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Windows Operating Systems
by John Anthony

Windows is the most popular PC operating system in the world, and is the primary focus of the software area on this web site.

In this section Operating Systems that Microsoft released From Windows 10 to Windows 95 are overviewed. The versions released prior to Windows 95 are included but only briefly touched on.

The percentage of these Operating Systems in use today:

Windows 7 is used by a majority of users at 58%
XP after 14 years is holding second at 17%.
Windows 8.1, 8 and Vista are 10.5%, 3.5% and 2% respectively.
MAC OS systems are about 5% followed by others at 4%.

Windows 10

Released in July 2015 Windows 10 is the successor to Windows 8.1 and was intended to address shortcomings in the user interface first introduced with Windows 8.

  • Hololens is a brand new feature found only in Windows 10. Users wearing special headset are able to view applications in three dimensional space. Not only can they see apps in 3D they can control them and drag them around with them as they move around. This looks like a game changer!

  • Other changes include the return of the Start Menu at the left end of the Task Bar which defaults to a mix of standard shortcuts like Windows 7 on the left and tiled apps on the right like Windows 8.

    It is set be default to the shortcut/Tiled view. It can be set to appear with all tiled apps by right clicking the Desktop and then selecting Personalize. In the Personalize window Select Start and then find the 'Use Start full screen' and move it to On. Left click on this his window to save the changes. tablet
  • A new virtual desktop system, Taskview, with the ability to run Windows Store apps within windows on the desktop rather than in full-screen mode.

  • Cortana is a semantic digital assistant new in Windows 10. It is much like a high powered Siri (found on I-phones) and is accessed by clicking Start and then on the tiled app labeled Cortana.

  • Search is available in one of two forms on the Task Bar.

    One is a rather long icon on the Task Bar that says (Search the web and windows) which leaves little room for running applications to reside there.

    The second is a small Magnifying Glass Icon.

    You can select either one by right clicking on the Task Bar. Then click Search which presents up three options.
    -Selecting Hidden hides both.
    -Selecting search box to get the long box.
    -Selecting search icon selects the small magnifying glass icon.

  • Edge is a new Browser in Windows 10. It is found on the Task Bar with an icon very similar looking to the 'e' used for Internet Explorer.

  • A new Action Center that receives and archives notifications so they are not potentially lost like in Windows 8.
    It is a slide-out pane that is made visible by pressing Windows key and A at the same time.

  • A Continuum feature dynamically switches users between a PC friendly desktop and a Windows 8 mode, better suited to touch.
    Windows tablets will default to the latter and PCs to the former.

Windows 10 is available as an update for qualified computers running Windows 7 with SP1 and Windows 8.1 loaded from the Get Windows 10 Application.

Windows 8.1

Released in October 2013 as a Windows 8 update to address some of the things users found lacking in Windows 8.
  • Start button returned - when clicked, it opens a 'new' Start page.

  • Provides an easy way to boot up in Desktop mode (never having to see the Metro tiled pages again).

  • Search Heroes - expanded search capability such that actions relevant to the search result are provided.
    (e.g.) searching for a musical artist might return immediate links to their videos/songs.

  • Display up to four re sizable apps at once on the screen. Windows 8 allowed two where the second one ran in a narrow sidebar window.

  • Improved App Store. Windows 8 provided new apps only for Windows 8. In 8.1 other desktop apps were made available through the store.

  • Setting mode options quadrupled in Charms Bar to a full rich set of options which in Windows 8 provided only basic settings leaving the user to migrate to the Control Panel from Desktop mode to get what they needed.

Windows 8

Windows 8 was released in October 2012.

It was intended to bridge the gap between the PC and the Tablet, which in effect pulled users in two directions at once.

It booted in Metro mode, modeled for touch screen use with an emphasis on user consumption vs. user content. For those wanting desktop mode pressing the windows button, if available, switched you over. If not, a couple of other keystroke sequences worked.

The Start Menu was replaced by a Start Screen packed full of tiled apps.

The Task bar found in previous versions of Windows was gone replaced by a 'Charms' bar hidden on the right side of the screen and summoned from any app or from the desktop, when in that mode.
The Charms bar features five commonly used selections: Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings.

Many users found this OS to be uneasy to use and kept using Windows 7.

Windows 7

Windows 7 was released in October 2009, just two years after Vista.

It was designed as a focused incremental upgrade to the Windows line with improved speed without adding many new features.

There are six versions of Windows 7 available: Starter, Home, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise ,and Ultimate.

Since October 31, 2013, Windows 7 is no longer available in retail (except for the Professional edition pre installed).

It contains the fewest features and is only available in a 32-bit version and does not include the Windows Aero theme.
The desktop wallpaper and visual styles (Windows 7 Basic) are not user-changeable.

Targeted at "emerging markets", in 141 different countries. Some Windows Aero options are excluded along with several new features.

Home Premium
This edition was aimed at the home market segment, such features such as Windows Media Center, Windows Aero and multi-touch support.

This edition is targeted towards enthusiasts and small-business users. It includes all the features of Windows 7 Home Premium, and adds the ability to participate in a Windows Server domain.
Additional features include support for up to 192 GB of random-access memory (increased from 16 GB), operating as a Remote Desktop server, location aware printing, backup to a network location, Encrypting File System.

This edition targeted as organizations rather than individuals and was sold through volume licensing to companies which have a Software Assurance contract with Microsoft. Additional features include support for Multilingual User Interface (MUI) packages, BitLocker Drive Encryption, and UNIX application support.

Windows 7 Ultimate contains the same features as Windows 7 Enterprise, but unlike the Enterprise edition, it was available to home users on an individual license basis.

Windows Vista

Vista was released in January 2007, six years after XP, in several versions: Home Basic and Home Premium, Business, Enterprise and Ultimate.

All versions featured a redesigned shell and user interface with focus on security features.

However, Vista turned out to be a somewhat disappointing OS as users voiced many complaints about it including generally sluggish performance, roadblocks due to added security barriers and slow copying/deleting of files.

Minimum requirements for Home Basic

  • 800-megahertz (MHz) 32-bit (x86) processor or 800-MHz 64-bit (x64) processor

  • 20-gigabyte (GB) hard disk that has 15 GB of free hard disk space

  • 512 megabytes (MB) of system memory (448 MB must be available for the operating system if system memory is used as graphic memory)

  • DirectX 9-class graphics card

  • 32 MB of graphics memory

  • Internal or external DVD drive

  • Internet access capability

  • Sound card and speakers

Minimum requirements for Home Premium, Business, Enterprise and Ultimate.

  • 1-gigahertz (GHz) 32-bit (x86) processor or 1-GHz 64-bit (x64) processor

  • 40-GB hard disk that has 15 GB of free hard disk space (the 15GB of free space provides room for temporary file storage during the install or upgrade.)

  • 1 GB of system memory

  • Aero-capable graphics card with a WDDM driver, Pixel Shader 2.0 in hardware (32 bits per pixel) and 128 MB graphic memory minimum.

  • Internal or external DVD drive

  • Internet access capability

  • Sound card and speakers

Windows XP

Released in October 2001, this OS was to designed to replace all previous versions of Windows.

Minimum requirements

  • Pentium III processor, 233 Mhz (300 Mhz recommended)

  • 64 Mbytes of memory (128 Mbytes recommended)

  • 1.5 Gbytes of free disk space

  • A monitor with SVGA resolution (800x600)

  • CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive

  • Pointing device (mouse)

  • Sound card and speakers

    It is offered in two versions: Home and Professional

  • The Home Edition is $99 as an upgrade and $199 for the full version.

  • The Professional Edition is $199 for an upgrade and $299 for the full version.

  • Both Home and Professional can be upgraded from Windows 98, Windows 98SE, and Windows ME. Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 and Windows XP Home can all be upgraded to Windows XP Professional. Windows 95 and earlier versions of Windows are up gradable to either version.


  • Less crashes than Windows 98 - virtually gone is the infamous 'blue screen of death' that signaled a crashed system.

  • Error messages are less impersonal and end with 'We are sorry for the inconvenience.'

  • Installation of peripheral hardware such as printers, scanner and digital cameras is virtually automatic.

  • Many users can share the same PC. Each can have their own password and individualized desktop, my documents folder and web favorites for example.

    With 'Fast User Switching' a user can turn the PC over to another user without logging off. The first user's program continue running and can be resumed when the second user is done.

  • New look to the desktop with bold greens and blues in places, beige in others. The classic Windows 98 style can be restored without functional loss.

  • Home networks are automatically recognized and configured. Broadband access can be setup with a few simple steps.

  • Folders are smarter and have related Task Panes that contains tasks that match the type of files found it . For example, a folder with photos would have a Task Pane containing an instant viewing capability such as a thumbnail viewer.

  • Files can be dragged and dropped on a CD-RW drive icon. Once you have placed all the files you want on the icon, you tell it burn them an it does it. No special CD writing software is required.

  • A smarter Start menu lets you keep your favorite programs permanently near the top. A second column contains access to key features like the control Panel and Search.

    What to watch out for

  • Within 60 days of the installation you must 'activate' it over the Internet or phone. If you don't, it stops working. During activation Microsoft creates a profile of your PC and links it to serial number of your install software. MS will prevent you from installing it on a second machine.

  • When you start XP you will be asked to sign up for the MS instant-messaging feature, Messenger. To use it you must up for Passport. It cannot be un installed and sits at the right end of the task bar.

    You can prevent Messenger loading on Start up. Go to Tools > Options >Preferences, then uncheck the box that says 'run this program when Windows starts'. You can download other instant-messaging software from AOL, Yahoo or others.

  • Built in features that steer you toward Microsoft and MS partners products and services. Other competitive products may require downloaded patches from their web sites in order to work with XP.

  • Internet Explorer home page is set to Microsoft's MSN page. You can change this to another home page.First open the web page you want then go to Tools > Internet Options and click Current. Your browser will open to this web page every time you start it.

  • There is a DOS emulator, but you cannot start your PC in 'Real Mode' as in older versions of Windows.

  • The Media Player can play MP3 files but can't create them. It is geared toward Windows proprietary WMA file format. Other media players such as MusicMatch Jukebox can be downloaded and used to create MP3 files.

  • Microsoft can install Automatic Upgrades to your PC with or without your intervention. You may or may not like this feature. You can turn it off by going to the Control Panel > Automatic Updates tab, then select the option that turns it off.

Windows ME

The successor to Window 98 appeared late in 2000. Very similar in look and feel to Windows 98 with a few added features.

Minimum requirements

  • Pentium processor, 150Mhz

  • 32 Mbytes of memory

  • 480-645 Mbytes of free disk space (depending on the options installed)

  • A monitor with VGA (640x480 ) or higher resolution

  • CD-ROM

  • 3 1/2 inch Floppy Drive

  • Sound card and speakers


  • A more reliable streamlined process that reduces the start up time for the PC.

  • Automatic restoration of backup version of a file in the event of file corruption.

  • Protection of files from modification from other software programs.

  • Windows Media Player 7 was included.

Windows 2000

Windows 2000 arrived early in 2000. It is based on the NT operating kernel and targeted toward business users. It is sometimes referred to as Windows NT 5.0 and contains over 29 million lines of code.

Minimum requirements

  • Pentium processor, 133 Mhz

  • 64 Mbytes of memory

  • 2 Gbyte Hard drive with a minimum of 650 Mbytes free

  • It is offered in four versions: Professional, Server, Advanced Server and Datacenter Server

    New features of Professional

  • Support for FAT16, FAT32 and NTFS file systems. Each file is encrypted with a randomly generated key.

  • A better application installation tracker.

  • Memory protection for individual applications and processes so that a single application can not lock up the system.

  • A file encryption system and secure VPN allows a private LAN over the Internet.

  • Native support is provided for ATM and cable modems.

Windows 98

Released in 1998 it retained and refined the desktop look of Windows 95. A second edition called Windows 98SE was released in 1999 and offered some fixes and improvements to the first edition.

Minimum requirements

  • 486DX, 66 MHz processor

  • 16 Mbytes of memory (24 Mbytes recommended)

  • 480-645 Mbytes for a FAT16 drive; 140-255 Mbytes for a FAT32 drive

  • A monitor with minimum resolution of VGA (800x600)

  • Floppy Disk Drive


  • The biggest advance was the introduction of Internet Explorer, which is a web browser allowing you to view and download web pages from remote servers across the Internet.

  • An improved File System, FAT32 (File Allocation Table) was introduced. It enabled hard drives bigger than 2G bytes to be used with the OS. By default Windows 98 uses FAT16, which is the file system used on all previous Windows versions and DOS.

  • In Windows 98 you have the option of using FAT32 when first setting up a hard drive.

  • Windows 98 is backward compatible with Windows 3.1, Windows 95, and the MS-DOSŪ operating systems.

Windows 95

Released in 1995 it had the first desktop appearance that has pretty much been retained in all versions of Windows since.

Minimum requirements

  • 386DX processor

  • 4 Mbytes of memory (8 Mbytes recommended)

  • 50-60 Mbytes of free hard drive space

  • A monitor with minimum resolution of VGA (800x600)

  • Floppy Disk Drive


  • The desktop with icons on it first debuted.

  • A taskbar was added to the bottom of the desktop. Program Manager was replaced with a 'Start' button on the taskbar. It is used to start programs, open documents, customize the system and get help. Toolbars such as quick launch, desktop, address and links can be placed on the taskbar.

    Running applications that have been minimized also appear on the taskbar.

  • Windows Explorer replaced File Manager as the tool to manage folders and files.

  • Long Filenames (up to 256 characters) were supported which was a tremendous improvement over 8 characters in all earlier versions of Windows as well as DOS.

  • Plug and Play compatibility was added which meant you could plug in new hardware (expansion cards) which Windows would recognize and set it up for you. This feature wasn't quite there but was a start in the right direction.
    Prior to this when you installed new hardware you had to manually insure there were no Interrupts (IRQ) or I/O address conflicts with existing hardware. Failure to do so could produce very strange results or even worse yet, no operation at all.

  • The Registry appeared, combining what had been multiple configuration files, into two files.

  • The right mouse click arrived allowing rapid access and text manipulation.

Windows NT

Released in 1994 this was the first Windows OS to support 32 bit programming model of the 386, 486 and Pentium processors. Support for long filenames also appeared for the fist time.

  • It provided advanced security features, advanced network support and user administration which made it a first choice for many in the business environment.

Windows 3.1.1

In 1993 Microsoft released 3.1.1. It was dubbed 'Windows for Workgroups' and provided network support so that multiple PCs could share files and printers.

Windows 3.1

In 1992 V3.1 brought True Type fonts, multimedia support, OLE and common dialog boxes. It ran only in protected mode and required a 80286 or better processor.

Windows 3.0

Released in 1990 this OS became widespread in both home and office PCs. It supported the protected mode of the 80x86 processors available at the time. A menu bar ran across the top much like the menu bar in all Windows based applications programs.

  • Program Manager provided access to program icons which were kept inside a number of different 'group windows'. A simple mouse click on any icon would start the program it represented.

  • File Manager allowed easy access and control to all the files on one's hard drive.

  • Print Manager and the Control Panel appeared.

Windows 2.0

Released in April 1987, it had improved windows that could overlap one another. It also included enhancements to the keyboard and mouse interface.

  • The release of the 80386 processor enabled multitasking of many DOS programs. Windows 2.0 competed with IBM presentation manager of the OS/2 operating system.

Windows 1.0

Released November 1985. It ran on DOS and used fixed tiled windows.


The first Microsoft offering was released in the November 1983. It sold for about $100.


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