Windows turns 30: a look at the operating system through the ages

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From Microsoft’s first true attempt at a graphical interface in Windows 1 to Windows 10’s unifying of platforms across multiple device

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Windows 1

Windows 1: 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. 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.

Photograph: The Guardian

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Windows 2

Windows 2: 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.

Photograph: The Guardian

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Windows 3.0

Windows 3.0: The first Windows that required a hard drive launched in 1990. 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. It introduced the card-moving timesink (and mouse use trainer) Solitaire.

Photograph: The Guardian

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Windows 3.1

Windows 3.1: 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.

Photograph: The Guardian

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Windows 95

Windows 95: Windows 95 arrived in August 1995 and with it brought the first ever Start button and Start menu. 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.

Photograph: The Guardian

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Windows 98

Windows 98: 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.

Photograph: The Guardian

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Windows ME

Windows ME: 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 twinned with Windows 2000 aimed at the enterprise market. It introduced some important concepts to consumers, including more automated system recovery tools.

Photograph: t

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Windows 2000

Windows 2000: 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.

Photograph: The Guardian

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Windows XP

Windows XP: 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. Windows XP was the longest running Microsoft operating system, seeing three major updates and support until April 2014.

Photograph: The Guardian

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Windows Vista

Windows Vista: Windows XP stayed the course for close to six years before being replaced by Windows Vista in January 2007. Vista updated the look and feel of Windows with more focus on transparent elements, search and security. It was buggy and burdened the user with hundreds of requests for app permissions under “User Account Control” – the outcome of the Trustworthy Computing initiative which now meant that users had to approve or disapprove attempts by programs to make various changes. It led to complacency, with people clicking “yes” to almost anything.

Photograph: The Guardian

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Windows 7

Windows 7: Considered by many as what Windows Vista should have been,Windows 7 was first released in October 2009. It was intended to fix all the problems and criticism faced by Vista, with slight tweaks to its appearance and a concentration on user-friendly features and less “dialogue box overload”. It was faster, more stable and easier to use, becoming the operating system most users and business would upgrade to from Windows XP, forgoing Vista entirely.

Photograph: The Guardian

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Windows 8

Windows 8: Released in October 2012, Windows 8was Microsoft’s most radical overhaul of the Windows interface, ditching the Start button and Start menu in favour of a more touch-friendly Start screen. The new tiled interface saw programme icons and live tiles, which displayed at-a-glance information normally associated with widgets, replace the lists of programmes and icons. Windows 8 was faster than previous versions of Windows and included support for the new, much faster USB 3.0 devices.

Photograph: The Guardian

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Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1: A free point release to Windows 8 introduced in October 2013, Windows 8.1 marked a shift towards yearly software updates from Microsoft and included the first step in Microsoft’s U-turn around its new visual interface. Windows 8.1 re-introduced the Start button, which brought up the Start screen from the desktop view of Windows 8.1.

Photograph: The Guardian

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Windows 10

Windows 10: Announced on 30 September 2014 but not available until 2015, Windows 10 represented another step in Microsoft’s U-turn, bringing back the Start menu and more balance to traditional desktop computer users. It was designed to unify all Windows platforms across multiple devices, including Windows Phone and tablets, with universal apps that can be downloaded from the Windows Store and run on all Windows devices.

Photograph: The Guardian

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