Microsoft Windows has seen nine major versions since its first release in 1985. Over 29 years later, Windows looks very different but somehow familiar with elements that have survived the test of time, increases in computing power and – most recently – a shift from the keyboard and mouse to the touchscreen.
Here’s a brief look at the history of Windows, from its birth at the hands of Bill Gates with Windows 1 to the latest arrival under new Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella.
This is where it all started for Windows. The original Windows 1 was released in November 1985 and was Microsoft’s first true attempt at a graphical user interface in 16-bit.
Development was spearheaded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and ran on top of MS-DOS, which relied on command-line input.
It was notable because it relied heavily on use of a mouse before the mouse was a common computer input device. To help users become familiar with this odd input system, Microsoft included a game, Reversi (visible in the screenshot) that relied on mouse control, not the keyboard, to get people used to moving the mouse around and clicking onscreen elements.
Two years after the release of Windows 1, Microsoft’s Windows 2 replaced it in December 1987. The big innovation for Windows 2 was that windows could overlap each other, and it also introduced the ability to minimise or maximise windows instead of “iconising” or “zooming”.
The control panel, where various system settings and configuration options were collected together in one place, was introduced in Windows 2 and survives to this day.
Microsoft Word and Excel also made their first appearances running on Windows 2.
The first Windows that required a hard drive launched in 1990. Windows 3 was the first version to see more widespread success and be considered a challenger to Apple’s Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga graphical user interfaces, coming pre-installed on computers from PC-compatible manufacturers including Zenith Data Systems.
Windows 3 introduced the ability to run MS-DOS programmes in windows, which brought multitasking to legacy programmes, and supported 256 colours bringing a more modern, colourful look to the interface.
More important - at least to the sum total of human time wasted - it introduced the card-moving timesink (and mouse use trainer) Solitaire.
Windows 1 and 2 both had point release updates, but Windows 3.1 released in 1992 is notable because it introduced TrueType fonts making Windows a viable publishing platform for the first time.
Minesweeper also made its first appearance. Windows 3.1 required 1MB of RAM to run and allowed supported MS-DOS programs to be controlled with a mouse for the first time. Windows 3.1 was also the first Windows to be distributed on a CD-ROM, although once installed on a hard drive it only took up 10 to 15MB (a CD can typically store up to 700MB).
As the name implies, Windows 95 arrived in August 1995 and with it brought the first ever Start button and Start menu (launched with a gigantic advertising campaign that used the Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up, and a couple of months later Friends stars Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry. Could it be any more up-to-date?)
It also introduced the concept of “plug and play” – connect a peripheral and the operating system finds the appropriate drivers for it and makes it work. That was the idea; it didn’t always work in practice.
Windows 95 also introduced a 32-bit environment, the task bar and focused on multitasking. MS-DOS still played an important role for Windows 95, which required it to run some programmes and elements.
Internet Explorer also made its debut on Windows 95, but was not installed by default requiring the Windows 95 Plus! pack. Later revisions of Windows 95 included IE by default, as Netscape Navigator and NCSA Mosaic were popular at the time.
Released in June 1998, Windows 98 built on Windows 95 and brought with it IE 4, Outlook Express, Windows Address Book, Microsoft Chat and NetShow Player, which was replaced by Windows Media Player 6.2 in Windows 98 Second Edition in 1999.
Windows 98 introduced the back and forward navigation buttons and the address bar in Windows Explorer, among other things. One of the biggest changes was the introduction of the Windows Driver Model for computer components and accessories – one driver to support all future versions of Windows.
USB support was much improved in Windows 98 and led to its widespread adoption, including USB hubs and USB mice.
Considered a low point in the Windows series by many – at least, until they saw Windows Vista – Windows Millennium Edition was the last Windows to be based on MS-DOS, and the last in the Windows 9x line.
Released in September 2000, it was the consumer-aimed operating system twined with Windows 2000 aimed at the enterprise market. It introduced some important concepts to consumers, including more automated system recovery tools.
IE 5.5, Windows Media Player 7 and Windows Movie Maker all made their appearance for the first time. Autocomplete also appeared in Windows Explorer, but the operating system was notorious for being buggy, failing to install properly and being generally poor.
The enterprise twin of ME, Windows 2000 was released in February 2000 and was based on Microsoft’s business-orientated system Windows NT and later became the basis for Windows XP.
Microsoft’s automatic updating played an important role in Windows 2000 and became the first Windows to support hibernation.
Arguably one of the best Windows versions, Windows XP was released in October 2001 and brought Microsoft’s enterprise line and consumer line of operating systems under one roof.
It was based on Windows NT like Windows 2000, but brought the consumer-friendly elements from Windows ME. The Start menu and task bar got a visual overhaul, bringing the familiar green Start button, blue task bar and vista wallpaper, along with various shadow and other visual effects.
ClearType, which was designed to make text easier to read on LCD screens, was introduced, as were built-in CD burning, autoplay from CDs and other media, plus various automated update and recovery tools, that unlike Windows ME actually worked.
Windows XP was the longest running Microsoft operating system, seeing three major updates and support up until April 2014 – 13 years from its original release date. Windows XP was still used on an estimated 430m PCs when it was discontinued.
Its biggest problem was security: though it had a firewall built in, it was turned off by default. Windows XP’s huge popularity turned out to be a boon for hackers and criminals, who exploited its flaws, especially in Internet Explorer, mercilessly - leading Bill Gates to initiate a “Trustworthy Computing” initiative and the subsequent issuance of to Service Pack updates that hardened XP against attack substantially.
It’s official – Windows 10 is here and it’s the operating system we’ve all been waiting for. We’ve put together a quick outline on release date, price, technical specifications, and new features – everything you need to know as a student to prepare for Window’s next best operating system.
When was Windows 10 released?
Windows 10 was released on July 29, 2015. If you’re a student or faculty member, you can now search for your school and download Windows 10 Education at no cost.
How much will Windows 10 cost?
Until July 29, 2016, Windows 10 was available as a free upgrade for genuine Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 devices. Unfortunately, Windows XP and Vista users were not eligible for the free upgrade, but they could still get Windows 10 by purchasing from a retailer. If you are a student or faculty member, you may be eligible to receive Windows 10 Education for free. Search for your school to see if you qualify.
What can Windows 10 run on?
For the most part, Windows 10 will run on anything Windows 8 can run on as it requires a 64-bit processor. If you’ve purchased your PC or laptop in the past few years, you should be good to go. Read more on Windows 10 specifications and system requirements.
Which version of Windows should I download?
The four Windows 10 editions you’re most likely to encounter are: Home, Pro, Enterprise, and Education. While Home offers the everyday basics and Pro is made for the power users, we recommend Windows 10 Education for students – the most fully featured version of Windows 10 available. Did we mention it’s free for students?
Where can I download Windows 10?
If you’re a student, faculty or staff member attending a school with an organization-wide Volume Licensing Program, you may be eligible to download Windows 10 Education for free. Check now to see if you qualify
Get Windows 10 for free
Students get Windows 10 Education for free. See if you qualify by searching for your school.
Got Mac? Run Windows on your Mac with Parallels Desktop – students get 50% off!
Microsoft showed off a bunch of new features and tweaks with the arrival of the new operating system that’s going to make being a productive student that much easier. Whether you’re using a desktop PC or a tablet, we’ve summarized everything that a student needs to know about Windows 10.
Windows 10 is everywhere
The arrival of Windows 10 confirms that Microsoft is aiming for one singular operating system meant to unify all devices – desktop PCs, tablets, and smartphones – with one interface, one way of operating, and one account.
The idea is to offer a familiar workspace regardless of what size screen you’re using – whether you’re on your tablet in class or PC at home. With that being said, Microsoft also announced that Windows 10 will be the next major version of the Windows phone.
The Start menu we all know and love is now back and even better. It still has the Windows Live tiles from Windows 8 but they are now fully customizable for easy access to your favorite apps.
➤ Remember your first version of Windows? See how Windows has evolved over time
Microsoft has announced that there will only be one Windows Store for all apps regardless of device. And now with Windows 10, the apps on the Windows App Store can also run on your desktop PC, just like any other app. Check out some of our favorite Windows apps for students.