Happy Birthday Windows! On November 20th 1985 Windows 1.0 launched.

25 years later the operating system has changed dramitically - the latest version, Windows 10, is free!

Certainly Windows has been integrated into the lives of many of us for years – the computer you are using now is probably running Windows – and it’s hard to imagine life without it.

Windows has transformed a lot since here’s a look back at how it has changed.


Windows 1.0 (1985)

Windows 1.0 interface

Released 30 years ago this year, Windows 1.0 dramatically changed the way we use computers, championing the (then ground-breaking) mouse as a means of navigating a graphically rich interface that included drop-down menus, scroll bars and dialog boxes.

Windows 1.0 also included features familiar to many of us today including: Calculator, Paint, Windows Write, Notepad and a game called Reversi.

Windows 1.0 box

In the original press release Bill Gates said of the OS:  “It is unique software designed for the serious PC user, who places high value on the productivity that a personal computer can bring.”

Oh, and it was originally going to be called Interface Manager – catchy.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

[Related story: 15 things you didn’t know about Microsoft Windows 1.0]

Windows 2.0 (1987)

Windows 2.0 interface

The second-generation version of Windows included desktop icons, the Control Panel (which is still used today), more memory and the ability for windows to overlap each other.

It supported VGA graphics and for the first time keyboard shortcuts could be used.

Image credit: Source/Wikipedia


Windows 3.0 (1990)

Windows 3 interface

Boasting improved graphics and performance, Window 3.0 and Windows 3.1 were the most popular versions of the OS to date, shifting 10 million copies in two years.

File Manager, Program Manager and Print Manager appeared for the first time, but perhaps more importantly for a generation of time-wasters, so did Solitaire, Hearts and Minesweeper.

Bill Gates with Windows 3.0 boxes

Windows 3.0 was the first version of Windows that was installed using floppy disks, while a software development kit (SDK) meant developers outside of Microsoft could create programs for the OS.

Image credit:  Tyomitch via Wikipedia


Windows 95 (1995)

Windows 95 interface

Probably the first version of Windows you owned. Shifting seven million copies in five weeks, Windows 95 was a huge success and introduced many new features such as the desktop, the minimise, maximize and close buttons, the taskbar and Start button.

The 32-bit system was designed for an online world, with fax and built-in internet support, dial-up networking and support for plug-and-play devices.

Windows 95 box

Microsoft debuted its web browser Internet Explorer later the same year (separately) and included it in later versions of Windows.

Image credit: Wikipedia


Windows 98 (1998)

Windows 98 interface

Windows 98 was the first iteration of the OS designed for consumers and the last version of Windows based on MS-DOS, so you didn’t need to launch it from a command line interface. It introduced the Quick Launch bar for launching programs without going via the Start menu, back and forward navigation and image thumbnails.

Windows 98 box

It could read DVDs and had improved support for USB devices such as mice. Upgrade Windows 98 SE (Second Edition) was released in 1999.

Photo credit: User: Emarse via Wikipedia

[Related story: How well do you know Windows? Take our quiz and find out]

Windows 2000 Professional (2000)

Windows 2000 box

Designed for business rather than consumer use, Windows 2000 was based on Microsoft's NT technology. It supported a range of Plug and Play devices, wireless devices (such as infra-red), advanced networking and USB products.

Image credit: Wikipedia


Windows Millennium Edition (2000)

Windows ME edition

Aimed at home users of Windows ME included Internet Explorer 5.5, Windows Movie Maker for basic video editing and Windows Media Player 7 for organising media, CD burning and transferring files to portable devices.

Some features were borrowed from the business-orientated Windows 2000, System Restore made its first appearance for recovering lost files.

The last system to be based on the Windows 95 code base, Windows ME was buggy and not very popular and had a relatively short shelf life of just a year.


Windows XP (2001)

Windows XP interface

With a redesigned interface that was easier to use and fast and stable performance, Windows XP was hugely popular, selling an estimated 400 million units within five years.

The instantly recognisable wallpaper, dubbed ‘Bliss’, is of a scene from California’s Napa Valley.

Windowss XP box

ClearType technology improved the appearance of text, elsewhere the two-column Start menu appeared and multiple windows from the same application could be grouped into a single taskbar button.

XP was the first OS based on the Windows NT kernel and was the first version of Windows to include a device activation key in a bid to reduce piracy, as well as online security updates.

14 years later, and even though Windows XP still has an 18.9% market share, Microsoft announced it was ending support for the OS.

[Related story: Is it still safe to use Windows XP?]

Windows Vista (2006)

Windows Vista interface

After the success of Windows XP, Microsoft stalled somewhat with Windows Vista.

Sporting the ‘Aero’ user interface with glass effects and new borders, it featured a new Windows Search function and enhancements to Windows Media Player pitching the PC as an entertainment device.

Windows Vista boxes

Microsoft claimed Vista was a lot securer than XP, however users complained about the new User Account Control which required numerous logins.

That wasn’t the only complaint, the OS was also criticised for strict DRM management, hardware requirements (older PCs couldn’t run some features) and its cost.

By the time Windows 7 launched in 2009, more people were still using the older Windows XP than Vista.

Image credit: JamesWeb, optimized Akhristov, Wikipedia


Windows 7 (2009)

Windows 7 interface

Microsoft bounced back from Vista with the critically lauded Windows 7, an OS praised for its performance and usability.

Large icons could be pinned to the redesigned taskbar even when not in use, in ‘Snap’ mode windows could be compared side-by-side, and by using ‘Peek’ windows could be turned transparent to preview the desktop.

Windows 7 box

Windows Touch added support for touchscreen devices, HomeGroup was for sharing files, Security Center became Action Centre and Libraries was for file management.

With pre-order sales outstripping Windows Vista’s entire pre-orders in just eight hours, Windows 7 was a huge success for Microsoft. It remains the most popular version of Windows operating system in use today.


Windows 8 (2012)

Windows 8 interface

With a redesigned interface designed for use on tablets and desktops, Windows 8 was dramatically different to Windows 7.  Gone was the Start button, in its place was a Start Screen and there was new tiled Metro UI and a direct link to the Windows Store.

Windows 8 was a bit too radical and ahead of its time.  The majority of Windows’ user base was still using a desktop with a mouse and keyboard and had no need for the touch features and didn’t like being forced to boot to the Start Screen instead of the more traditional yet familiar Desktop Mode.

Windows 8 box

Released alongside Windows 8 was Windows RT, a version of the OS designed for use on tablets.

In 2013 Microsoft released Windows 8.1, a free update which rectified many complaints, bringing back the Start button and adding the ability to boot to desktop, along with resizable live tiles and improved search. It is still available to buy.


Windows 10 (2015)

Windows 10 interface

Microsoft skipped version 9 to head straight to Windows 10, a version of the OS that harks back to Windows 7 while ensuring increased compatibility with smartphones and tablets.

Reviews of Windows 10 have been positive. The Start menu is back, and instead of prioritising tablet over desktop compatibility (like Windows 8) Continuum automatically swaps between desktop and touchscreen modes depending on the device.

Its goodbye to Internet Explorer, as Windows 10 will feature a brand new browser, called Microsoft Edge.

The core operating system of Windows 10 will work on mobile devices and desktop PCs, supports universal apps and advanced voice control via Cortana.

Perhaps the most significant thing about Windows 10 is that it’s totally free for users of Windows 7, 8 and 8.1.

Windows is incredibly fragmented, with users running different versions, by making it free Microsoft clearly hopes more people will upgrade.

According to data from Net Market Share, in October Windows 7 remained the most popular operating system with 55.7% of the market, followed by XP at 11.68 with Windows 10 in fourth place, used by just under 8% of people.

Many Windows 7 users are clearly worried about making the switch to Windows 10 – they may have been using it for six years, however the upgrade is free until July 2016, so we’d expect Windows 10’s share to rise significantly next year.

For more check out our dedicated Windows 10 section.

Which version of Windows did you use first? What was your favourite feature? Let us know in the Comments section below.