Microsoft Windows

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In the early 2000s, Microsoft Windows was the dominant operating system for home and business computer users. Operating systems (OS) are programs responsible for running computers. In addition to Windows, other OS in the 2000s included Linux, Unix, and Macintosh. Microsoft Windows provides users with a graphical environment, meaning that it allows them to issue commands to a computer by clicking on icons with a mouse or by typing commands into graphical forms.

Before Microsoft announced the creation of Windows in November of 1983, most computing was done by typing very specific text-based commands into an OS at a command prompt; not by clicking on user-friendly graphical icons. Many early computer systems ran on the Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS), introduced in August of 1981. After Apple Computer released the Macintosh in 1984, which included a graphical interface, Microsoft followed with several versions of Windows, including Windows 1.0 in 1985; Windows 2.0 in 1987; and Windows 3.0 in 1990. The latter release marked the beginning of the system's widespread popularity and adoption. Two years later, the release of Windows 3.1 was especially well received.

The popularity of Windows 3.0 had much to do with the elimination of the DOS interface. Users still had to boot Windows from DOS (it didn't automatically start when the computer was turned on as would later versions of Windows), but the end result was a more intuitive environment consisting of what resembled a virtual desktop. Several main programs made up the operating system. The Program Manager was responsible for launching programs. Users relied on the File Manager to view and organize their files and to move them between different media like floppy disks and the computer's hard drive. A Clipboard application allowed text from one program to be copied or cut and then pasted into another application. The appearance of the Windows system could be altered or customized on the Control Panel. The Print Manager was responsible for printing information from various applications. Finally, Windows came with a variety of other programs, including Write and Paint-brush, which were basic productivity applications.

With the release of Windows 95 in 1995, the system interface took on a totally new look that more closely resembled the Apple Macintosh. Windows 95 booted automatically when the computer was turned on, eliminating the scenario of Windows running on top of DOS. In addition to graphic file, folder, and program icons residing on the desktop, users also could access programs, documents, and settings via the Start Button, which also could be used for several other purposes. A taskbar allowed users to multi-task by running several applications at once and switching between them more easily. It also made the addition of peripheral devices easier than had been the case with Windows 3.1.

Three years after the introduction of Windows 95, Windows 98 was introduced. It included solutions to bugs and other imperfections found in Windows 95 and made the Internet Explorer Web browser a more integrated part of the desktop. A major improvement was made to the OS with Windows Millennium Edition. Released in September 2000, the upgrade included improved multimedia features and system protection capabilities that restored the OS to an earlier state in the event of a crash. It also allowed for more-user-friendly home networking.

Microsoft planned to release Windows XP on Oct. 25, 2001. According to the company, the new version of Windows was to have a new look and was "built on an enhanced Windows 2000 engine and enables exciting experiences that gives users the freedom to create, connect and communicate in new ways. Windows XP also establishes a new standard in power, reliability, security and simplicity." Two versions were to be released, one for home users and another for business users.

In addition to the Windows OS for home PC users, several other varieties of Windows were developed for other kinds of users. Windows NT was designed for use on servers and networked workstation computers. It was first released in 1993. Windows 2000 was released in February 2000 and was more suitable for use on laptop and desktop computers than its predecessor, Windows NT 4.0. Windows CE, an OS for handheld computers, was released in 1996. Windows CE 2.1 for palm-sized computers came out two years later.

In the late 1990s Microsoft fell under increasing scrutiny of U.S. anti-trust regulators, partly from its competition with Netscape, which lost market share when Microsoft aggressively pushed its Internet Explorer Web browser along with the Windows OS. The Justice Department appeared adamant that Microsoft change its practices and took the company to court. In June of 2000 Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ordered that Microsoft be broken up into two companies. The ruling was appealed and the historic antitrust case moved to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2001.


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SEE ALSO: Microsoft Corp.