NT 3.51 was the next major release by Microsoft and was aimed at businesses. It was released in 1995, 3 short months before the release of Windows 95. The most significant enhancement offered in this release was that it provided client/server support for interoperating with Windows 95.

A few new features for Windows NT 3.51 included NTFS file compression, “tooltips”, and support for Windows 95 common controls. Windows NT 3.51 was also able to run many Win32 applications that were designed for Windows 95.

Windows 3.2

Windows 95

In 1995, Microsoft released Windows 95 which boosted the popularity of both Windows and Microsoft. Windows 95 was released as a full operating system and didn’t include any influence of MS-DOS.

Windows 95 was so popular that even consumers without a home computer purchased copies of the program. Not only did the latest version include a very user-friendly interface with a start button and taskbar, but it also included an integrated TCP/IP stack, dial-up networking, and long filename support.

Windows NT 4.0 Workstation

Also running on only 12Mb of RAM, Windows NT 4.0 Workstation was released in 1996 and was Microsoft’s primary business-orientated operating system until the introduction of Windows 2000. This version featured a GUI similar to that of Windows 95.

This release included Windows Shell, File Explorer, and the first formal term for shell folders — “My Computer”.  Windows NT 4.0 Workstation was also the first version to release a start menu that separated the per-user shortcuts and folders from the shared shortcuts and folders by a separator line. Windows NT 4.0 included some enhancements such as the Space Cadet pinball table, font smoothing, showing window contents while dragging, high-colour icons, and stretching the wallpaper to fit the screen.

Windows 98

Next on the list in 1998 was Windows 98. This version introduced Microsoft’s Internet Browser built-in, Internet Explorer 4, and supported new input devices like USB.

Windows 98 could also search for and manage files easily and read DVD’s.

Windows 2000

A renamed version of Windows NT, this release was a milestone for Microsoft’s Enterprise market. With added speed and stability, it was aimed at large businesses and was able to run on the same hardware as Windows 98.

Windows 2000 shipped in four different editions: Professional, Server, Advanced Server, and Datacenter Server.

Some of the new features that were supported were Active Desktop, USB, NTFS 3.0, and FAT32. The inclusion of DirectX support made Windows 2000 compatible with many modern computer games.


Windows ME

Windows Millennium Edition (ME) was released in the later part of 2000 as an upgrade to Windows 98. This version was aimed at home users for more personal use and included features such as Windows Media Player 7 and Windows Movie Maker.

Windows ME also received some features from Windows 2000 including system restore which allowed you to restore your operating system to a previous state in the case of a virus attack.

Windows XP

In 2001, Microsoft introduced Windows XP. This was the most popular version of Windows. Microsoft moved away from their plain grey colour scheme and introduced blues and greens. This version offered better multi-media support and increased performance symbolising the innovative experiences that Windows can offer to personal computer users.

Windows Vista

More than 5 years later, in 2007, the longest gap between releases, Microsoft introduced Windows Vista. It contained many changes and new features, including an updated graphical user interface, a redesigned search function, multimedia tools including Windows DVD Maker, audio, print, and display sub-systems.


Windows 7

Windows 7, released in 2009, introduced a more refined look and trimmed-down user interface. This version of Windows became the most popular desktop and laptop operating system for the next 11 years.

This version contained major changes to the desktop, folders and icons. It focused on multi-touch support, a redesigned Windows Shell with a new taskbar, referred to as the Superbar, a home networking system called HomeGroup, and performance improvements.

Windows 8

Windows 8 was released in 2012 and could be used on smartphones and tablets. The start button was removed, and the UI had been designed around touch screen devices.

Windows 10

In 2015, Windows 10 was released. New features included a new Start Menu and user interface, multifactor authentication security, compressed system files, the introduction to Microsoft Edge and more.

The start menu was reintroduced in Windows 10 after Microsoft received backlash for removing it from Windows 8.

Windows 10 can run on both desktop computers and tablets. This system recognises the device you are using and adjusts the user interface accordingly.


Windows 11

The newest version of Microsoft’s operating system will be released on October 5th. One of the many new features included changes to the start menu and start button — both now being centred.

You are able to download and run android apps on your PC, and Live Tiles is a new feature that lets you quickly return to the app you were using.

Many new features and a sleek new design — built around changes from the smartphone era, make this one of the most significant updates in the OS’s history.


Since the first release of Windows in 1985, the operating system has come a long way. After a breakthrough in the field of computing, the latest Windows has been designed to reduce the size, increase operating speed, and limit energy consumption.

With each release, Microsoft has incorporated desirable features from previous versions that appealed to their users. Each change reflects the growing importance of the internet, the development of new technologies, and new possibilities for users.

Windows 11 is available through a free upgrade for eligible Windows 10 PCs. Many older devices will not support Windows 11 due to security being at the forefront of the latest release.

Read more about Windows 11 here or get in touch with one of our IT experts to learn more about Windows 11 and how it will make an impact on your organisation.

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