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35 years of Microsoft Windows: memory of Windows 1.0



Windows 1.0 on an old computer monitor.
Microsoft

Microsoft released Windows 1.0 on November 20, 1985. Starting out as an environment running on top of MS-DOS, Windows became the most popular desktop operating system in the world. Let̵

7;s travel back in time and see what the original Windows 1.0 looked like.

When GUIs were the new hotness

In the early 1980s, the tech press saw mouse-based graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and multitasking as the hot new thing. It was like the current craze about augmented reality and neural networks.

At the time, the entire industry was aware of Xerox’s work on the Alto computer at PARC in the 1970s. A commercial version of that technology, the Xerox Star, was shipped in 1981.

As personal computers improved in CPU speed and memory capacity, it became possible for cheaper machines to run GUIs, significantly improving user-friendliness. In 1983, Apple released its $ 10,000 mouse-based Apple Lisa computer. Meanwhile, less expensive IBM PC-based GUIs (such as the Visi-On) began to appear.

The Windows 1.0 desktop with many open applications.
A Windows 1.01 desktop with tiled application windows (they couldn’t overlap).

The general trend toward industry GUIs prompted Microsoft to begin work on an experimental precursor to Windows as early as 1981. However, a few years later, in 1983, the project was formally launched and Windows was announced to the press.

It took another two years and a new project manager (Tandy Trower) to create a shippable product. Windows 1.01 was launched in 1985, but when it was finally released, it made little impression in the industry. However, that first version laid the foundation for Microsoft’s future.

With Windows 1.0

To use Windows 1.0 earlier, you bought a boxed copy of the software. Then you installed it on a hard drive in your PC or ran it from two floppy disks. Windows 1.0 was not a standalone operating system. Rather, it was a graphical application environment running on top of MS-DOS.

Windows 1.0 supported CGA, Hercules or EGA images. You could also use a number of mice on the market at the time, including those from Microsoft. However, a mouse was not necessary. Just like you can today, you can fully control Windows with keyboard commands.

If you wanted to start Windows after boot, just type “win” at the MS-DOS prompt.

The Microsoft Windows 1.01 logo on an old computer.
The Windows 1.01 boot screen (look for the vintage Microsoft logo).

Windows 1.01 was the first public release version of Windows. Compared to the versions that followed, Windows 1.01 represented a fairly primitive graphical environment. It included a simple program launcher and file manager called MS-DOS Executive. This was a bare list of file names, with hardly any icon visible.

A list of files in
MS-DOS Executive on Windows 1.01.

In MS-DOS Executive, if you clicked on an EXE file, the program would open as an application window. You can maximize or minimize it with the zoom or icon functions respectively.

Minimized, an application was represented by an icon on a simple task bar extending across the bottom of the screen. At any time, you can double-click an icon in the taskbar to open that window again.

A typed message in
Notepad and Taskbar in Windows 1.01.

Windows 1.0 also included several basic applications, including Calendar, Clock, Clipboard, Cardfile, Terminal, Notepad, Write and Paint. Notepad had a pretty Spartan feature, and Paint only supported monochrome images.

The software also ran MS-DOS programs within a window, but some single-task DOS applications behaved properly in this new multi-task environment.

A graphic drawing in

Unlike later versions of Windows (and the Macintosh OS), Windows 1.0 did not support overlapping windows. Instead, windows could only be tiled side by side on the screen, and the content would automatically adjust to the available space.

According to many Windows history websites, Microsoft made this decision to avoid similarities with macOS. According to Trower, it might just have been a previous project manager’s preference and there wasn’t time to change it before it shipped.

While primitive by today’s standards, Windows 1.0 was still an impressive start, given the low-powered PCs that could run it at the time. It laid the foundation for future expansion of the concept. In addition, some of its innovations later led to successful new Windows features, including the taskbar introduced on Windows 95.

RELATED: Windows 95 turns 25: when Windows went mainstream

Reversi: the first Windows game

A game of

Windows 1.0 comes with the very first commercially published Windows game: Reversi. This strategic board game was programmed by Chris Peters at Microsoft, just like an experimental exercise. However, it was later included in the Windows 1.0 release as part of a series of built-in applications.

Reversi is based on Othello, and it has four levels. Unfortunately, it is also brutally difficult. It didn’t get as many fans as later Windows gaming staples, such as Solitaire and Minesweeper. Nevertheless, Reversi shipped with Windows in 1990 up to version 3.0.

RELATED: 30 years of ‘Minesweeper’ (Sudoku with explosions)

Very few commercial games have ever been released for Windows 1.0. In fact, the only one we know is Balance of power, the geopolitical strategy game created by legendary designer Chris Crawford. This could fix Balance of power the official second Windows game, if you don’t count the internal games developed at Microsoft, such as Puzzle and Chess.

The only known commercial Windows 1.0 game: Balance of power.

Over the next few years, developers released several shareware games for Windows, but you can count the total number on two hands. Windows may not have released another retail game until 1991 (Fight chess for Windows 3.0).

Reception and legacy

Windows 1.0 received a lukewarm response from the press when it launched. First announced in 1983, most thought it was two years late. In addition, other window systems for PCs and the Macintosh OS surpassed it in style and capabilities.

In 1985, PC mice were also expensive accessories. Given the lack of applications available for Windows, there wasn’t a great app to drive adoption at the time either. Even Microsoft’s Word and Excel programs wouldn’t ship with Windows for another year.

Costs would have to drop and baseline PC system capabilities would have to increase before that could happen.

The Microsoft Windows software box.
A boxed copy of Windows 1.0. Microsoft

Still, Windows 1.0 was a big first step towards a massive new product line, even if Microsoft didn’t realize it back then. Since then, we’ve seen at least a dozen major versions of Windows, from Windows 2.0 to Windows 10. Not even the offshoots, like the Windows XP Tablet Edition and the Windows Phone.

Windows is still big business for Microsoft and it all started 35 years ago with Windows 1.01. Believe it or not, Microsoft continued to support Windows 1.0 Standard Edition until December 31, 2001 – a full 16 years after its release, making it the longest supported version of Windows to date.

RELATED: Windows 3.0 is 30 years old: this is what made it special

How to run Windows 1.0 in your browser

Would you like to try Windows 1.0 yourself? It’s as easy as visiting the PCjs Machines site, where you’ll find a full emulation of an IBM PC running Windows 1.0 in JavaScript.

It’s worth noting that Windows 1.0’s PCjs simulation has a stocky look on modern screens. This is because it displays a 640 x 350 EGA window with square pixels. It used to be stretched to a 4: 3 screen ratio like a traditional CRT monitor. All of our Windows 1.0 images above have been modified to match the way they would have originally appeared on vintage hardware.

While using the Windows simulation, try to run Paint or play some games Reversi. You will see how far we have come.

Happy birthday, Windows!




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