Versions of Microsoft Windows

Version Chart / Overview

This is a brief chart of the versions of the Microsoft Windows operating system that Microsoft Corp. has produced for desktop computers. See below for some more information.

Version/Year Notes
Windows 1.0 (1985) One of several products on the market at the time that enabled running multiple programs simultaneously on the IBM Personal Computer and compatibles. You could only tile the windows; you could not otherwise move or resize or overlap them. The main program window was called MS-DOS Executive, and looked like the later File Manager or Windows Explorer, presenting just a list of files to browse and open. Windows 1.0 did not require a hard drive; you could run this off floppy disks only.
Windows 2.0 / 2.1 (1987) Introduced resizable and overlapping windows, and most of the basic keyboard shortcuts that still work today. Variants named Windows/286 and Windows/386 were available in separate packages, for computers based on the Intel 80286 or 80386 processors, respectively, which had very different architectures. As of version 2.1, a hard drive was required. Third-party programs written specifically to run under Windows started to appear.
Windows 3.0 (1991) First commercially successful version of Windows. Replacing MS-DOS Executive was the new Program Manager, with separate windows for program groups that had icons for your programs, and other things like the Control Panel. Supported the original 8086/8088 processor, as well as 80286 and 80386 modes, all in one box.
Windows 3.1 (1992) Although it looked very much like Windows 3.0, version 3.1 blew away the prior version with its commercial success. In time, this version established Windows as the standard computer operating environment for home and office computers, which remains today. Dropped support for the 8086/8088 processor. Any networking (such as file and printer sharing) in Windows at this point relied on additional systems and software; Windows 3.1 was extended in 1994 to natively support networking (called Windows for Workgroups). It was superseded by Windows 95.
Windows NT (1993) The first version for secure systems. Its interface looked just like Windows 3.1, but the underlying program architecture was completely different due to its security focus, requiring more advanced hardware (such as the 80386 processor). This introduced the NTFS file system with user-level file permissions. It was not marketed heavily or widely used commercially, because Microsoft considered it to be still in a kind of final testing stage, and because there were very few applications that would run on Windows NT.
Windows NT Workstation 3.5 (1994) Upgrade to the original Windows NT.
Windows 95 (1995) Much-hyped upgrade to Windows 3.1 for home computers and non-secure office systems. Program Manager was replaced by the Start button and the Task Bar, used by subsequent versions of Windows to this day. Dropped support for the 80286 processor, which was virtually obsolete by that time. Very successful commercially through 1998, when it was superseded by Windows 98.
Windows NT Workstation 4.0 (1996) This was an upgrade to Windows NT Workstation 3.5 for secure networks, with many improvements. It adopted the desktop interface of Windows 95. It enjoyed some commercial success, but did not work with as much hardware and applications as Windows 95. It was only found in certain niche business networks; most users continued to use Windows 95 and later Windows 98.
Windows 98 (1998) Upgrade to Windows 95 for home computers and non-secure business networks, offering many useful improvements, and support for popular new hardware at the time. This was used widely through 2001.
Windows 2000 Professional (1999) Upgrade to Windows NT Workstation 4.0 for secure networks. While it still lacked support for much of the hardware and applications that were current at the time, it made great progress compared to Windows NT and was more widely used, although it did not replace Windows 98 on home computers or in small offices. It was replaced by Windows XP in less than two years.
Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) (2000) Upgrade to Windows 98, with new features particularly related to handling cameras and scanners, but very buggy. It was designed specifically for home users. Many people continued using Windows 98.
Windows XP (2001) Among the most popular versions of Windows ever. Adopted quickly as a replacement for all prior versions still in use (Windows 98, Windows 2000, and Windows Me), both for home use and on secure networks, by providing broad hardware and application software support within the secure framework of Windows NT and Windows 2000. Continued selling through 2009, and still in use on millions of computers today.
Windows Vista (2007) This version introduced many fundamental changes to the user interface experience and system security, addressing the many years' experience of Windows XP in dealing with evolving threats. But, it was widely disliked due to numerous problems and a justified perception that it was buggy. Most users kept using Windows XP. It was superseded by Windows 7 within two years.
Windows 7 (2009) Very much like Windows Vista, but with many of the problems fixed, and enhancements to some of the included features such as backup, drive encryption, and remote networking. This was also amongst the most-liked versions; hundreds of millions of computers continue to run Windows 7.
Windows 8 (2012) The desktop interface was redesigned to work well on touch-screen tablet-style computers that exploded in popularity at the dawn of the decade. It also links into a new Windows Store, where you can download mobile-style apps, similar to those used by iPhone/iPad and Android devices. Of course, Windows 8 still supports conventional Windows-based applications. Windows 8 can also take advantage of the ubiquity of high-speed Internet links (even with mobile devices) to save all your settings and files on Microsoft's servers, so that all your Windows 8 devices will automatically be in sync. The 8.1 update (2013), improves options and flexibility for the Start screen to address complaints about the jarring differences in basic operation of the Windows 8 desktop compared to prior versions of Windows. Like some others in the past, this version was a flop and virtually ignored. Very few computers run it today.
Windows 10 (2015) Desktop interface redesigned to work like pre-Windows 8 computers again, with the return of the Start menu, removal of the Start screen, and ability to run Windows Store apps in a regular window on the desktop. Includes the new Microsoft Edge browser to replace Internet Explorer, which had been bogged down by backwards-compatibility (Internet Explorer can still be used). Includes Cortana, the voice-recognition information provider previously found on Windows phones. Microsoft says this is the last branded version of Windows; future upgrades will be released as upgrades of Windows 10 itself. Click here for Versions of Windows 10.


Windows Updates are small programs intended to fix functional bugs and security flaws, but often add new features and/or support for new hardware. Sometimes they are referred to as hotfixes or patches. A roll-up of several updates in one big program file, which can take significant time to install, is called a Service Pack. These are are available to download for free on Microsoft's website. In the past, once a Service Pack has been made available by Microsoft, the Service Pack will be included in subsequent shipments of the Windows retail package. For example, "Windows XP with Service Pack 2" and "Windows Vista with Service Pack 1" were available at retail for quite a while. With Windows 7, however, the first Service Pack was a small-scale update, and was never integrated into the DVDs sold on store shelves.


The word Edition has been used sporadically and inconsistently by Microsoft. In 1999, Microsoft released an update to Windows 98, called Windows 98 Second Edition, which had new features and bug fixes, but was essentially the same operating system as Windows 98. When Windows Millennium Edition was released later that year, the word Edition was incorporated into the primary name of the operating system.

Since Windows XP, numerous editions were released at the same time for each version, such as Home, Home Premium, Professional, Media Center, Enterprise, and Ultimate. The various editions have different features, capabilities, and included applications. For example, Home editions cannot participate in a centrally-managed corporate network, and may not natively support file encryption or multiple-drive storage arrays.

Workstation vs. Server

A workstation is a computer with a screen, keyboard, and mouse, where users sit down, run programs, check e-mail, browse the web, and pound the keys to get their work done. It also includes laptops. A server is a computer on the network that controls network communications, stores data that users save across the network, manages shared applications and printers, and determines who has permission to access what. It is usually not on anyone's desk, but in a closet or server room. Only the network administrator can log on to the server, and he does so only to configure network settings and manage data, and shouldn't do anything else like browse the web. Click here to read more about versions of Microsoft Windows server operating systems.

Non-Secure vs. Secure Networks

A non-secure system or network means that, while the server might require a password for you to access shared files over the network, there are no restrictions over who can access the data stored on the workstations. For example, if you had a Novell NetWare server or a Microsoft Windows NT Server on the network, the files were secure when stored on the server. But if you had Windows 98 on your workstation, and you copied any of these files to your workstation's hard drive, anyone could get on your workstation and get those files, so the network was not considered secure. But, if your workstation is running a properly-configured secure operating system (such as Windows NT, Windows 2000, or any version since Windows XP), then a user cannot log on and use your workstation unless an account and password has been registered for him in the system. And, even when he logs on, he cannot open a file stored on the workstation unless the network administrator or the owner of the file gives him permission.

A network cannot be considered completely secure unless all workstations run secure operating systems. The last non-secure version of Windows was superseded in 2001, so most every computer network today has only secure workstations.