About Windows 1.0


Tom walks through the origins of the first Windows version.

Featuring Tom Merritt.



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Wait Windows wasn’t the first Windows?

And the first Microsoft Windows was a flop?

How is that even possible?


Don’t be.

Let’s help you Know A Little More about Windows 1.0

Windows is the dominant desktop operating system in the world. It’s hard to imagine a time when you didn’t expect to see it on every PC that wasn’t made by Apple.
So let’s rewind the clock to just such a time. It’s May 1984. If you have a computer it’s either running DOS or some sort of house OS like the Commodore Kernal or TI-BASIC.
But Popular Computing that month had a special overview of Windowing programs. Every major software developer was just about to put out or had plans to put out an integrated operating environment that featured on-screen windows so you could run and access more than one program at a time.
Visi On from Visicorp (makers of VisiCalc) seemed to be the leader as it had a deal with IBM. It was the first to reach market and cost only $99. However it only worked with programs adapted for it. But there were plenty of choices and the rest all worked with MS-DOS. DesQ, Window Master and In View were also already out and Concurrent DOS, Concept VP and Windows were on the way.
Microsoft made the last one, Windows, and it had the most public support from vendors but Microsoft had made the controversial decision to only sell it to hardware manufacturers. You couldn’t buy it yourself. And it wasn’t done at the time of publication.
Microsoft seemed to be dragging its heels. It had showed off a Graphical User Interface as early as 1981 but Bill Gates saw a demonstration of Visi On at Comdex in 1982 and started development of Windows.
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.
Everything seemed on track. Microsoft publicly showed off Windows on November 10, 1983, positioning it as a device driver for MS-DOS 2.0 that supported cooperative multitasking in Tiles Windows. It did not require a Microsoft user interface, so anybody could develop programs for it. Microsoft set April 1984 as the ship date.
However Mcgregor left the team in January 1985 and was replaced by Steve Ballmer. Design modifications followed and Windows de-emphasized multitasking in favor of rich graphics that used less memory than competitors.
In the summer of 1985, Microsoft released Windows 1.0: Premiere Edition to some vendors, analysts and press.
On November 20, 1985 Windows was released to manufacturing. It did go on sale as two double-sided floppy disks at retail after all, as Windows 1.01 for $99.
You needed CGA, Hercules, or EGA graphics, MS-DOS 2.0, 256 KB of RAM and 2 double-sided disk drives to a hard drive. You launched it by typing “Win” at the DOS prompt, unless of course you added it to your autoexec.bat
Windows 1.0 ran on the MS-DOS kernel. It could run as a 16-bit shell called MS-DOS Executive. It allowed the use of a mouse for click and drag operations. The mouse button had to be held down to display menus.
It also included a feature called the Control Panel which let the user configure settings in a graphical environment.
Windows were all tiled, not overlapping. Minimizing a program would put its icon on a horizontal line at the bottom of the screen.
It included Calculator, Paint, Notepad, Write, Terminal, Clock, Reversi and utilities such as Clipboard and Print Spooler. It also offered RAMDrive which could manage memory cards as a way around 640 Kilobyte memory limits. Other MS-DOS .exe files showed up as well.
There was no Program Manager. That wouldn’t arrive until Windows 3.0.
By the time it came out it didn’t meet expectations. Critics called it slow, noted poor performance when running multiple applications– kind of the point of a windowing system– and they didn’t like that it relied on the mouse for navigation over the keyboard. Also its compatibility with DOS programs did not fulfill its promise. The New York Times called its performance like “pouring molasses in the Arctic”
Computerworld magazine estimated it sold 500,000 copies between launch and April 1987. It was a flop.
The first major update came in May 1986. Windows 1.02 added customizations for Europe including non-English versions. Windows 1.03 unified the first two versions in a single international release. In April 1987, version 1.04 added support for the IBM PS/2 though not for the PS/2 mouse or VGA graphics. Those came in a special OEM version for IBM on May 27, 1987.
It was superseded by Windows 2.0 which came out in December 1987 and introduced overlapping window support. But support for Windows 1.0 continued until December 31, 2001. It was the longest-supported version of Windows.
Windows 3.0 and especially 3.1 were the version that would launch Windows into mainstream success and cement Microsoft’s dominance of the desktop, but that wouldn’t come until May 22, 1990.
If you’d like to try out Windows 1.0 pcjs.org runs emulations of both 1.01 and the 1.0 “Premiere Edition” on its website.
I hope you have some time to play a little Reversi.
And I hope you know a little more about Windows 1.0.