On November 10, 1983, at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, Microsoft Corporation formally announced Microsoft Windows, a next-generation operating system that would provide a graphical user interface (GUI) and a multitasking environment for IBM computers.
Introducing Interface Manager
Microsoft promised that the new product would be on the shelf by April 1984. Windows might have been released under the original name of Interface Manager if marketing whiz, Rowland Hanson had not convinced Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates that Windows was the far better name.
Did Windows Get Top View?
That same November in 1983, Bill Gates showed a beta version of Windows to IBM’s head honchos. Their response was lackluster probably because they were working on their own operating system called Top View. IBM did not give Microsoft the same encouragement for Windows that they gave the other operating system that Microsoft brokered to IBM. In 1981, MS-DOS became the highly successful operating system that came bundled with an IBM computer.
Top View was released in February of 1985 as a DOS-based multitasking program manager without any GUI features. IBM promised that future versions of Top View would have a GUI. That promise was never kept, and the program was discontinued barely two years later.
A Byte Out of Apple
No doubt, Bill Gates realized how profitable a successful GUI for IBM computers would be. He had seen Apple’s Lisa computer and later the more successful Macintosh or Mac computer. Both Apple computers came with a stunning graphical user interface.
Side Note: Early MS-DOS diehards liked to refer to MacOS (Macintosh operating system)as “WIMP”, an acronym for the Windows, Icons, Mice and Pointers interface.
As a new product, Microsoft Windows faced potential competition from IBM’s own Top View, and others. VisiCorp’s short-lived VisiOn, released in October 1983, was the official first PC-based GUI. The second was GEM (Graphics Environment Manager), released by Digital Research in early 1985. Both GEM and VisiOn lacked support from the all-important third-party developers. Since, if nobody wanted to write software programs for an operating system, there would be no programs to use, and nobody would want to buy it.
Microsoft finally shipped Windows 1.0 on November 20, 1985, almost two years past the initially promised release date.
“Microsoft become the top software vendor in 1988 and never looked back” – Microsoft Corporation
Apple Bytes Back
Microsoft Windows version 1.0 was considered buggy, crude, and slow. This rough start was made worse by a threatened lawsuit from Apple Computers. In September 1985, Apple lawyers warned Bill Gates that Windows 1.0 infringed on Apple copyrights and patents, and that his corporation stoled Apple’s trade secrets. Microsoft Windows had similar drop-down menus, tiled windows and mouse support.
Deal of the Century
Bill Gates and his head counsel Bill Neukom, decided to make an offer to license features of Apple’s operating system. Apple agreed and a contract was drawn up. Here’s the clincher: Microsoft wrote the licensing agreement to include use of Apple features in Microsoft Windows version 1.0 and all future Microsoft software programs. As it turned out, this move by Bill Gates was as brilliant as his decision to buy QDOS from Seattle Computer Products and his convincing IBM to let Microsoft keep the licensing rights to MS-DOS. (You can read all about those smooth moves in our feature on MS-DOS.)
Windows 1.0 floundered on the market until January 1987, when a Windows-compatible program called Aldus PageMaker 1.0 was released. PageMaker was the first WYSIWYG desktop-publishing program for the PC. Later that year, Microsoft released a Windows-compatible spreadsheet called Excel. Other popular and useful software like Microsoft Word and Corel Draw helped promote Windows, however, Microsoft realized that Windows needed further development.
Microsoft Windows Version 2.0
On December 9, 1987, Microsoft released a much-improved Windows version 2.0 that made Windows based computers look more like a Mac. Windows 2.0 had icons to represent programs and files, improved support for expanded-memory hardware and windows that could overlap. Apple Computer saw a resemblance and filed a 1988 lawsuit against Microsoft, alleging that they had broken the 1985 licensing agreement.
Copy This Will You
In their defense, Microsoft claimed that the licensing agreement actually gave them the rights to use Apple features. After a four-year court case, Microsoft won. Apple claimed that Microsoft had infringed on 170 of their copyrights. The courts said that the licensing agreement gave Microsoft the rights to use all but nine of the copyrights, and Microsoft later convinced the courts that the remaining copyrights should not be covered by copyright law. Bill Gates claimed that Apple had taken ideas from the graphical user interface developed by Xerox for Xerox’s Alto and Star computers.
On June 1, 1993, Judge Vaughn R. Walker of the U.S. District Court of Northern California ruled in Microsoft’s favor in the Apple vs. Microsoft & Hewlett-Packard copyright suit. The judge granted Microsoft’s and Hewlett-Packard’s motions to dismiss the last remaining copyright infringement claims against Microsoft Windows versions 2.03 and 3.0, as well as HP NewWave.
What would have happened if Microsoft had lost the lawsuit? Microsoft Windows might never have become the dominant operating system that it is today.
On May 22, 1990, the critically accepted Windows 3.0 was released. Windows 3.0 had an improved program manager and icon system, a new file manager, support for sixteen colors, and improved speed and reliability. Most important, Windows 3.0 gained widespread third-party support. Programmers started writing Windows-compatible software, giving end users a reason to buy Windows 3.0. Three million copies were sold the first year, and Windows finally came of age.
On April 6, 1992, Windows 3.1 was released. Three million copies were sold in the first two months. TrueType scalable font support was added, along with multimedia capability, object linking and embedding (OLE), application reboot capability, and more. Windows 3.x became the number one operating system installed in PCs until 1997, when Windows 95 took over.
On August 24, 1995, Windows 95 was released in a buying fever so great that even consumers without home computers bought copies of the program. Code-named Chicago, Windows 95 was considered very user-friendly. It included an integrated TCP/IP stack, dial-up networking, and long filename support. It was also the first version of Windows that did not require MS-DOS to be installed beforehand.
On June 25, 1998, Microsoft released Windows 98. It was the last version of Windows based on the MS-DOS kernel. Windows 98 has Microsoft’s Internet browser “Internet Explorer 4” built in and supported new input devices like USB.
Windows 2000 (released in 2000) was based on Microsoft’s NT technology. Microsoft now offered automatic software updates over the Internet for Windows starting with Windows 2000.
According to Microsoft, “the XP in Windows XP stands for experience, symbolizing the innovative experiences that Windows can offer to personal computer users.” Windows XP was released in October 2001 and offered better multi-media support and increased performance.
Codenamed Longhorn in its development phase.
Windows 7 is the latest edition of Windows.