Operating Systems · Pop Culture · Software

November 20, 1985–Microsoft Windows 1.0 is Released

30 years ago today, the very first version of Microsoft’s Windows Operating System was released. On November 20, 1985, the first of the Microsoft Windows line was sent out into the world.

Windows 1.0 Img Source: theverge.com

When I saw this line item on “today in history” lists, I have to admit I giggled a little. I just had my work computer updated to Windows 10, and I have to say, it’s not too bad! I still fondly recall Windows 7 (considering I was still using it a month or so ago).

I work in software. I know all about releasing new software, and what is involved with releasing new products. I HAD TO write about this topic. It’s kind of my duty as a software geek.

On that note, I don’t care to cite software details and specs. No. I want to know the bigger effects of this moment in history. They didn’t know. They couldn’t know. But, in retrospect, I have a suspicion that this little fledgling software release had far-reaching effects that aren’t even close to done today.

The Release

Earlier PC (personal computer) users were utilizing MS-DOS on most machines. In simple terms, users had to know how to type out “commands” for computers to do before they would do things.

MS-DOS 4.0 screen Img Source: icdn9.digitaltrends.com

I tried to look up examples of what commands might have been used, and then had an awesome moment when I realized that my software-geek coworkers have been teaching me “MS-DOS commands” for several years now. I just know them as “command line” items. Things such as looking up the IP address of your computer (this is important when you’re trying to connect to it from another computer). You type “ipconfig” in a specific window, and voila! You get your address.

Ipconfig command Img Source: Wikipedia

I was recently taught how to “force” a computer to shut itself off when I couldn’t get to the Start menu to restart it. I did something like “-r -f -t 0” in which “r” meant restart, “f” meant force, “t” meant time, and “0” was the amount of time I wanted to wait to restart it. Basically, I meant “hey, computer. I want you to restart and I want you to do it now.”

Shutdown Command Img Source: tekrevue.com

I’ve also done something called a “ping.” When I first heard that, as a non-geeky computer person, I smiled a little. It seemed like a Star Trek spaceship-ish term. Or a submarine pinging sound. Still very geeky. Until I realized, it kind of was like a submarine pinging sound. When you do that, your computer is basically “calling” someone and hoping they’ll answer their phone. They need to echo that noise back to you. If it’s on, it will send your submarine ping sound back to you. It tells you that other machine is actually on and working.

Note: I have just caught myself rambling on about computer stuff. Not only am I a software geek, I am a trainer of said software. My apologies. Back to Microsoft Windows 1.0. 

What Did it Do?

The first version of Microsoft Windows changed the way users interacted with computers. It had things such as “scroll bars, drop-down menus, icons, dialog boxes, and apps like Notepad and MS paint.” –TheVerge.com article

The designers realized people needed and wanted to do things on computers, and sitting and typing in a little black box was only going to keep their attention so long. Windows 1.0 introduced something that was truly interactive.

Windows 1.0 Img Source: Wikipedia


According to a Wikipedia article I read, Windows 10.1 was not received well. (To my readers, I have to say…I never, ever thought I’d be a Wikipedia researcher. However, it has some good stuff! As long as you know it’s prone to human error, and you know how to find other, “real” sources, it’s not a bad starting place in my opinion. My former self would have smacked me for saying this.)

This is what they had to say: “Despite positive responses to its early presentations and support from a number of hardware and software makers, Windows 1.0 was received poorly by critics, who felt it did not meet their expectations. In particular, they felt that Windows 1.0 put too much emphasis on mouse input at a time when mouse use was not yet widespread; not providing enough resources for new users; and for suffering from performance issues, especially on systems with lower hardware specifications.” –Wikipedia article

Some Really Geeky Information

I started this post by saying I didn’t want to go into details and specifications about Windows 1.0. However, reading through an article, I have to admit, the geekier side of me was interested. Here is what I read:

*I have made the parts I found the most interesting bold.*

“Back in 1985, Windows 1.0 required two floppy disks, 256 kilobytes of memory, and a graphics card. If you wanted to run multiple programs, then you needed a PC with a hard disk and 512 kilobytes of memory. You wouldn’t be able to run anything with just 256 kilobytes of memory with modern machines, but those basic specifications were just the beginning. While Apple had been ahead in producing mouse-driven GUIs at the time, it remained focused on the combination of hardware and software. Microsoft had already created its low-cost PC DOS operating system for IBM PCs, and was firmly positioned as a software company.

Remember Floppy Disks? Img Source: Wikipedia

With Windows 1.0, Microsoft took the important step of focusing on apps and core software. IBM held onto the fundamentals of the PC architecture for a few years, but Microsoft made it easy for rivals and software developers to create apps, ensuring that Windows was relatively open and easy to reconfigure and tweak. PC manufacturers flocked to Windows, and the operating system attracted support from important software companies. This approach to providing software for hardware partners to sell their own machines created a huge platform for Microsoft. It’s a platform that allows you to upgrade through every version of Windows, as a classic YouTube
clip demonstrates.”

YouTube video of Microsoft Windows Versions

What Has it Effected? And Affected?

Before Windows 1.0, users typed everything. You had to learn to be proficient with your typing, or at least a really good hunt-n-pecker. If you weren’t, you just weren’t going to like trying to use a computer.

Windows 1.0 changed the look of using computers. Instead of a black screen where you typed, you now had things to SEE! You had screens, applications, programs, menus, etc. Basically, it added tons of layers on top of the mechanics so users didn’t have to see nor know what was going on behind the scenes. It really was one of the first “user interfaces” created. I teach user interfaces. All the time. It’s the things users see and click on and interact with while using a program. And let me tell you, users want pretty interfaces. I can see exactly why Windows was such a huge change from the black screen of text typing.

Note: Actually, I can’t say it’s just my users that want pretty interfaces. I am just now recalling several conversations I’ve had with others about a particular, popular, funny website that has horrible aesthetics. Horrible. I can’t look at it. It hurts my eyes and brain. I only studied the slightest bit of document design, and even I know that is horrid design. I find my funny pictures on other, prettier sites. I am just as guilty of needing to see things in a good design. 

Another change that came from this was the focus on the computer mouse. You see, with MS-DOS, you had one screen really. You just typed in it. You had a blinking cursor that sometimes had to be moved. But you really didn’t “navigate” anywhere. Certainly not to other screens. With Windows, all of a sudden, you had places to be! You needed to go to those places. So you needed to click on those places. It really was a revolutionary concept. As we see above, this shift from typing to using a mouse was one of the reasons users struggled with the change. I think it pretty much always has been and always will be a fact that people do NOT like change (for the most part, anyway). This was such a positive change, but still, some resisted.

Early MAC Mouse Img Source: macworld.com

WIndows’s Looks Over the Years

The Verge.com also provides us some amazing screenshots of Windows over the years.

1984 Video of Microsoft Windows

“Where it all began: Windows 1.0 introduced a GUI, mouse support, and important apps.” Img Source: theverge.com


“Windows 2.0 continued 16-bit computing with VGA graphics and the first versions of Word and Excel” Img Source: theverge.com

“Windows 3.0 included a better UI with new Program and File managers. Minesweeper also arrived with the 3.1 update” Img Source: theverge.com
“Windows NT 3.5 was the second release of NT, and it really marked Microsoft’s push into business computing with important security and file sharing features.” Img Source: theverge.com
“Windows 95 was one of the most significant updates to Windows. Microsoft moved to a 32-bit architecture and introduced the Start menu. A new era of apps emerged, and Internet Explorer arrived in an update to Windows 95.” Img Source: theverge.com
“Windows 98 built on the success of Windows 95 by improving hardware support and performance. Microsoft was also focused on the web at its launch, and bundled apps and features like Active Desktop, Outlook Express, Frontpage Express, Microsoft Chat, and NetMeeting.” Img Source: theverge.com
“Windows ME focused on multimedia and home users, but it was unstable and buggy. Windows Movie Maker first appeared in ME, alongside improved versions of Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer.” Img Source: theverge.com
“Windows 2000 was designed for client and server computers within businesses. Based on Windows NT, it was designed to be secure with new file protection, a DLL cache, and hardware plug and play.” Img Source: theverge.com
“Windows XP really combined Microsoft’s home and business efforts. Windows XP was designed for client and server computers within businesses. Based on Windows NT, it was designed to be secure with new file protection, a DLL cache, and hardware plug and play.” Img Source: theverge.com
“Windows Vista was poorly received like ME. While Vista introduced a new Aero UI and improved security features, Microsoft took around six years to develop Windows Vista and it only worked well on new hardware. User account control was heavily criticized, and Windows Vista remains part of the bad cycle of Windows releases.” Img Source: theverge.com
“Windows 7 arrived in 2009 to clean up the Vista mess. Microsoft did a good job of performance, while tweaking and improving the user interface and making user account control less annoying. Windows 7 is now one of the most popular versions of Windows.” Img Source: theverge.com
“Windows 8 was a drastic redesign of the familiar Windows interface. Microsoft removed the Start menu and replace it with a fullscreen Start Screen. New “Metro-style” apps were designed to replace aging desktop apps, and Microsoft really focused on touch screens and tablet PCs. It was a little too drastic for most desktop users, and Microsoft had to rethink the future of Windows.” Img Source: theverge.com
“Back to the Start: Windows 10 brings back the familiar Start menu, and introduces some new features like Cortana, Microsoft Edge, and the Xbox One streaming to PCs. It’s more thoughtfully designed for hybrid laptops and tablets, and Microsoft has switched to a Windows as a service model to keep it regularly updated in the future.” Img Source: theverge.com

Imagine How Far This Cascade Will Go…

I remember exactly where I was and who I was with when I saw the first non-CD portable music player (a real live MP3 player!). I sat in my high school gym along with fellow team members and listened as the young little freshman of the group showed us a block-like, black, plain device with headphones plugged into it. He proceeded to tell us his songs were inside that little box. It blew my mind. How? I now have music on every single device and stream it from everywhere I possibly can.

Early MP3 Player Img Source: theregister.co.uk

I also remember when my older sister came home from her bank after her shift as a waitress at a restaurant and proceeded to tell me they were talking about getting rid of checkbooks. They were going to give her a card that would pay just like a check or money. She’d swipe it, type a number, and voila! (This was the first debit card!) I’m not going to lie, it was a little magical to me to imagine. I didn’t understand how you could pay without handing something tangible over to someone. I’m sure there were credit cards back then, but they weren’t very common. At least not in my world.

I remember things like the last payphone I saw outside or inside a building, I remember when I “carbon copied” credit cards in a machine to get the raised numbers copied onto a paper before all of us moved over to the flat, print-only cards. I smiled like a goof the first time I got a movie from a vending machine. My first cell phone, my first smartphone, my first tablet. Casting things onto my television–I can play YouTube, Pandora, etc., right on my TV!

This is a very subjective section, I’ll admit that right up front. It is the end of 2015. In my own company, we’re releasing and talking about what I feel are revolutionary things. I hear speak of “things to come” in computers and technology in general. Some might be joking, but others might be more real than we realize–such as “computers are going to replace most of us any minute.” I’ve already had that happen once. No. Twice. I was a bank teller. I’ve been to electronic teller machines, and the entire time I interacted with it, I felt a little sad that it was one less job for a someone like I had been. And I worked in medical records once. In my own current field, I get to hear about electronic health records and paperless workflows all the time, and again, a slight wave of sadness courses over me knowing my job was replaced by technology.

Windows 1.0 didn’t “start” or cause all of this. But my thoughts headed down these trails of technology nostalgia because it represented such a HUGE change in technology. It was a forerunner. It helped pave a very important path for us today. According to theverge.com, it also “kick-started a battle between Apple, IBM, and Microsoft to provide computing to the masses.” So, we have more than just Windows innovations to be thankful for from this event. We have gained so much from competitors one-upping each other! –theverge.com

We owe a big thank you to the geniuses who realized people not only had to and were going to interact with computers, but that they might enjoy navigating, clicking on, and playing with pretty things they see on these computers. I, for one, am grateful!




One thought on “November 20, 1985–Microsoft Windows 1.0 is Released

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