As Windows turns 25, a sardonic stroll down memory lane

Tales of a quarter-century of a certain graphical user interface

Note: This article was updated at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 19 to correct the spelling of Colombia. 

In 1985, a gallon of gasoline cost $1.09 on average, people paid $2.75 at the movies, separate groups of terrorists hijacked TWA flight 847 and the Achillie Lauro cruise liner, and major earthquakes hit Colombia and Mexico.

And a company called Microsoft introduced an operating system called Windows, an upgrade from its three-year-old MS-DOS. Windows 1.0 wasn’t much to crow about. It couldn’t multitask and required a lot of effort from users. But it was Microsoft’s first graphical interface and began Windows’ unrelenting march across offices and homes around the world.

Nov. 20 marks the 25th anniversary of the first Windows release. GCN’s Greg Crowe recently offered his own memories of Windows’ early years and asked readers to submit theirs. Their remembrances — some fond, some, ah, not-so-fond follow.

For another looks back, check GCN’s brief history of Microsoft operating systems. And if you want to look forward, the Technologizer sought opinions on the future of Windows from 28 journalists, technologists and former Microsoft employees.

Here's what our readers had to say:

Kind of like the mother-in-law you love to hate, but not worth divorcing your spouse to get rid of. – No name

I remember being excited when I got the new DOS 3.3 which came in that nice 3-ring binder in a sleeve. The Microsoft history is all good, in my mind, until Microsoft ruined Office to make it look different from the free Open Office. They threw a wrench in the works just to make it look different. Now some other idiotic companies are following their example assuming there was some logic to it. The previous Office interface was an elegant evolution- the new one is a like a drunken high schooler’s design. Some of us actually use these tools every day in our job and we’re not happy about a clean efficient design being replaced by a gimmicky marketing mess. – Greg, Washington, D.C .

I used to think Bill Gates was a charlatan and little more than a snake oil salesman, but he has created an entire industry and thousands of jobs. These are all the people we need to help us fix the myriad problems with Windows. So thank Bill Gates for putting people to work! – No name

With each iteration of Windows, I saw performance spiral down. While they compelled the Army to use Windows, I revolted by buying an iMac for home! – No name

I was working at a computer store in the early 1990s where we were building computers running Windows 3.11. At the time people were using Prodigy, Compuserve and AOL for their new, exciting Internet connections. When Windows 95 came out, first, the upgrades were a disaster — we had a lot of returns. Secondly, and more rampant, was that the new browser "Internet Explorer" would stop the other browsers from running and "take over." We had to backup user's data, erase the hard drive and install Win95 fresh, and find a way to unblock access to their current browsers. – No name

I began word processing with Multimate, had to give it up for Word Perfect (not always easy to learn, but very flexible once you learn the codes). Then I was forced to switch to Microsoft. I worked one place where Bill Gates came to our college to meet students, and I was forbidden from going anywhere near him, I think because they were afraid of what I might tell him about his miracle program. But Microsoft finally reached a good place (in which it was very usable). At home I have Windows 2000 and at work, XP, and both are user friendly. Now at work, we have to accept Windows and Office 7, which is horrible. Why change a usable program into something that is hard to use? Oh, right  — money! And while Gates has revolutionized the computer industry, let us never forget that a great many of the so-called improvements have been implemented so MS could make more dollars. Bill — just make it easy to use and listen to your users. Quit changing your applications every year. Instead, concentrate on making it easy for all applications to interface with any version of Windows. Oh, no, that wouldn't be costly enough for the consumer, would it? – No name
 
The first 15 years [were] painful. Versions 1 and 2 were merely fun to look at, or play games with. Windows 95 and 97 came along with high hopes, and all you could rely on was the daily blue screens of death. Then came Windows 2000 NT, and things were starting to look good, it was the beginning of a workhorse product. Along came Windows ME and it was dreadful and I started to think MS couldn't do anything right. But then Windows XP came along and it is still a worker’s friend, easy to use and being productive. Looking at the historical ups and downs of MS, they just had to deliver Vista which, was not that great – it was fine, but definitely not an XP. Now with Windows 7, it's too early to tell, but so far I'm not too impressed. I'll stick with XP until I absolutely have to switch. – Lars, Seattle

I had a copy of 1.0. It was really just a toy at the time, not terribly useful. Back then, there were also lots of other computer options than PCs, and for that matter other GUI systems that worked better. – No name

In 1985 I remember reading an interview with Bill Gates in PC magazine saying that he believed Windows would lead the way and become the basis for all major PC development. At the time I was using a PC XT with two floppy drives and MS DOS. I only became convinced after I bought a $70 draw program that was easier to use and more feature-rich than a script-driven package on the midrange computers we were using at the time. – Michal, Ohio

I've always been an XP man myself. I really think that was the peak of the OS development. Before that there were horrible flaws like Windows Me and after that things got bogged down with Vista and Windows 7. But XP worked well, didn't hog memory, and made it easy to use features like the control panel. Microsoft is wrong to stop supporting it in favor of the useless glitz of the newer operating systems. – Alf

I used to be a Windows lover, but over the past few years, I have spent more time maintaining Windows than using it. I now use Linux Mint as my primary operating system at home... Much more stable and free to boot! – Rick, Florida

I recall trying windows 1.0 and 2.0. Then when 3.1 came out I knew MS was onto something: Castle Wolfenstien. But by the time the DX266 was out, I was already looking for an alternative: Solaris X86 first with WABI: What a bad idea! So, I immediately tried NT 3.1 (no, not 3.51). In those days, MS hadn't decided yet to create a server version and a workstation version. They were all the same! Wow, it really needed 4MB of memory to run. – David McGaughey Lubbock, Texas

I started with Windows 1 on an IBM AT. It didn't do much but looked better than Desqview, the multitasking DOS tool. I had an EGA monitor and a monochrome monitor attached to the computer. I did terminal sessions on the monichrome monitor and word processing with Volkswriter on the monochrome monitor as well. I played with the built-in Windows tool, but I think the only value added was the calendar and the calculator. I graduated to Windows 2 with a package that included an expanded memory card. This memory worked well with the 286 architecture and made Windows more usable. When Windows 3.0 came out I felt snake-bit, as 386 machines were out and extended memory worked with them. Fortunately Windows 3.0 had a small frame EMS mode that emulated the old Windows 2 mode. Windows 3.0 was the first version that could switch between programs as effectively as the old DOS switching programs. Not true multiprocessing, but effective. When Windows 3.1 came out I had a 486 machine and it finally became a true multi-process OS. We had network problems because we used coax. There were nulls so that not all computers could see each other. Also when someone would add a computer they would break a line or add loops. It's amazing it worked at all. Windows 95 was a revelation. Not quite up to it's hype, but so much better than 3.1. Pentiums were starting to come out and the computing horsepower was impressive. You could scroll through a 100-page document in WordPerfect in 20 seconds. Windows 98’s reputation was being crashproof. It wasn't, but you could run all day without rebooting. The only problem was 98 machines would not shut down properly. We learned that if they got so far you could power them down. Then we took one giant leap backwards called NMCI. Crummy machines that were worse than what we had on our desk running Windows 2000. Twenty minutes to boot. Six years later our promised "tech upgrade" machines were delivered. Decent Core 2 Duo processors running XP. The irony was that I had been running XP on my personal laptop for five years. This year the second "tech upgrade" arrived with a little faster processor and XP. The major improvement was 3 GB main memory and 160 GB hard drive. Meanwhile on my personal computers I suffered through Vista but unless Microsoft offers a reasonable upgrade I'm not going to waste money to go to Windows 7. I have an ASUS laptop with Windows 7 Home Premium and love it. My experience with Windows 7 Starter on a Lenovo netbook was the opposite. It is crippleware and I finally paid the bribe to upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium, but would not have bought this netbook and have recommended to others to get XP on their netbook if they can. Well, I have rambled on long enough, but consider myself lucky to have missed Windows Millenium. – No name

25 years of heavy digital pollution. – No name

Reader Comments

Tue, Nov 23, 2010 sa'adah malaysia

when windows was born we were also excited about the latest wordperfect on ms-dos! a few years later i found myself appointed to organize seminars on windows and office suite to the masses here. and in january 1995, i helped to stage bill gate 'sharing' his vision and introduce windows 95 for the first time ever! he wants every home around the world to have a windows/pc! and that business will go IT in a big way! are we there yet?

Sun, Nov 21, 2010 anonymous

There is no reason to migrate to Windows 7. Hold on to your XP licenses. Windows 7 is just like Vista. Tons of features removed and broken. Poor usability. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_features_removed_in_Windows_7 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_features_removed_in_Windows_Vista. Added features are nice but usability is poor due to a broken file manager.

Fri, Nov 19, 2010

Seems that eveeyone loves to hate Bill Gates.. Well there are reasons to dislike his business style, but M$ turned out some reasonably good evolutionary products and made money to boot (lottsa' money). Along comes Gates' replacement and everything, including the stockprice goes to Windows ME. When you have a marketeer at the helm, everything looks like a marketing opportunity. M$ has little to do with evolutionary improvements and more to do with marketing income today than ever before.

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