The late 1990s and the new millennium – how did Windows developed?

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In the previous post, you have learned about the beginnings of the development of the Windows we all know today. This time we will tell you about the successive versions of this software, as well as about the breakthrough updates for it. First fire the breakthrough of the 1990s – Windows 3.0.

It supported 256 VGA colors, a program manager and a file manager appeared, and virtual memory was introduced, allowing greater multitasking. A friendlier interface also helped people find their way around the system. Personalized icons for a given program made it easier to navigate the system. And we can’t forget the most important novelty, which allowed more than one person to kill boredom at home or work – solitaire. To further enjoy the use of equipment with sound cards and CD-ROMs, the new version introduced multimedia tools.

This convenience was also possessed by the next version: Windows NT 3.1. It was originally to be called OS/2 3.0, but Microsoft and IBM, who created it, had a disagreement. Why is NT so important, and how is it different from the initial update of version 3.1? This is where Microsoft entered a new era of operating systems. Windows NT 3.1 was no longer a friendly overlay on MS-DOS, but a multitasking, multithreaded and multiprocessor system built from the ground up, based on a 32-bit architecture. More modern features and networking tools made it a very good business system.

However, the real revolution was yet to come, and with it the system promoted by the Rolling Stones song “Start me up” – Windows 95. Was it indeed a revolution? In part yes – the combination of the old MS-DOS with new technology, as well as the innovations introduced, which are still with us today, made the system very popular. The taskbar with the “START” button, icons on the desktop (including “my computer”) are with us all the time. The final releases also introduced the new FAT32 file system, DMA or USB device detection. Of course, it was not a reliable system, but because of its novelty, much was forgiven.

Despite the version of Windows NT 4.0, the official successor to Windows 95 – received from Microsoft in 1998 – was the iconic and popular Windows 98. Released during the World Cup, the system momentarily overshadowed the World Cup. The key change focused on in this version of the system was working on the Internet. Included with it was Internet Explorer 4.0 and later 5.0, a key element that gave the ability to easily browse the Web. The “my documents” directory exposed on the desktop, the appearance of Windows Media Player, full support for the FAT32 file system, and the introduction of Windows update are other innovations that are still with us today in the latest systems. Improved USB support has been particularly noticeable for ordinary users. It should be remembered, however, that Rome was not built in an instant. Windows 98 did not gain its popularity with the original version. The first release was very problematic, and it wasn’t until a year later that a version labeled “Second Edition” was released that users loved it.

On January 1, 2000, a lot was about to happen. The millennium bug, natural disasters and, in the worst case scenario for humanity, the end of the world. Microsoft preferred to blow the whistle and wanted to release new operating systems to the world in case of humanity’s survival. Two OSes were released within a year: in February Windows 2000, in September Windows Me. Let’s start with the former.

While omitted from the text are typically corporate systems like Windows Server, Windows 2000 was not uncommonly used by private users as well. It was a hybrid of the best features of Windows 98 along with business-oriented technologies. Based on the NT code base, it was much more stable than, for example, Windows 95. Expanded USB supported device range, file encryption, RAID, disk manager…. There was a lot of that. Rumor has it that if it weren’t for the familiar graphical interface of earlier versions, a certain hero about to be called to the plate wouldn’t have been such a hit. Meanwhile, a slip-up has happened to Microsoft…. Millennium slip-up.

Windows Me, as it was oriented towards home users, is referred to as the successor to Windows 98. Unfortunately, its failure rate was so high that it was described as the worst system Microsoft had created. It consolidated all the flaws of previous systems, which it was really meant to fix. The only good thing that can be said about it is that it introduced built-in support for zip files and system restore. Windows Me was quickly forgotten, as the Starter, Home and Professional editions of the new system came out a year after its introduction. And it was the world’s darling…. Windows XP.

However, you will read about this version in the next part.

This post is also available in: Polski (Polish)