Microsoft Windows: How one piece of software changed the world

Windows 1.0 launched way back in 1985. Here are some of its most significant moments.

Press Association
Last updated: 1 October 2018 - 3.11pm

The 1980s gave us many things, but one of the most prominent things for life today was the birth of the personal computer – which was spearheaded by Microsoft and their Windows software.

Making its debut in 1985, and along with the Apple Macintosh that had launched the previous year, Windows marked the beginning of the PC era; when the technology began to move from labs to homes for the first time.

[Read more: Microsoft Office - why are there so many different versions?]

33 years later and the company as a whole, largely driven by Windows, is enjoying a renaissance worthy of the software that has reached well over a billion people down the years.

There are plenty of stand out moments from its history; here are some of our favourites.

PC revolution

Bill Gates with a Windows box in 1992
(Mike Fisher/AP)

As already touched upon, the digital world we inhabit today would look very different if it weren’t for Microsoft being at the forefront of making computers far more accessible to the masses. While Apple was doing this predominately through hardware at first, Microsoft was all about software; Windows.

The open nature of the software made it very appealing to technology companies and developers, and meant that Windows quickly became the go-to desktop software of the early PC era.

Scroll bars and drop-down menus

Windows 1.0

The interface of Windows was pivotal to making it more accessible. It was one of the first to incorporate the graphical user interface (GUI) of icons, boxes and menus that we use today, taking us away from the black screens and code inputs that characterised the first computers.

But Windows also introduced scrollbars and drop-down menus - two features that still appear in desktop software today, and are staples of personal computer use.

Software upgrades

Wonderfully summed up in the above video, Windows pioneered the idea of the software update and periodically evolving and adding to the software used by consumers.

Once predominately black screens where you ticked a couple of boxes, software updates now get fanfares and countdowns that rival NASA launches.

Microsoft Paint

Microsoft Paint
(Navarr Barnier/Flickr)

For many of us, this was our first digital procrastination tool. Whether it be to spell out rude words on a friend’s computer at school or as a crude form of Photoshop, interacting with Microsoft Paint was a digital rite of passage, just like playing Minesweeper and Solitaire or having a ridiculous Hotmail address.

The Mouse

A computer mouse


With the invention of personal computers and the use of GUI, the mouse became the navigation tool of choice to go with it.

Windows 1.0 needed a mouse to point, click and navigate, and with that the way people interacted with computers completely changed. The rivalry with Apple sparked into life too, and so the race to provide computing to the masses began; it’s safe to say we did alright out of it.

Steve Ballmer

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is famous for being eccentric, but he arguably reached his peak way back in 1986 with this ad for Windows 1.0.

Forgot the ‘Time of My Life’ leaving song and screams, Windows 1.0 costing only $99 is probably the most Steve Ballmer thing ever.

[Read more: 7 easy tips to protect your PC from hackers and malware]

Start Menu

The new Start Menu in Windows 10

Probably the most iconic part of Windows, the Start Menu is such an integral part of the software that when it was removed in Windows 8 there was an astonishing backlash.

So much so that Microsoft reintroduced it with Windows 10, and made a big deal of doing so – dedicating plenty of early demo time to it.

This little icon in the bottom left of the screen was the first gateway to the internet and the computing world for many of us. It led us to our games, to Microsoft Word to write homework, and all our personalisation settings. It’s evolved in Windows 10 and has been combined with the tile screen phased in more recent iterations of the software, but the location and layout remains the same at its core.

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