1983: Microsoft chief Bill Gates unveils the Windows operating system for PCs. Don’t hold your breath waiting until you can buy a copy … unless you can hold your breath for two years.
Gates, Microsoft’s president and board chairman, held an elaborate event at New York City’s posh Helmsley Palace Hotel. The debutante at this ball was an operating system with a graphical user interface.
If you were struggling with the arcane and unfriendly MS-DOS, you were ready to get something that was easier to drive. Typing commands at the C prompt may have been a piece of C:\ake for programmers and geeks, but it was a pain in the wrist for the run-of-the-mill office chair jockey.
Microsoft started working on a product first called Interface Manager in September 1981. Early prototypes used MS Word-style menus at the bottom of the screen. That changed to pulldown menus and dialogs (a la Xerox Star) in 1982.
By 1983, Microsoft was facing competition from the just-released VisiOn and the forthcoming TopView. Apple had already released Lisa, but Digital’s GEM, Quarterdeck’s DESQ, the Amiga Workbench, IBM OS/2 and Tandy DeskMate were all still in the future.
At the November 1983 unveiling, Gates promised an easy-to-use graphical interface with dropdown menus, tiled windows, mouse support, device-independent graphics, the ability to run several applications at the same time and even get them to cooperate with one another. It was supposed to be ready in April 1984, and the cocky young Microsoft chief predicted it would be running on 90 percent of all IBM-compatible computers by the end of 1984.
He was off by only 90 percent. Windows 1.0 didn’t achieve retail launch until Nov. 20, 1985, more than two years after its immodest debut. What was modest were the sales figures.
Few third-party applications were available, but the Windows 1.0 package included MS-DOS Executive, Calendar, Cardfile, Notepad, Terminal, Calculator, Clock, Reversi, Control Panel, PIF (Program Information File) Editor, Print Spooler, Clipboard, RAMDrive, Windows Write and Windows Paint. All this was supposed to let everyday users manage their everyday activities.
But things were changing fast. Apple had already unleashed the Macintosh on the world in January 1984. And Windows 2.0 didn’t show up until 1987.
Screenshot: Microsoft Windows 1.01
This article first appeared on Wired.com Nov. 10, 2008
- Oct. 28, 1955: Gates Open for Tech Titan
- April 4, 1975: Bill Gates, Paul Allen Form a Little Partnership
- New Windows Start Screen Paves Way for Touchscreen PCs
- Windows 8 Re-Imagines the Windows Experience
- Jan. 19, 1983: Apple Gets Graphic With Lisa
- Jan. 26, 1983: Spreadsheet as Easy as 1-2-3
- March 23, 1983: Reagan Taunts the Russians With ‘Star Wars’ Plan
- June 13, 1983: Pioneer 10 Reaches an End … and a Beginning
- June 18, 1983: Sally Ride, the First American Woman Into Space
- June 23, 1983: DNS Test Sets Stage for Internet Growth
- Sept. 26, 1983: The Man Who Saved the World by Doing … Nothing
- Nov. 10, 1983: Computer ‘Virus’ Is Born
- Nov. 10, 1999: Metric Math Mistake Muffed Mars Meteorology Mission