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TLI: Technology Learning Initiative: Introduction to Windows
Technology Learning Initiative - Introduction to Windows

A Brief History and Introduction to Windows
Adapted in part from Robert Lauriston, The PC Bible, 3rd ed. (Berkeley: Peachpit Press, 1999) 233-235.

The Windows operating system was created by Microsoft in the early 1990's and has progressed along two converging lines since that time. One line of operating systems was intended and designed for home use; the other for an office environment.

  • Windows 3.1 (1992) was Microsoft's first major operating system release. The OS created a GUI (graphical user interface) to interface with the underlying command-based MS-DOS system. Windows 3.1 was fairly unstable and had trouble running multiple applications, even on a machine with plenty of RAM. Windows 3.1 was a 16-bit operating system often installed on machines with 386 and 486 Intel chips, which were 32-bit processors; the processors had to do extra work to run a 16-bit program.

  • Windows NT (1993) (short for New Technology) proved more stable than Windows 3.1, but was not very popular among end users; NT was memory-intensive at a time when RAM was still expensive.

  • Windows 95 (1995) supplied a more user-friendly interface that borrowed ideas from operating systems such as MacOS and NextStep. Windows 95 took better advantage of 32-bit processors than Windows 3.1 and also proved to be more compatible with older applications than NT, though 95 still required no more hardware than 3.1. However, Win 95 was slightly less stable than the original release of NT.

  • Windows NT 4.0 (1996) made NT a more viable option by adopting the improved Win 95 interface and allowing users to run almost all the software written for Windows 95. NT also included remote management tools and required a special "administrator" login in order to make any changes to the operating system (adding hardware, installing software, altering the control panel settings, etc). These features make NT especially popular in office environments.

  • Windows 98 (1998) was a relatively minor upgrade of Windows 95 but proved to be a very popular Windows operating system for home users. One of the only significant differences between 95 and 98 was the hard-wiring of Internet Explorer 5.0 into 98, creating the "Quick Launch" bar on the task bar and allowing the Windows Explorer tool to also act as a web browser. In 1999, Microsoft released Windows 98 Second Edition, providing y2k readiness, support for newer hardware (USB, Pentium III, etc.) and improved Windows built-in software (Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, Windows Media Player, etc.)

  • Windows 2000 NT 5 (2000) was the successor to Windows NT, not Windows 98. In an effort to merge the lines of corporate and home PC use, it was sold as an upgrade for both NT 4.0 and 98, but it functions primarily as NT 4.0 does. The administrator login created with NT 4.0 remained in 2000. Win 2000 has been popular among home users as well as in office environments in part because it is more stable than its predecessors. Windows 2000 is the current recommended Windows operating system for Princeton users - this is the OS maintained on all standard DeSC (Desktop Systems Council) computers and distributed with computers purchased through the Student Computer Initiative.

  • Windows ME (2000) (short for Millenium Edition) was the successor to Windows 98. The interface was changed to resemble that of Windows 2000, but few other features were changed. Win ME was notorious for crashing and was not well-liked by end users.

  • Windows XP Home Edition (2001) is the latest windows operating system designed for the home. XP introduced a flashy new interface, a significantly faster boot-up time and added stability. Win XP Home is not designed for use on a network, so OIT does not recommend this operating system for any Princeton user.

  • Windows XP Professional Edition (2001) is the XP operating system designed for the office. It uses the same interface and has the same capabilities as XP home, but it also has the ability to join a domain and network with other computers. Windows XP Pro is no less stable than 2000, but some of its flashier features make this operating system too taxing on the system resources of slower computers.

Please visit the following web page for Microsoft's history of Windows:
Windows Operating Systems Family History

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Last Updated:
July 22, 2004

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