Top 5 things you didn’t know about Windows 1.0

Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, with commuters in the background, on March 28, 2019


Tom Merritt highlights five things you may not have known about the first Windows operating system.

 

Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, with commuters in the background, on March 28, 2019
Image: Peter/Adobe Stock

Windows still has more than 75% of the market on the desktop, but that wasn’t inevitable. The first version of Windows was not immediately dominant when it was released November 20, 1985.

So indulge me as we dip back into history and talk about 5 things you might not know about Windows 1.0.

Top 5 things you didn’t know about Windows 1.0

Windows was late to the game

Microsoft showed off a Graphical User Interface as early as 1981, but Bill Gates saw a demonstration of IBM’s Visi On at Comdex in 1982 and tore up the playbook to start development on Windows.

Microsoft arguably imitated Xerox more than Apple

In 1983, Microsoft got wind of Apple’s windowing system, based heavily on a prototype from Xerox PARC. So in August 1983, Microsoft hired Scott A. McGregor, one of the lead developers on the Xerox PARC windowing system, to be lead developer for Windows.

Steve Ballmer was responsible for Windows coming to market

McGregor left the team in January 1985 and was replaced by Ballmer. Design modifications followed, and Windows de-emphasized multitasking in favor of rich graphics that used less memory than competitors.

Windows 1.0 had a lot of familiar items

It included Calculator, Paint, Notepad, Write, Terminal, Clock, Reversi and utilities such as Clipboard and Print Spooler. But there was no Program Manager: That wouldn’t arrive until Windows 3.0.

The critics panned it

They called it slow, noted its poor performance when running multiple applications — kind of the point of a windowing system — and didn’t like that it relied on the mouse for navigation over the keyboard. The New York Times called its performance like “pouring molasses in the Arctic.”

Turns out the first version of a product may not be a perfect predictor for its eventual success. Who knew?

And hey, if this trip back in time has you nostalgic, you can try out Windows 1.0 at pcjs.org, which runs emulations of both 1.01 and the 1.0 Premiere Edition on its website.

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