Windows 2000: look at how far we've come

Lindsay Clark offers a brief guide to the evolution of Microsoft Windows

As Microsoft attempts to promote Windows 2000 as a fully integrated enterprise software platform, it is clear that the operating system has come a long way since its launch nearly 17 years ago.

The fledgling operating system originated as an extension to Microsoft Dos, the clunky text-based interface that most early PC users endured. DOS was the chink in IBM's armour through which Microsoft achieved worldwide dominance of PC operating systems.

Typically for Microsoft, it announced Windows in 1983, well in advance of the product shipping. The aim was to provide a graphical interface that would allow users to view unrelated application programs simultaneously. The product was eventually made available in 1985.

Though the product had its faults, it created excitement in the IT world, says Rob Hailstone, research director with Bloor Research. "It was so appealing that any little quirks were forgiven," he says.

However, initially there was only a handful of products available that could run on Windows. This meant that together with the limited memory and processing capacity, it was not until the launch of Windows 3.0 in 1990 that the operating system became accepted.

Microsoft said Windows 3.0 would provide dramatic performance increases for Windows applications, advances in ease of use and aesthetic appeal, and straightforward integration into corporate computing environments. The software giant let the world know with a $10m (£6m) advertising campaign. By 1991 Windows had shipped four million copies in 12 languages within a year. With the launch of the 32-bit Windows 95, the success story was complete.

Microsoft also wanted in on the market for client/server computing. It unveiled Windows NT in 1993, saying it would deliver a powerful, reliable and open platform for business application. But users were less convinced.

"It was supposed to be server-based computing that did not need technical people," says Hailstone. "But in that environment you really need to understand the implications of what you are doing. People are more sceptical now about Microsoft's technology, so it's ironic that everything I've heard about Windows 2000 suggests it has got it right this time."

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