Windows Turns 35 Today
The PC revolution started off life 35 years ago this week. Microsoft launched its first version of Windows on November 20th, 1985, to succeed MS-DOS. It was a huge milestone that paved the way for the modern versions of Windows we use today. While Windows 10 doesn’t look anything like Windows 1.0, it still has many of its original fundamentals like scroll bars, drop-down menus, icons, dialog boxes, and apps like Notepad and MS paint.
Windows 1.0 also set the stage for the mouse. If you used MS-DOS then you could only type in commands, but with Windows 1.0 you picked up a mouse and moved windows around by pointing and clicking. Alongside the original Macintosh, the mouse completely changed the way consumers interacted with computers. At the time, many complained that Windows 1.0 focused far too much on mouse interaction instead of keyboard commands. Microsoft’s first version of Windows might not have been well received, but it kick-started a battle between Apple, IBM, and Microsoft to provide computing to the masses.
Back in 1985, Windows 1.0 required two floppy disks, 256 kilobytes of memory, and a graphics card. If you wanted to run multiple programs, then you needed a PC with a hard disk and 512 kilobytes of memory. You wouldn’t be able to run anything with just 256 kilobytes of memory with modern machines, but those basic specifications were just the beginning. While Apple had been ahead in producing mouse-driven GUIs at the time, it remained focused on the combination of hardware and software. Microsoft had already created its low-cost PC DOS operating system for IBM PCs and was firmly positioned as a software company.
With Windows 1.0, Microsoft took the important step of focusing on apps and core software. IBM held onto the fundamentals of the PC architecture for a few years, but Microsoft made it easy for rivals and software developers to create apps, ensuring that Windows was relatively open and easy to reconfigure and tweak. PC manufacturers flocked to Windows, and the operating system attracted support from important software companies. This approach to providing software for hardware partners to sell their own machines created a huge platform for Microsoft. It’s a platform that allows you to upgrade through every version of Windows, as a classic YouTube clip demonstrates.
Windows has now dominated personal computing for 35 years, and no amount of Mac vs. PC campaigns have come close to changing that, but they’ve certainly been entertaining. Microsoft has continued to tweak Windows and create new uses for it across devices, in businesses, and now with the move to the cloud. It’s only now, with the popularity of modern smartphones and tablets, that Windows faces its toughest challenge yet. Microsoft may yet weather its mobile storm, but it will only do so by rekindling its roots as a true software company. In 2055, it’s unlikely that we’ll be celebrating another 35 years of Windows in quite the same fashion.
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