Pre-windows (on the PC)
Ignoring any Unix and Apple flavours, the first multi-tasking ‘windows’ program was IBM’s Topview application, released in 1984.
After this, in July 1985, some four months before the first Microsoft version, Quarterdeck released DESQview.
November 20th, 1985 : Windows 1.0
The first version of Windows™
It’s main selling features were attributed to the inclusion of Calendar, Card File, Calculator and Notepad as much as the WIMP.
December 9th, 1987 : Windows 2.0 / Windows 386
For the most part this added better graphics and overlapping windows. The version I had, from Apricot, even needed a dongle! Was so awful slow I hardly ever used it, being happy to make do with DOS batch file menu’s to dBASE, SuperCalc, WordPerfect and, of course, games.
May 22nd, 1990 : Windows 3.0
This was the version that made Windows actually usable, though I seem to recall a laughable claim that the minimum hardware was an IBM XT. I’ve still to find the Microsoft definition of “run”. I suspect it read, “If you turn the computer on and run a half marathon, it will load by the time you get back”. Included the Solitaire game!
April 6th, 1992 : Windows 3.1
Pretty much a patch with better graphics support.
July 27th, 1993 : Windows NT 3.1
A spin off from what was originally a joint project with IBM for a new version of OS/2, this, along with it’s Advanced Server counterpart, was a multi-platform kernal based operating systems aimed squarely at workstations and corporate networks.
I have vague recollections of IBM pushing OS/2Warp and poster campaigns with the Pink panther. Probably not related at all, but that’s my memory of it!
November 8th, 1993 : Windows 3.11
‘Windows for Workgroups’ version. Generally bundled with MS-DOS 6.22 for OEM’s, it came on 8 high-density 3.5″ (1.44Mb) floppies and was, in my opinion, the first version of Windows that was actually worth using. Added support for peer-to-peer and domain based networking and laid the foundations for Internet access.
September 21st, 1994 : Windows NT 3.5
Added integrated Winsock and TCP/IP support, better file sharing and the first implementation of Microsoft DNS. Also included Remote Access Service SLIP or PPP protocols and VFAT allowing long file names.
(no screenshots yet, but almost the same as 3.51 below)
May 30th, 1995 : Windows NT 3.51
Bug fix really mostly. Also added support for PCMCIA cards and for the RISC basedPower PC
August 24th, 1995 : Windows 95
This had a new user interface incorporating for the first time the Start menu and was much more intuitive to use; it also had much better support for 32 bit modes. This version came on CD-ROM for the first time. I also remember that the beta version was actually faster and more stable than the release one!
Windows 95 added ‘plug and play’ for the first time (though it was hit and miss!) and integrated networking and Internet support. Within a year Microsoft had sold over 40 million copies.
Strangely, I mostly seem remember it for being the version that added Themes.
August 24th, 1996 : Windows NT 4.0
Offered a new interface to look more like Windows 95 and many of the applications built into Windows 95. Also offered a much better shell interface for administrators, with several other changes to improve speed, scalability and performance. The new interface brought with it a lot of instability issues though, especially with 3rd party drivers.
June 25th, 1998 : Windows 98
Launched to the promise, ‘Works better, plays better’ and targetted directly at home users for the first time, it included support for USB and DVD’s and it ran a bit faster, if you had the hardware.
June 10th, 1999 : Windows 98 SE
This was in essence a big patch with better support for multi-media and Internet. What I remember most about Second Edition was the relief as the number of bugs, conflicts, BSOD’s and support calls plummited.
(no other screenshots yet, but pretty much the same as above)
September 14th, 2000 : Windows ME (Millenium Edition)
This, like all previous versions, sat on top of MS-DOS
Added a lot of multi-media and home networking enhancements and introduced new features like System Restore. Allegedly it had a number of reliability improvements, but I beg to differ!
Ask any IT technicians that were around at the time and you’ll hear horror stories of people losing all their data, nightmare support calls, crashes and so forth. I point blank refused to sell or support this and if someone came in with this pile of kak for a fixing I used to waive the repair charge and made them buy a copy of Windows 98 instead. Then I’d rescue what files I could and give them back a working PC running Windows 98 SE.
Yes, it was that bad!
February 17th, 2000 : Windows 2000 Professional
New version of Windows NT aimed at replacing all previous versions of Windows NT for businesses and corporations, generally running on large networks. Was a lot more secure, as was intended for it’s target audience. And it hated games. It was a workhorse for cubicle monkeys!
October 25th, 2001 : Windows XP (‘XP’ for Experience)
Aimed at replacing all previous versions of Windows – including the NT kernel based Windows 2000, it was the first single version to start splitting Windows into market segments like ‘Home’, ‘MCE’ and ‘Professional’ and was launched worldwide at it’s inception.
Until Win 7 Pro, this was my favourite release of Windows. Fast, stable. Worked. Couldn’t ask for more.
November 30th, 2006 : Windows Vista
As far as I – and many others are corned – Vista, in it’s multitude of forms, was just Windows ME revisited. It may not have been as crash prone, but it was still a bag of kak that should never have been released. It offered eye candy looks, paid for with ludicrous load times and even harsher hardware requirements.
I tried the beta a few time, it never lasted more than a day because the driver support, especially for soundcards, was abysmal. The release version was no better and in fact so bad it was the first and only version of Windows that companies (like Dell) were forced to offer a ‘roll-back’ option for customers to get it off there system and get Windows XP installed. I commented elsewhere that at the time companies like PC World attributed millions of pounds in lost sales because consumers didn’t want to upgrade to a slower machine!
October 22nd, 2009 : Windows 7
Essential an ‘upgrade’ to Vista, what they actually did was just tear out all the bloated, buggy rubbish in Vista and add much better support for everyone elses software. Windows 7 is what Vista should have been!
tba : Windows 8
Not sure yet what new features it will sport, but it’s currently in beta with release set for 2012.
Also of possible interest :
Wikipedia : Comparison of MS Windows versions
I got most of the above screen grabs by pausing this Youtube clip by Compdude100 : windows history (Windows 1.0 – 7)
This is good for earlier versions of Windows : Windows® Versions Features