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From text to touch, a look at Microsoft systems

With Friday's release of the touch-centric Windows 8 software, Microsoft continues more than three decades of making operating systems for personal computers.
By ANICK JESDANUN, Published: October 26, 2012
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— With Friday's release of the touch-centric Windows 8 software, Microsoft continues more than three decades of making operating systems for personal computers.

Microsoft Corp. got its start on PCs in 1981 through a partnership with IBM Corp. Microsoft made the software that ran IBM's hardware, and later machines made by other manufacturers. That first operating system was called MS-DOS and required people to type instructions to complete tasks such as running programs and deleting files.

It wasn't until 1985 that Microsoft released its first graphical user interface, which allowed people to perform tasks by moving a mouse and clicking on icons on the screen. Microsoft called the operating system Windows.

Windows 1.0 came out in November 1985, nearly two years after Apple began selling its first Macintosh computer, which also used a graphical operating system. Apple sued Microsoft in 1988 for copyright infringement, claiming that Microsoft copied the “look and feel” of its operating system. Apple lost.

Microsoft followed it with Windows 2.0 in December 1987, 3.0 in May 1990 and 3.1 in April 1992.

In July 1993, Microsoft released Windows NT, a more robust operating system built from scratch. It was meant as a complement to Windows 3.1 and allowed higher-end machines to perform more complex tasks, particularly for engineering and scientific programs that dealt with large numbers.

Microsoft had its first big Windows launch with the release of Windows 95 in August 1995. The company placed special sections in newspapers, ran television ads with the Rolling Stones song “Start Me Up” and paid to have the Empire State Building lit up in Windows colors.

Comedian Jay Leno joined co-founder Bill Gates on stage at a launch event at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Wash.

“Windows 95 is so easy, even a talk-show host can figure it out,” Gates joked.

The hype worked: Computer users lined up to be the first to buy it. Microsoft sold millions of copies within the first few weeks. Windows 95 brought built-in Internet support and “plug and play” tools to make it easier to install software and attach hardware. Windows 95 was far better — and more successful — than its predecessor and narrowed the ease-of-use gap between Windows and Mac computers.

At around the same time, Microsoft released the first version of its Internet Explorer browser. It went on to tie IE and Windows functions so tightly that many people simply used the browser over the once-dominant Netscape Navigator. The U.S. Justice Department and several states ultimately sued Microsoft, accusing it of using its monopoly control over Windows to shut out competitors in other markets. The company fought the charges for years before settling in 2002.

The June 1998 release of Windows 98 was more low-key than the Windows 95 launch, though Microsoft denied it had anything to do with the antitrust case.

Windows 98 had the distinction of being the last with roots to the original operating system, MS-DOS. Each operating system is made up of millions of lines of instructions, or code, written in sections by programmers. Each time there's an update, portions get dropped or rewritten, and new sections get added for new features. Eventually, there's nothing left from the original.

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