This year marks the 30th anniversary of Microsoft’s defining operating system, Windows.
Though it’s been 30 years since Windows became formally available to the public (on November 20, 1985, to be precise), it came after a long gestation period. Microsoft first unveiled its operating system in 1983, with the two year gap leading many sceptics to consider it ‘vapourware’.
When first in production, the system was going to be called ‘Interface Manager’, which many developers thought would go on to become the final name that went to market. However, ‘Windows’ trumped it, not just as a more concise title but one that accurately describes the new “windows” that made this system so revolutionary.
This format meant that computer users needn’t type out commands into MS-DOS but could instead navigate through much easier to read screens. Though Bill Gates claimed his new system was ideal for the “serious PC user”, it actually paved the way for the wider mass-adoption of computing.
Dialogue boxes, scroll bars and drop-down menus
The famous screenshots that now look immensely dated suggest a very basic system, but it came bundled with more features than many remember. For example, Windows 1.0 offered icons, dialogue boxes, scroll bars and even drop-down menus. Users were also able to switch between programs seamlessly, without having to quit and restart each one. It also came with programs still very much in use (albeit modernised), such as Paint, Notepad and Calculator. Gamers were even offered a digital version of Reversi.
Despite all the now-apparent benefits on offer, consumers didn’t take to Windows 1.0 quite as expected. Though the use of a click-through system seems much easier than manual MS-DOS entry, the latter was still very much what the public was used to. As such, only 500,000 copies were sold in the first two years. By comparison, Windows 3.0 and 3.1 shifted 10 million copies over the same time period, when released in the early 1990s.
Throughout the decades, Windows has become quicker and more attractive, and even lost the start menu before rediscovering it in the face of huge consumer pressure. The lofty ambitions remain in place even today. As Microsoft said itself: “Windows 10 seeks to evolve and advance human lives, uninterrupted.”