Through the ages – Windows

Back on November 20th 1985 a plucky young OS called Microsoft Windows was presented to the world. Here's its story

Back on November 20th 1985 a plucky young OS called Microsoft Windows was presented to the world. It marked the end of the dark ages of DOS, when booting a PC was like playing a text adventure game.

And now 25 years on, when iOS and Android steal the headlines, nine out of 10 web browsers are still running on a Windows PC. Love it or loathe it, that’s an achievement worth celebrating. Here’s a look back at its best and worst moments…

Windows (1985)

Inspired by the graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that were being used at Xerox' PARC laboratory, Microsoft Windows wasn't actually that popular. PCs were still pretty esoteric machines, and geeks always prefer the command line.

We liked:

MS-DOS was already near ubiquitous, but the original Windows humanized MS-DOS and paved the way for the democratization of the desktop.

We hated:

Apple actually did a GUI desktop first and better on the Lisa (1984). Fat lot of good it did them.

Killer game: Reversi

Came bundled with Windows, and ushered in a whole new era of time wasting for previously productive office drones.



Windows 3.0 (1990)

Windows 3.0 made Microsoft synonymous with the PC thanks to better graphics, better performance and – the killer feature for businesses and universities – easy to network Workgroups.

We liked:

A whopping 256 colours to choose from – providing your monitor and video card could support them. Cue more colourful bar graphs…and games!

We hated:

Its success. Mainly because it meant that we'd be stuck with whatever Microsoft did until the iMac came along almost a decade later.

Killer game: Civilisation

This was the golden age of gaming when many of the modern franchises were born. Including the mighty Sid Meier's Civilization.



Windows 95 (1995)

A massive visual makeover that still provides the fundamental appearance of Windows today, '95 brought window management up to date, introduced full colour wallpapers and gave birth to Internet Explorer.

We liked:

The Start menu. Sheer genius and still best way to manage lots of installed programs.

We hated:

A toss-up between Internet Explorer and the paperclip helper from contemporary versions of Office.

Killer game: Quake

The era belonged to id, with 1994's Doom and 1996's Quake inventing and reinventing what it meant to be young, male and stuck in a brown corridor.


Windows 98 (1998)

It's easy to view Windows 98 as a slightly better looking 95 for faster PCs, but under the hood there were tons of new features and improvements for communication over the internet.

We liked:

Things like MSCONFIG (a file editor) were geek heaven and the hidden 3D pinball was ace, but Windows 98 brought MSN Messenger and changed the way we chat.

We hated:

The BSOD (Blue Screen of Death). It's been there since Windows 1, but with so much new hardware and so many shoddy drivers around, it was the late 90s that saw it spread like Japanese knotweed.

Killer game: Half-life

A small team of ex-Microsoft coders took Quake's raw and visceral gameplay and turned it into a tool for narrative. “They're waiting for you Gordon, in the test chamber”.


Windows Me (2000)

Bigger than the Beatles and as rich as ole' Croesus, things started going awry for Microsoft with the anti-trust suit of 1998 and later, the dotcom crash. Did it take its eye off the ball? The rushed and bug-ridden Windows Millennium Edition made us think so.

We liked:

System Restore was a good idea that eventually went on to be a star. But like everything else in Me was full of deal-breaking bugs.

We hated:

The name. An example of the kind of patronizing, forced pun and patronising that should have died in the dotcom crash. Sadly, it didn't.

Killer game: Crimson Skies

Microsoft will always be better known for the po-faced Flight Sim, but this 2000 avian adventure was a masterful piece of fun cyberpunk.



Windows 2000 (2000)

At the same time as Windows Me was becoming one of the most reviled products in Microsoft's history, its professional sibling, Windows 2000, was proving itself as a reliable backbone for business that still forms the core code of Windows today.

We liked:

Native support for many USB devices, and the beginning of the end for the driver disk.

We hated:

There were viruses before Windows 2000, of course, but its importance and vulnerability meant it was a target for malware writers.

Killer game: Deus Ex

No game since has had the same epic scale, depth and coherence of writing as this immersive sci-fi RPG.


Windows XP (2001)

Fortunately for Me it was quickly sidelined by Windows XP, which was either a modern new look for an operating system or a little bit cartoony, depending on your point of view.

We liked:

After a rocky start XP became Microsoft's longest lasting operating system, and by the end of its life was indestructible.

We hated:

Product activation and software that repeatedly phones home to punish those who use it legally. Pirates just stripped it out, of course.

Killer game: World of Warcraft

Online gaming is as old as the internet, but this epic – announced around the time of XP's launch – is the still the definitive way to do it.


Windows Media Center (2005)

Microsoft never quite cracked the conundrum of putting a PC by everyone's TV, but Media Center was a noble effort to get us thinking about the possibilities of digital video.

We liked:

The now legendary 'ten foot interface' with big fonts that are readable from the other side of the room.

We hated:

It should never have been a standalone release: XP users should have got the upgrade for free.

Killer game: Rome: Total War

The lines between entertainment began to blur further, as this game proved by spawning a BBC series – Time Commanders.


Windows Vista (2007)

Even Linux was making XP look long in the tooth, so Microsoft went for a fresh start with Windows Vista. Unfortunately, that meant most of your old kit wouldn't work...

We liked:

Desktop transparencies did make it look more modern.

We hated:

Oh, where to start...the wise ignored it altogether, the rest of us were stuck with User Account Control’s (UAC) perpetual nag screens.

Killer game: Peggle

DirectX 10 was supposed to be a breakthrough in graphical realism, but it was the arcade renaissance of Peggle that caught the spirit of the age.


Windows 7 (2009)

The OS Vista should have been: clean, usable and almost uniformly designed – just don't mention some of the older control panels.

We liked:

Better security and a submission to the power of the dock with a revitalised task bar.

We hated:

Games for Windows. It's been around for longer than Windows 7, but it still sucks.

Killer game: Starcraft II

Everything that's good about PC gaming is summed up in sci-fi strategy epic. Hugely entertaining and accessible with an infinite number of strategies to explore in competitive multiplay.

More from

- News Nugget – LaCie's skinny USB SSD FastKey

- First Look – Dell Inspiron Duo

- News Nugget – Olive unwraps 2TB O6HD

- News Nugget – Galaxy Tab price drop

- Beatles catalogue, meet iTunes

- Rumour Mill – LG Optimus Star

- Unboxed – Palm Pre 2