The origin of “Windows”


Windows relies on what’s called a graphical user interface (GUI), first developed – but left to gather dust – by Xerox back in 1975. A conventional GUI will consist primarily of the combination of “window, icon, menu and pointing device”, or WIMP.


Another term to describe this approach is “the desktop metaphor”, which means that your rectangular monitor is conceived of as if were a desktop, with different folders and documents arrayed upon it.


Scroll down to start

Windows 1.0

The first Windows received a very lukewarm critical reception (and some controversy too, as we’ll see). The dependence on the mouse was perhaps a little too new-fangled for many, and one memorable put-down by The New York Times compared its performance to "pouring molasses in the Arctic" (we think that means it was slow). Still, from humble beginnings…

How much did you guess?

For its first ad, Windows decided it wouldn’t just introduce itself – it would introduce Steve Ballmer, too. Which, you know, was a debateable decision.

Code name: Interface Manager

No of copies sold: 500,000


Windows 2.0

Arguably the moment when Windows became Windows, Microsoft’s second OS allowed applications to overlap one another. It also introduced the “Minimize” and “Maximize” options that remain so central to our use of computers today. Sales consequently doubled.

Code name: Nixa

No of copies sold:  Over 1 million

The beginning of the Gate/Jobs nemesis thing

While Xerox were the first to develop the GUI, Apple were the first to try and fully commercialize it for the original Macintosh. Microsoft worked closely with Apple developing applications for the Macintosh, and Gates drew Jobs’ legendary ire when Microsoft went and quickly developed its own version: Windows 1.0.


"I think it's more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it," retorted Gates, during the two tech visionaries’ testy confrontation.


By Joi Ito from Inbamura, Japan (Steve Jobs and Bill Gates on Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Windows 3.0

Windows 3.0 would ensure Microsoft entered the new decade on a commercial high, selling 10 million copies and taking Microsoft that much nearer to its destiny as a global brand and household name. The origins of Windows 3.0 were interesting. Microsoft employees David Weise and Murray Sargent independently decided to develop a protected mode Windows as an experiment. They presented the prototype to company executives, and this transformed it into an official project.

Code name: Cedar

No of copies sold: 10 million

Microsoft sued

In 1988, Apple finally gave legal expression to its resentment, filing a lawsuit against Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, accusing Windows 2.0 of copyright infringement against Apple’s GUI. The judge ruled in favor of Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard in all but 10 of the 189 patents.

Question #1

Which two applications first introduced in Windows 2.0 are still used widely across the world today?

You will find the answer at the end of the page

Code name: Odyssey

No of copies sold: 1 million in first  month

Windows 2000

Microsoft released four editions of Windows 2000: Professional, Server, Advanced Server, and Datacenter Server. Despite its best efforts, however, Windows 2000 would fall victim to several virus attacks, including the notorious Code Red.

Rap and tractors

It’s probably fair to say that, by the dawn of the new millennium, Microsoft were feeling under pressure to be hip. They gave us rap and tractors.

The end of Windows’ hot streak?

The 90s were a decade to remember for Microsoft. The noughties would be a more mixed bag. New versions of Windows, even, would henceforth come in for occasional criticism. Indeed, some critics would eventually argue that a hit/miss/ hit/miss pattern set in around now. See if you think the accusation sticks...

Bill Gates & Steve Ballmer pay homage to “A Night at the Roxbury”

Launch problems

There was something about Windows launches that brought out Microsoft’s penchant for embarrassing itself. From jaw-droppingly awkward dancing, to ill-conceived ‘skits’, to Steve Ballmer just… being himself, public-facing Microsoft occasions were once notoriously gaff-prone. In this case in point, Bill Gates grinds his teeth behind a fixed grin, as the world is shown something it already knew only too well: a blue Windows error screen.

Code name: Memphis

No of copies sold: Over 25 million

Windows 98

Like Windows 95, Windows 98 is a hybrid 16-bit and 32-bit product with an MS-DOS based boot stage. Microsoft sound engineer Ken Kato composed the iconic startup sound for Windows 98. He considered it a "tough act to follow.”

Sensory overload!

Here’s one that still gives you a headache, almost two decades later.

Code name: Chicago

No of copies sold:  40 million in the first year

Windows 95

Windows 95 was the moment when Windows got real. A proper marketing drive from Microsoft, which included Start Me Up and the above dancefloor aberration, helped drive consumer interest, and Windows 95 sold over 40 million in the first year. Pivotal additions included the “Start” button and taskbar.

Windows to the world

The Windows 95 ad breathes confidence, and the Rolling Stones don’t hinder matters.

Windows 95 today

However successful Windows 95 was, the truth is that operating systems don’t age well: all cutting edges become blunt eventually...

GUI circa 1995

For Windows 95 the desktop design was given a makeover, significant elements of which adhere to this day. Now, running applications were displayed on the taskbar across the bottom of the screen, while the Start button on the bottom left opened a menu that could also be used to open documents and applications.

By the mid-nineties, the courtship of technology and popular culture was well underway. It was a union Apple would consistently incite and relish, whereas for Microsoft, it would be left to the raw power and reach of their technology to carve out the company’s astonishing success.

Enter Windows 95

Everyone was excited – not least the Microsoft exec team – at this Windows 95 launch. Who says geeks can’t dance! Wow...


Windows 3.1

Windows 3.1 was the first in a series of 16-bit operating systems. It required a minimum of a 286 PC with 1 MB of RAM to run, adding greater system stability to 3.0, which was a little crash prone. It was also capable of accessing up to 4 GB in 386 Enhanced Mode.

Windows to the world

By Windows 3.1, Microsoft’s sights were very much set on the world. I suppose you could call this ad a “surreal classic.”

Code name: Janus

No of copies sold:  Over 3 million

Did you know?

The original versions of Solitaire and Minesweeper

were created to trick users into learning mouse fluency and using drag-n-drop.

Code name: Millennium

No of copies sold: Over 250,000


Windows ME

Cruelly referred to as the “Mistake Edition” in PC World, Windows ME was met with a mixture of derision and bewilderment that was pretty much unknown to Microsoft up to then. Targeted at home PC users, it included Internet Explorer 5.5, Windows Media Player 7, and Windows Movie Maker software.

“That movie wasn’t called 2001 for nothing.”

MS-DOS comes over all HAL at the Windows XP launch.

Mistake Edition?

Windows ME 2000 came 4th in PC World’s ‘Worst Tech Products of All Time’ list. "Shortly after ME appeared in late 2000," said PC World, "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 XP

Windows XP returned Microsoft to its status of critical and consumer darling. It introduced a more intuitive user interface, better hardware support, and more multimedia capabilities. Most importantly – it sold like hot cakes. At least 400 million copies in the five years after its release.

Code name: Whistler

No of copies sold: 400 million

Madonna Gates?

The flying execs thing is a bit weird (and all their “oh wow I’m flying faces” are uniformly awful), but Madonna’s Ray of Light sounds great.

Did You Know?

If your business is preparing to migrate to Windows 10, and your machines are currently running Windows 7, you may need to use a wipe-and-load approach as opposed to an in place upgrade? Otherwise you won’t be able to get to a properly secure Windows 10.

Windows 7 broke the record for the highest grossing Amazon pre-order, knocking Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from the top spot.

Code name: Blackcomb

No of copies sold: 600 million

Windows 7

Originally plotted as an update on Windows Vista, Windows 7 would prove a massive success, selling over 100 million copies worldwide in just six months. In addition, the critics heaped praise on it, marking it as a big improvement on its predecessor.

How not to manage expectations

Suggesting the experience of Windows Vista would be akin to watching the Berlin Wall fall does not, in retrospect, look like the best way to market Windows Vista.

Windows Vista

Widespread security concerns and complaints led Bill Gates to announce a "Trustworthy Computing initiative" at Microsoft that delayed the release of Windows Vista. Ultimately, the extended wait only increased expectations, which Microsoft added to with its claim that “nearly all PCs on the market today will run” the new OS.

Code name: Longhorn

No of copies sold: 140 million


That Windows Vista falls in the ‘miss’ category of noughties Windows is suggested by the existence of an entire Wikipedia page:  ‘Criticism of Windows Vista.’

"I now have a $2,100 e-mail machine," said Mike Nash, whose laptop's lack of a suitable graphics chip meant Vista couldn’t run properly... Mike Nash was Corporate VP for Windows Product Management.

Question #2

For how many years did Microsoft provide

support for Windows XP?


You will find the answer at

the end of the page

Code name: Jupiter

No of copies sold: 200 million

Windows 8

The jury’s still out on whether Windows 8 was ahead of its time – or just not all that good. Windows 8 made big changes to the user interface to better suit tablets, reflecting the fierce competition Microsoft was facing from Android and iOS. The resulting complications were too much for many. Call it a learning curve.

Question #3


Hang on, we’ve had Windows 7 and Windows 8 – but what on earth happened to Windows 9?



Check out the answer at the bottom of the page. (It's a good one, too, we promise.)

Code name: Blue

No of copies sold: Over 200 million

Windows 10

And now, the end is here… well, maybe not the “end.” But Windows 10 – widely considered the most secure enterprise operating system ever – does mark the end of something, since the latest servicing model means that the operating system will henceforth be renewed under the same “Windows 10” banner.

Slightly scary children are

the future

Let’s just say that software, rather than marketing, has always been Microsoft’s ‘thing’. (Am I alone in finding these children slightly scary?)

By World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Some Bill Gates facts to make you feel bad about yourself


Bill Gates' net worth recently hit a cool $90 Billion.


If Bill Gates was a country, he would be the 37th richest country on earth (it keeps going up).


And he did it all without ever completing a college degree!


Windows 10 is the future for every business

Get there today


Only 1E can offer a fully automated migration to a secure Windows 10 environment, regardless of the size

or needs of your enterprise.

1E can migrate thousands of machines in a single day, without business disruption.

Learn more

Here are the answers

#1 Which two applications first introduced in Windows 2.0 are used widely across the world today?


Microsoft Word and Excel.

#2 For how many years did Microsoft provide support for Windows XP?


13 years.

#3 What happened to Windows 9?


Windows 10, because 7 8 9.

(if you don’t get it, read it out loud).

1E is redefining endpoint management. We believe that you win or lose at the endpoint: there is no room for compromise. Our solutions help keep every endpoint secure and current with the latest software and applications. That's every device in every location, fully automated, and in real-time. We also deliver instant endpoint detection and remediation at massive scale, minimizing risk for your business and impact on your network.

Over 1,700 customers around the world, including Dell, ING, Nestle, BNP Paribas and Ford Motor Company, rely on 1E to gain unprecedented insight and control over their IT estates

Follow us on:

Windows through the years

The history of Microsoft’s IT revolution

Across three decades, successive Windows releases have changed the face of business and personal computing.


To mark this incredible journey, join us as we take a scroll down memory lane, looking at the origins, iterations, controversies and evolution of Microsoft’s flagship product, from Windows 1 to Windows 10.


Windows 1.0


Windows 2.0


Windows 3.0


Windows 3.1

Windows 95

Windows 98

Windows 2000


Windows ME

Windows XP

Windows Vista

Windows 7

Windows 8

Windows 10