This section outlines the history of Microsoft Windows and then takes an in-depth look at the differences
among the many versions of Microsoft’s flagship operating system. That way you can sort out the
essentials for today’s techs from the many varieties you’ll hear about.
Microsoft entered the operating system game in the early 1980s with a command-line OS called
Microsoft Disk Operating System, or MS-DOS. With a command-line OS, you interacted with the
computer to run programs, save files, and perform all the other computing functions by typing and then
pressing the ENTER key on your keyboard. This whole typing thing worked for people who could
memorize commands and such, but alternative operating systems, such as Apple’s Mac OS, offered a
visual interface, where you could interact with the computer by clicking on pictures. The time came for
Microsoft to step up its game and produce a graphical user interface (GUI) where users could use a
mouse to point and click.
The earliest version of Windows, Microsoft Windows 1.0, arrived in 1985 and was little more than a
graphical overlay of the DOS command-line operating system. This overlay version of Windows went
through a number of updates, ending with the first truly popular version of Windows, Windows for
Workgroups version 3.1 (see Figure 4-2).
NOTE Microsoft released several editions of Windows 3.1, with minor differences in name.
Techs call the editions collectively Windows 3.x.
In 1989, Microsoft offered a completely separate version of Windows called Windows NT. Windows NT
was a true graphical operating system and was dramatically more powerful than the Windows overlay
versions. Windows NT went through a number of editions, culminating with Windows NT 4.0 in 1996
(see Figure 4-3).
Windows NT had so many features that showing them all could take days, but one is important. NT came
with a new way to organize hard drives and files, called the NT File System (NTFS). Before NTFS, all
versions of Windows used an ancient file system called the file allocation table (FAT). NTFS took care of
a number of problems, the biggest of which was security. FAT had no file security, meaning it had no
user accounts, passwords, or permissions to enable people to control access to files. NTFS was built from
the ground up with security in mind. We’ll cover both FAT and NTFS later in the book; for now, just
appreciate that NTFS began with Windows NT.
It wasn’t until 1995 that Microsoft dumped the overlay concept and introduced Windows 95, the first
version of Windows for the standard user that was also a full-blown operating system (see Figure 4-4).
Windows 95 offered many improvements over Windows 3.x, and eventually Microsoft released several
upgraded versions as well, such as Windows 98, Windows 98 SE, and Windows Me.
Figure 4-4 Windows 95—the Windows of your forefathers
NOTE When we describe Windows 95, 98, 98 SE, and Me from a historical standpoint, we
lump them all together, using the term “Windows 9x.”
The arrival of Windows 2000 in 2001 changed things. Throughout most of the 1990s, Windows was in a
bit of a mess. Microsoft had two totally different operating systems—each called Windows—that it sold
for two different markets. Microsoft sold the Windows 9x series for the home user and small office, and it
sold the much more powerful Windows NT series for corporate environments.
Windows 2000 was the first step toward changing this mess. It was based on Windows NT (including
support for NTFS), but it included a great interface, provided support for nearly any program, and was
substantially easier to use than Windows NT. Microsoft originally presented Windows 2000 as a
replacement for Windows NT, but its stability and ease of use motivated many knowledgeable Windows
9x users to upgrade to Windows 2000 as well. Windows 2000 started to appear as “the single Windows to
replace all the other versions.”
NOTE Windows 2000 was the last version of Windows to come in both Server and
Professional editions. After the release of Windows XP, Microsoft introduced the next version of
Windows Server as Server 2003. Windows Server 2008 R2 is the latest edition of Windows Server. As of
this writing, Microsoft’s newest server product, codenamed Windows Server 8 (WS8), is right around the
corner, so keep your eyes peeled!