Microsoft Windows: The evolution and where MS operating systems stand today

Since the 1980s Microsoft has been a leader in operating systems, but these days the competition with Android and Apple devices has them struggling to keep up.


My recent posts have entertained the subjects of PCs in the workplace and virtual machines and how they fit into the workplace. Following suit, I’d like to touch on some Microsoft (MS) Windows history and what possible role the operating system (OS) might play in the future of computing.

I have always liked staying on top of the latest technologies; I purchased the MS Windows 95 upgrade as soon as it was available from MS; Windows 95 was the primary predecessor of modern-day Windows and a major upgrade from version 3.1.1. I bought one of the first marketed PCs that ran the Pentium chip. As a matter of fact, I had the original “flawed” chip and had to get it replaced. I have seen the evolution of the PC and a lot of the operating systems along the way, although my personal experiences have primarily been with DOS (disk operating system), Windows, and OS/2 (Operating System/2).

I remember the fierce competition between IBM and MS in the early 1990s, when both companies were trying to develop a newer, more user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) to enhance the already established DOS. MS was hired by IBM in the early 1980s to help develop a GUI called OS/2. In the early 1990s, however, MS broke away from IBM to solely develop and market its Windows OS. IBM continued the development of the OS/2 platform and it was actually a pretty nice product. They even made it “Windows friendly” so one could run a virtual Windows OS within the OS/2 environment. Early Windows and OS/2 were 16 bit operating systems; IBM beat MS in the race to develop the first 32-bit OS with its OS/2 2.0 release. 64-bit versions came much later. Magazines and books of the late 1980s acknowledged both systems as major market players and promoted OS/2 as the system for the future; Boy, did they miss on that one!

MS’s marketing scheme of two-timing IBM and teaming with PC makers that were IBM competitors ended up being a winning strategy and helped Windows-based PCs to dominate the market. OS/2 survived for awhile as a stand-alone alternative OS to Windows but never gained the market share of its competitor. Some variant of it still exists today and, who knows, maybe it will rise again to challenge the giant! MS has never looked back and has morphed pretty much into the alpha male role in a two-company contest with Apple for being the primary maker of operating systems for desktop and laptop PCs.

There have been many variations of Windows along the journey, i.e. 1.x, 2.x, 3.x, 95, 98, NT, Millennium, 2000, XP, Vista, Server, Azure, CE, 7, and now 8. This brings me to the questions, what is the direction and focus of MS and their Windows OS moving forward, and what role will it play in the future of PCs? Will the PC, itself, survive? I sense a similar air of competition with the emergence of the Android, iOS, and Windows 8 operating systems that we saw in the late 1980s with MS and IBM. The Android OS, especially, is challenging Apple’s iOS on smart phones and tablets in much the same way MS challenged IBM on the PC. Microsoft’s Windows 8 was a little late getting into the smart phone and tablet arena and MS is caught in an unfamiliar marketing role of playing catch-up with the competition.

One has to wonder about the future of Windows and especially the laptop PC. Windows 8 appears to be an attempt by MS to try to keep the laptop PC alive and at the same time crack into the tablet market dominated by Apple’s iOS and lately the Android OS. MS is trying to bridge into both arenas with one Windows OS which serves the PC and tablet, thus the perfect world! I can’t see the laptop being replaced by the tablet alone; tablet screen sizes, keyboards, and overall functionality can’t compare to the laptop PC. The tablet would have to gain a lot of functionality from what it has today and basically morph into a laptop-like device to serve the laptop dependent community, in my opinion.

Maybe MS is on to something, however, with the 2-in-1 idea; Windows 8 has the ability to switch back and forth between the tablet and “Windows desktop” environments. I would like to see one desktop environment win out over the other; having to deal with two totally different desktops is a little absurd to me. And the Windows 8 app store is in a major catch-up role compared Android and Apple, so there’s much room for improvement there as well. This 2-in-1 gamble by MS may pay off, however, and with some improvements, we may see the tables turned with the tablet manufacturers playing catch-up to MS again.

These are, of course, my own opinions; what say you?

This post was written by Art Howell. Art is a Senior Engineer at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading automation solutions provider offering industrial automation, strategic manufacturing, and enterprise integration services for the process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, business process optimization and more.

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