Welcome to the History of Microsoft Windows Series. This is Part 2 of 3. The following Windows editions are covered in this article:
- The Windows NT Family
- Windows XP (NT 5.1)
- Windows XP Professional x64 (NT 5.2)
- Windows Vista (NT 6.0)
- Windows 7 (NT 6.1)
To read about rest of the Windows editions, read the other two articles in the Windows History series:
- From Windows 1 to 10. The History of Microsoft Windows. Part 1 of 3
- From Windows 1 to 10. The History of Microsoft Windows. Part 3 of 3
The Windows NT Family
- At this moment, we should be aware of another OS line by Microsoft called the Windows NT.
- First Windows NT OS was launched in July 27, 1993 as Windows NT 3.1. The number 3.1 was used as the release number because the Windows 3.1 was being used at the time of the release of Windows NT. Windows NT was the commercial version of Microsoft’s Windows Operating System. Windows NT was developed for Server computers and Workstations. Windows NT 3.1 was the first 32-bit operating system made by Microsoft. Previously, Windows 95, 98, and ME were based on a hybrid kernel model. The hybrid model used the 16-bit DOS-based kernel and 32-bit user space.
- The next version of the Windows NT family called Windows NT 3.5 was launched on September 21, 1994.
- In 1995, Microsoft launched the version 3.51 of Windows NT. It was released on May 30, 1995.
- Windows NT 4.0 was launched on July 29, 1996.
- The next major version, Windows NT 5.0 was released as Windows 2000 (NT 5.0) on February 17, 2000. This was the first NT version without the term NT associated with it.
Windows XP (NT 5.1)
Windows XP was released on October 25, 2001. The term XP in Windows XP means experience. The development of XP started under the codename Whistler. Windows XP was the first Operating System in the Windows line to use the Windows NT kernel. Because of this reason, the version number of Windows XP is 5.1, the same as the Windows NT kernel number.
Some of the features introduced with Windows XP:
Start Menu: The famous two-pane Windows Start Menu was first introduced in Windows XP. Microsoft had introduced a Start Menu in Windows 95 but it had only one pane. But now, in Windows XP, it had two panes. Left side was for the user installed applications and right side was for the shortcuts to user and main system folder and applications.
Themes: Windows XP debuted colourful themes and visual styles for the Windows Operating System. The default theme of Windows XP was “Luna”, and the default wallpaper was “Bliss”. The photograph popular as the “Bliss” wallpaper was captured by Charles O’Rear at Sonoma County, California, United States in 1996.
Windows Remote Assistance: Windows Remote Assistance was launched with Windows XP. This program allowed users to access and control remote Windows computers over the internet. It was done usually to assist the remote user in troubleshooting and resolving the problem without the need of touching that computer.
Windows Messenger: Windows Messenger was made available for the first time along with Windows XP. It was an instant messaging client made available for both, the home and the corporate users.
ClearType: Windows XP was the first Windows Operating System to include the ClearType text rendering technology that makes the fonts look better on Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) screens.
Windows Firewall: Microsoft included the built-in firewall for the first time in any of its Operating Systems. It was called Windows Firewall.
Windows Security Center: The Windows Security Center was introduced in the Windows XP Service Pack 2. It monitored Firewall, Automatic Updates and Virus Protection.
Product Key-less Install: Microsoft introduced the Product Key-less install option with the release of Windows XP Service Pack 3. This gave users a 30-day grace period to active their Windows.
Other features and upgrades:
- The upgraded Taskbar was released with Windows XP.
- The (in)famous Internet Explorer 6 was launched in Windows XP.
- Windows Media Player 8.0 was released.
- Windows Picture and Fax Viewer was also introduced for the first time in Windows XP.
- Windows XP had the built-in CD burner. This was the first time when Microsoft included a CD burner in their Operating System.
- Windows Update was renamed to Microsoft Update.
- Microsoft tried to make their own free security suite in Windows XP. Windows Firewall came preinstalled with Windows XP. They released their Anti-Spyware Windows Defender on October 24, 2006. Later, they released their Anti-Virus Microsoft Security Essentials on September 29, 2009. Later, in Windows 8, both of these products merged and became Windows Defender.
Windows XP Professional x64 (NT 5.2)
Windows XP Professional x64 was released on April 25, 2005. It was the first Microsoft Operating System that retailed with a 64-bit architecture.
Windows Vista (NT 6.0)
Windows Vista was released on January 30, 2007. The development of Vista started under the codename Longhorn.
Some of the features introduced with Windows Vista:
Windows Aero: The Home Premium and Ultimate editions of Windows Vista had Windows Aero (Authentic, Energetic, Reflective and Open). Aero included transparent windows borders, title bar, and windows animations. The Aero design language was used throughout the operating system.
Start Menu: There were changes in start menu as well. The biggest one was the improved search. It was named “Instant Search”. Now, users could search and start using the installed programs within a couple of seconds. The Vista start menu did not have a “start” text on a start button like Windows XP, instead a Windows icon was present on the button. The round start button on Vista is called the Windows Orb. Exploring the All Programs used to cover almost the entire in Windows XP, but in Windows Vista, exploring All Programs was limited within the Start Menu.
Windows Flip 3D: The shortcut “Alt+Tab” was used to switch between windows without having to go to the taskbar and click the desired application. A beautiful 3D effect was used to show the running applications. This feature was called the Flip 3D.
Windows Sidebar and Desktop Gadgets: Another important feature introduced by Microsoft in Windows Vista was the Sidebar. The Sidebar could be placed on either side of the screen. The Sidebar contained Desktop Gadgets. These gadgets were small applets designed to display information about various application on the desktop. For example, the Weather gadget provided weather information and prediction services. These gadgets could also be dragged onto the desktop. That way, the user could hide the Sidebar and keep only the selected gadget(s) and freeing up some space on the desktop.
Backup and Restore: Backup and Restore was introduced with Windows Vista. As the name suggests, it allows users to create backups of their data and then restore the data from those backups. Previously, Windows had a similar feature called the NTBackup that was introduced in Windows 2000. It was called NTBackup because Microsoft started using NT kernel since Windows 2000. NT meant New technology.
ReadyBoost: Another new technology that came with Windows Vista was the ReadyBoost. With ReadyBoost, you could use your USB flash drives and other flash store devices to extend your system memory. It could act as RAM. Windows ReadyBoost was introduced to improve the system performance. In case, both of the RAM slots of a Windows Vista user are already filled, and you need more system memory to increase your system performance, then the user can user the ReadyBoost feature to increase his system memory.
ReadyDrive: ReadyDrive was used to make the computers boot faster and resume from the hibernation in much lesser time. It used the feature called the Hybrid drive. A Hydrid drive is a storage device that combines the Solid State Drive (SDD) with a Hard Disk Drive (HDD). Solid State Drives are a lot faster than Hard Disk Drives in nature. In a Hybrid Drive, the Solid State Drive is used to store the cache generated of the data stored on the Hard Disk Drive. This way, the cache can provide quick access to the frequently used data and thus improving the performance of the system.
SuperFetch: Window Vista also included an upgrade to “prefetcher” called SuperFetch. It preloaded the commonly used applications into the system memory to reduce the loading time of the installed applications.
Hybrid Sleep: Hybrid Sleep provides the best of both the worlds – Hibernate and Sleep. When Hybrid Sleep is enabled, your active data is stored on two places, the RAM as well as the Hard Drive. If you lose power or your battery runs out, Windows can restore your data from the hard drive. Windows Vista was the first Windows version to include it.
BitLocker: BitLocker is an encryption program. Microsoft introduced it in Windows Vista.
User Account Control (UAC): User Account Control (UAC) was first time made available with Windows Vista. UAC tries to control the automatic actions of programs. Whenever a program tries to make a change in the system, the UAC asks the user’s approval if he wants to allow that change or not. This was implemented to prevent the attempts made by the malicious programs to alter the system files.
Games: Several Windows games were rewritten for Windows Vista. Many new games were also introduced in Windows Vista. Unlike previous versions of Windows, this one used high quality icons and graphics for Games and other applications.
Windows Defender: Windows Vista came pre-loaded with Windows Defender. It was Microsoft’s Anti-spyware. It was available as additional component to be download separately for Windows XP.
Touch Screen Support: Starting with Windows Vista, the touch capability arrived to Tablet PCs.
Security: In Windows Vista, the Windows Security Center monitored Firewall, Automatic updating, Malware protection and Other security settings.
Microsoft Update was renamed to Windows Update.
Media features: Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Media Player 11 were released with Windows Vista.
A redesigned Windows Photo Gallery was provided with Vista. It was a photo viewer and a photo editor with basic and essential photo editing tools.
Windows Media Center was made available in the Home Premium and Ultimate editions of Windows Vista. Upgraded version of Windows Movie Maker also shipped with Windows Vista.
Windows Vista was the operating system that used the Segoe UI font for the first time. It was used as the default font for Windows Vista. Microsoft uses different fonts from this font family in their different products, websites and campaigns. This is like “the” Microsoft font.
Despite all these new features, innovations and improvements, Windows Vista failed. Here are some of the reasons why:
- XP Love: Windows users were not ready to leave Windows XP. Windows XP was living a great life, even with its security-related issues, its users were happy with it.
- The User Account Control (UAC) was/is annoying. Its implementation could have been done in a more user-friendly manner. It improves the security but is obstructive in nature.
- Hardware Requirements: The Hardware requirements for Windows Vista were huge. More importantly, the difference between the hardware requirements of the two successive Operating Systems was unimaginable. Users were running Windows XP on 512MB of RAM, and suddenly they were required to have at least 4GB of RAM installed on their system to run Windows Vista. Windows XP and Windows Vista required another Operating System that acted as a bridge between them. Longhorn.
- Improper Setup: Laptop companies did not sell Windows Vista with proper hardware specifications. My own laptop and many other laptops that I used around that period had Windows Vista installed by the manufacturer on very low-end hardware. I had Windows Vista Home Basic on a 2GB RAM and Intel Pentium processor. It worked fine. When I upgraded to Windows Vista Home Premium, it started to crawl, obviously. Then, I installed another 2GB of RAM. It started working perfectly. Even with just 2GB RAM and Intel Pentium processor, the laptop was labelled “Windows Vista Premium Ready”.
- Performance Woes: The new OS felt slower than the last one. No buyer will be happy if this sort of thing happens.
- Lack of Driver Availability: The lack of drivers for different hardware was one of the biggest reasons of the downfall of Windows Vista. Manufacturers were not ready with the drivers of their hardware for Windows Vista.
- Apple: Apple also attacked Microsoft and Windows Vista. They started “Get a Mac” ad campaign around the time of Vista. Apple focused on the frustration of Windows Vista users in their ads, and persuaded people to buy a Mac instead.
Windows 7 (NT 6.1)
Windows 7 was released on October 22, 2009. Windows 7 was what Microsoft wanted Windows Vista to be. All the good looks combined with stability, security, and great performance.
The development of 7 started under the codename Blackcomb, which was later renamed to Vienna. After the release of Windows XP, Microsoft started working on their next operating system under codename Blackcomb. It was supposed to be a major release with complete redesign, many new features and innovations. However, such a release required a lot of time. In 2003, Microsoft decided to work on a minor release under the codename Longhorn. Therefore, the development of Blackcomb was delayed. Many features originally intended for Blackcomb landed in Longhorn. Around this time, Windows suffered from three major Virus attacks. Microsoft paused the development of Longhorn, and started working on the service packs for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. After the release of service packs, Microsoft resumed the development of Longhorn. Longhorn was eventually released with the title Vista. In 2006, Microsoft resumed the development of Blackcomb under the new codename Vienna. Vienna would become 7 near the time of its release.
Some of the features introduced with Windows 7:
Superbar: Windows 7 introduced the Superbar; it was the upgraded version of Windows Vista Taskbar with many new features and functions like Aero Peek, Application Preview, Thumbnail Previews, Application Progress Indicator, Active Program Indicator, Show Desktop column, etc.
Show Desktop: Unlike previous versions of Windows, the taskbar did not finish with the icons on the right side. Instead, this time it featured a small space called “Show Desktop”. Clicking on this space would minimize all the running programs and opened windows, clicking it again would return the windows to their respective positions on the screen. Hovering over this space would enable the Aero Peek feature.
Aero Themes: Many new themes and wallpapers were provided with Windows 7. Microsoft created a new extension called “.themepack”, which contained all the files and settings used in creating a particular theme. Microsoft provided many free themes and wallpapers for Windows 7 on its website.
The “Desktop Slideshow” feature was introduced with Windows 7. It allowed the automatic changing of wallpapers.
Aero Peek: When the user hovered the mouse cursor over the Show Desktop space on the extreme right of the Taskbar, Windows initiated the Aero Peek, which would turn all the opened windows translucent.
If you had opened multiple programs, and you hovered the cursor over the icon of any one of the programs in the taskbar, it would show all the instances of that program opened at that time on the desktop. When you hovered the cursor over one of the instances of the selected program, only that would be focused and entirely visible to the user while the other instances were turned translucent.
Aero Snap: In order to make the Aero Snap feature work, the user had to hold the Title bar of the program window and snap it to the edge of the screen of any of the three sides – top, left or right, provided the Taskbar is at its default position i.e., at the bottom of the screen. When the program window was snapped to either side of the screen, the program window occupied that half of the screen. This made the other half of the screen available to open another program window or another instance of the same program. This way, the user could work on two programs or two instances of a single program simultaneously. Snapping the window to the top of the screen maximized it.
Aero Shake: Aero Shake feature quickly minimized all the open windows, except the one that you were holding. Clicking and shaking one open window minimized all the other windows to the Taskbar. Shaking that window again brought all the minimized windows back to their respective positions on the desktop.
HomeGroup: HomeGroup allowed home users with more than one computer to connect to their computers to a network so that they could use the same internet connection and share videos, music and pictures among them. A password was required to control the access to the HomeGroup.
Jump Lists: The Superbar (Windows Taskbar) in Windows 7 displayed only the program icons by default. Every time you opened a program, its icon was visible on the Superbar. You could also “Pin” the programs to the Superbar. With the help the Jump Lists feature, you could see all the recently used files by that program by right clicking on its icon on the Superbar. You could do many other things with the Jump Lists feature. For example, it allowed the user to pin multiple explorer locations on the pinned Windows Explorer icon. You could add multiple web pages on the pinned Web browser icon.
Libraries: Libraries were folders saved in the User’s home directly that contained the shortcuts to other folders existing on any drive of the system. Four libraries were introduced in Windows 7 – Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos.
Action Center: The Windows Security Center was renamed to Action Center in Windows 7. It monitored all the things related to Windows security and maintenance. Action Center alerted the user whenever there was an issue with the security or performance of the system. The Action Center icon was placed on the right side of the Taskbar in the shape of a flag.
Gadgets: The Sidebar, previously introduced along with Desktop Gadgets in Windows Vista, was removed in Windows 7, but the Gadgets could still be used.
Windows Touch: Windows 7 provided touch support for computers with multi-touch enabled displays. Microsoft Touch Pack was required to enjoy the Touch benefits. This pack contained a number of games and applications that could be used with the Touch technology on computers with multi-touch displays running Windows 7.
Sensors: Windows 7 provided support for another hardware feature – Sensors. Sensors are the electronic devices that detect events or changes in the physical environment, and indicate or respond to it. These physical phenomena could be heat, light, location, position, speed, etc.
Biometrics: Windows 7 introduced the Windows Biometric Framework.
Windows XP Mode: Windows XP Mode allowed users to run Windows XP within Windows 7. It was similar to running Windows XP in a virtualization software like VirtualBox or VMWare Player.
Media features: Improved and upgraded Windows Media Center, Windows Media Player 12 and Internet Explorer 8 were shipped with Windows 7.