It is quite interesting to learn about the development timeline of a vast project which changed the way most of the desktop user now work on their computers.

You can download the complete timeline in graphical view from:

Many longtime PC users trace the Microsoft Windows® operating system to the 1990 release of Windows 3.0, the first widely popular version of Windows and the first version of Windows many PC users ever tried. However, Microsoft initially announced the Windows product seven years earlier and released the first version in 1983.

Windows 1.0 product box

The Windows 1.0 product box featured the operating system’s new, tiled windows and graphical user interface (GUI).

1985: Windows 1.0

On 20th November, 1985 Windows 1.0 was announced. Its a coincidence that my birthday is also on 20th November. 😀

The first version of Windows provided a new software environment for developing and running applications that use bitmap displays and mouse pointing devices. Before Windows, PC users relied on the MS-DOS® method of typing commands at the C prompt (C:\). With Windows, users moved a mouse to point and click their way through tasks, such as starting applications.

In addition, Windows users could switch among several concurrently running applications. The product included a set of desktop applications, including the MS-DOS file management program, a calendar, card file, notepad, calculator, clock, and telecommunications programs, which helped users manage day-to-day activities.

This Interface Manager product preceded the Windows 1.0 GUI

This early Interface Manager product preceded the Windows 1.0 GUI.

1987: Windows 2.0

Windows 2.0 took advantage of the improved processing speed of the Intel 286 processor, expanded memory, and inter-application communication capabilities made possible through Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE). With improved graphics support, users could now overlap windows, control screen layout, and use keyboard combinations to move rapidly through Windows operations. Many developers wrote their first Windows–based applications for this release.

The follow-up release, Windows 2.03, took advantage of the protected mode and extended memory capabilities of the Intel 386 processor. Subsequent Windows releases continued to improve the speed, reliability, and usability of the PC as well as interface design and capabilities.

1990: Windows 3.0

The third major release of the Windows platform from Microsoft offered improved performance, advanced graphics with 16 colors, and full support of the more powerful Intel 386 processor. A new wave of 386 PCs helped drive the popularity of Windows 3.0, which offered a wide range of useful features and capabilities, including:

Program Manager, File Manager, and Print Manager.
A completely rewritten application development environment.
An improved set of Windows icons.

The popularity of Windows 3.0 grew with the release of a new Windows software development kit (SDK), which helped software developers focus more on writing applications and less on writing device drivers. Widespread acceptance among third-party hardware and software developers helped fuel the success of Windows 3.0.

File Manager in Windows 3.0

The new File Manager in Windows 3.0.

1993: Windows NT 3.1

When Microsoft Windows NT® was released to manufacturing on July 27, 1993, Microsoft met an important milestone: the completion of a project begun in the late 1980s to build an advanced new operating system from scratch. “Windows NT represents nothing less than a fundamental change in the way that companies can address their business computing requirements,” Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said at its release.

That change is represented in the product’s name: “NT” stands for new technology. To maintain consistency with Windows 3.1, a well-established home and business operating system at the time, the new Windows NT operating system began with version 3.1. Unlike Windows 3.1, however, Windows NT 3.1 was a 32-bit operating system.

Windows NT was the first Windows operating system to combine support for high-end, client/server business applications with the industry’s leading personal productivity applications. It was initially available in both a desktop (workstation) version and a server version called Windows NT Advanced Server. The desktop version was well received by developers because of its security, stability, and Microsoft Win32® application programming interface (API)—a combination that made it easier to support powerful programs. The result was a strategic business platform that could also function as a technical workstation to run high-end engineering and scientific applications.

Windows NT 3.1 GUI

Windows NT 3.1 contained overlapping windows and other features similar to Windows 3.1. /p>

In addition, the operating system broke new ground in security, operating system power, performance, desktop scalability, and reliability. New features included a preemptive multitasking scheduler for Windows–based applications, integrated networking, domain server security, OS/2 and POSIX subsystems, support for multiple processor architectures, and the NTFS file system.

1993: Windows for Workgroups 3.11

A superset of Windows 3.1, Windows for Workgroups 3.11 added peer-to-peer workgroup and domain networking support. For the first time, Windows–based PCs were network-aware and became an integral part of the emerging client/server computing evolution.

Windows for Workgroups was used in local area networks (LANs) and on standalone PCs and laptop computers. It added features of special interest to corporate users, such as centralized configuration and security, significantly improved support for Novell NetWare networks, and remote access service (RAS).

1994: Windows NT Workstation 3.5

The Windows NT Workstation 3.5 release provided the highest degree of protection yet for critical business applications and data. With support for the OpenGL graphics standard, this operating system helped power high-end applications for software development, engineering, financial analysis, scientific, and business-critical tasks.

The product also offered 32-bit performance improvements and better application support, including support for NetWare file and print servers. Other improved productivity features included the capability to use friendlier, long file names of up to 255 characters.

1995: Windows 95

Windows 95 was the successor to the three existing general-purpose desktop operating systems from Microsoft—Windows 3.1, Windows for Workgroups, and MS-DOS. Windows 95 integrated a 32-bit TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) stack for built-in Internet support, dial-up networking, and new Plug and Play capabilities that made it easy for users to install hardware and software.

The 32-bit operating system also offered enhanced multimedia capabilities, more powerful features for mobile computing, and integrated networking.

1996: Windows NT Workstation 4.0

This upgrade to the Microsoft business desktop operating system brought increased ease of use and simplified management, higher network throughput, and tools for developing and managing intranets. Windows NT Workstation 4.0 included the popular Windows 95 user interface yet provided improved networking support for easier and more secure access to the Internet and corporate intranets.

In October 1998, Microsoft announced that Windows NT would no longer carry the initials NT and that the next major version of the business operating system would be called Windows 2000.

1998: Windows 98

Windows 98 was the upgrade from Windows 95. Described as an operating system that “Works Better, Plays Better,” Windows 98 was the first version of Windows designed specifically for consumers.

With Windows 98, users could find information more easily on their PCs as well as the Internet. Other ease-of-use improvements included the ability to open and close applications more quickly, support for reading DVD discs, and support for universal serial bus (USB) devices.

1999: Windows 98 Second Edition

Windows 98 SE, as it was often abbreviated, was an incremental update to Windows 98. It offered consumers a variety of new and enhanced hardware compatibility and Internet-related features.

Windows 98 SE helped improve users’ online experience with the Internet Explorer 5.0 browser technology and Microsoft Windows NetMeeting® 3.0 conferencing software. It also included Microsoft DirectX® API 6.1, which provided improved support for Windows multimedia, and offered home networking capabilities through Internet connection sharing (ICS). Windows 98 SE was also the first consumer operating system from Microsoft capable of using device drivers that also worked with the Windows NT business operating system.

2000: Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me)

Designed for home computer users, Windows Me offered consumers numerous music, video, and home networking enhancements and reliability improvements.

For example, to help consumers troubleshoot their systems, the System Restore feature let users roll back their PC software configuration to a date or time before a problem occurred. Windows Movie Maker provided users with the tools to digitally edit, save, and share home videos. And with Microsoft Windows Media® Player 7 technologies, users could find, organize, and play digital media easily.

Windows Me was the last Microsoft operating system to be based on the Windows 95 code base. Microsoft announced that all future operating system products would be based on the Windows NT and Windows 2000 kernel.

22000: Windows 2000 Professional

Windows 2000 Professional product box

More than just the upgrade to Windows NT Workstation 4.0, Windows 2000 Professional was also designed to replace Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows NT Workstation 4.0 on all business desktops and laptops. Built on top of the proven Windows NT Workstation 4.0 code base, Windows 2000 added major improvements in reliability, ease of use, Internet compatibility, and support for mobile computing.

Among other improvements, Windows 2000 Professional simplified hardware installation by adding support for a wide variety of new Plug and Play hardware, including advanced networking and wireless products, USB devices, IEEE 1394 devices, and infrared devices.

2001: Windows XP

With the release of Windows XP in October 2001, Microsoft merged its two Windows operating system lines for consumers and businesses, uniting them around the Windows 2000 code base.

The “XP” in Windows XP stands for “experience,” symbolizing the innovative experiences that Windows can offer to personal computer users. With Windows XP, home users can work with and enjoy music, movies, messaging, and photos with their computer, while business users can work smarter and faster, thanks to new technical-support technology, a fresh user interface, and many other improvements that make it easier to use for a wide range of tasks.

For more information about the experiences made simpler by Windows XP, see the overview and how-to articles on the Amazing Windows Experience site. For more product information, see the Windows XP Web site. For more information about new technologies designed for Windows XP, see the Windows XP Technologies History page.

2001: Windows XP Professional

Windows XP Professional brings the solid foundation of Windows 2000 to the PC desktop, enhancing reliability, security, and performance. With a fresh visual design, Windows XP Professional includes features for business and advanced home computing, including remote desktop support, an encrypting file system, and system restore and advanced networking features. Key enhancements for mobile users include wireless 802.1x networking support, Windows Messenger, and Remote Assistance.

For more information, see the Windows XP Professional Web site.

2001: Windows XP Home Edition

Windows XP Home Edition offers a clean, simplified visual design that makes frequently used features more accessible. Designed for home users, the product offers such enhancements as the Network Setup Wizard, Windows Media Player, Windows Movie Maker, and enhanced digital photo capabilities.

For more information, see the Windows XP Home Edition Web site.

2001: Windows XP 64-bit Edition

Windows XP 64-bit Edition logo

Windows XP 64-Bit Edition satisfies the needs of power users with workstations that use the Intel Itanium 64-bit processor. The first 64-bit client operating system from Microsoft, Windows XP 64-Bit Edition is designed for specialized, technical workstation users who require large amounts of memory and floating point performance in areas such as movie special effects, 3D animation, engineering, and scientific applications./p>

For more information, see the Windows XP 64-bit Edition Web site.

22002: Windows XP Media Center Edition

Windows XP Media Center Edition logo

For home computing and entertainment, Microsoft released the Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system in October 2002 for specialized media center PCs. /p>

With all the benefits of Windows XP Professional, Media Center Edition adds fun digital media and entertainment options, enabling home users to browse the Internet, watch live television, communicate with friends and family, enjoy digital music and video collections, watch DVDs, and work from home.

For more information, see the Windows XP Media Center Edition Web site.

22002: Windows XP Tablet PC Edition

Windows XP Tablet PC Edition

The long-held industry vision of mainstream pen-based computing became a reality when Microsoft unveiled the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition in November, 2002. The logical evolution of notebook computers, Tablet PCs include a digital pen for handwriting recognition capabilities, yet can be used with a keyboard or mouse, too. /p>

In addition, users can run their existing Windows XP applications. The result is a computer that is more versatile and mobile than traditional notebook PCs.

For more information, see the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition Web site.