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The History of Windows

2015 will mark the 30th anniversary of Windows, Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) iconic operating system first launched in November 1985. 2015 will also mark the year that Windows 10 will be released, the follow-up to the critically panned Windows 8.

Over the last decade customer’s computing needs have shifted. The computing landscape is dramatically different in 2015 than in 2001, when Microsoft launched Windows XP its most popular operating system and considered to be the company’s best. People compute in different ways, and Microsoft now has to compete with new operating systems that have appeared in the last decade like Android in addition to longtime rival Mac OS from Apple (NASDAQ: APPL).

Microsoft now is at a critical juncture.The success or failure of Windows 10 will be turning point for Microsoft. The exact nature of Windows 11 will depend on whether the market embraces or rejects Windows 10. If the market embraces Windows 10, it’s very likely that the follow-up will be more of the same. A failure of Windows 10 — a repeat of Windows 8 — will force Microsoft back to the drawing board with the OS, re-imagining it from the ground up.

Back to the beginning: DOS

A history of Windows needs to begin with what preceded it: DOS. DOS, later known as MS-DOS, was Microsoft’s first operating system and until Windows ME the foundation of what Windows ran on.




The birth of MS-DOS began in 1981 when Microsoft met with IBM (NYSE: IBM) to discuss making an operating system for its upcoming personal computer.

Microsoft already had a relationship with IBM, as it was licensing the BASIC language to IBM. The scope and complexity of creating an entire operating system was beyond Microsoft’s resources available at the time, but that didn’t stop Bill Gates: he bought the full rights to DOS from a small firm based in Washington called Seattle Computer Products for $50,000.

The meeting that started this deal is dramatized in the film Pirates of the Silicon Valley:

Seattle Computer Products’ owner Rod Brock was unaware of the exact nature of the deal between Microsoft and IBM. However, when he discovered the profits Microsoft was making selling DOS to IBM he tried to sell the company and all of its intellectual property to one of IBM’s rivals. This led to a lawsuit between Brock and Microsoft and the two parties settled out of court for $925,000, and Microsoft confirmed its rights and license to DOS.

The first Windows

Microsoft announced Windows, first called Windows for DOS and known by its code name of, in 1983. It was finally released in 1985. However, it was not the first operating system with a graphical user interface. That honor goes to Apple’s Macintosh.



Windows shipped with several simple programs, such as MS‑DOS file management, Paint, Windows Writer, Notepad, Calculator, and a calendar, card file, and clock.

While Windows was praised for helping change the paradigm of how people interact with computers, this first version of the world’s most important operating system largely stood in the shadow of Macintosh. Apple, however felt threatened and sued Microsoft in 1988 for copyright infringement, claiming that Microsoft copied the “look and feel” of its operating system.

However Apple itself did not invent the GUI. That honor goes to Xerox, which effectively gave it away to Apple.

Support for Windows 1.0 ended in December 2001.