Microsoft WindowsMicrosoft Windows is a name which refers to a series of OSes from Microsoft. Early versions were strictly targeted at low-end home computers, while more recent versions have begun tackling the server market. The Windows family of products is the most commonly used operating system on the planet today. While there are many obvious benefits to this, due to it's reptutation for instability and insecurity, many regard this as something of a curse (although realistically the vast majority of computer users neither know nor care about alternatives, and it is questionable whether the alternatives would fare much better with truly widespread deployment). Early versions were based on DOS underpinnings, although the most recent versions no longer contain any legacy code. The following list roughly outlines the evolution of the operating system from it's earliest, relatively unused versions through the current server-oriented releases:
- Win1.x, 2.x: 8- and 16-bit versions which require a DOS compatible with MS-DOS/PC-DOS 3.3 or later (including FreeDOS).
- Win3.x, Win for Workgroups 3.x: A 16-bit version which requires MS-DOS/PC-DOS 5.x/6.x or compatible.
- Win95 (4.0): A stand-alone 32-bit system with some 16-bit subsystems largely based on MS-DOS 7.0.
- WinNT 3.1: A fully 32-bit workstation and server OS loosely based on IBM's OS/2. Ported to Alpha, MIPS and PowerPC.
- Win98/98SE (4.1): A fully 32-bit system which still contains elements of MS-DOS 7.1.
- WinNT 4.0: An update to WinNT 3.1 which is best-known for introducing the Win95 GUI to Windows NT. The OS itself did not change much, although a large number of supporting services were bundled with this release such as a web server (IIS) and a component runtime environment (MTS). This version only supported the Intel and Alpha platforms.
- WinCE: A drastically cut-down 32-bit OS targeted for PDAs and handheld PCs. The API is similar to the Win32 API in WinNT, but virtually all of the code is new.
- WinME (4.5): A fully-32 bit system, the first consumer-oriented release of Windows which no longer "wraps" a stand-alone version of MS-DOS. It is no longer possible to run the application using a pure CLI mode.
- Win2000: A significant revision to Windows NT, often referred to in it's early days as NT5. Win2K enjoys probably the best reputation for reliability of any Windows OS, although several major service packs were required to achieve this. There are several variants of Win2K each containing slight optimizations for various enviornments.
- Win for PocketPC: A new GUI and additional system services built on top of WinCE for the PocketPC platform, which is a loose hardware specification from Microsoft that generally exceeds WinCE and low-end PDA specifications (and greatly exceeds the price).
- WinXP: A 32-bit consumer-oriented version of Windows very loosely based on a combination of WinME and Win2K. It is not NT 5.1 as it has been commonly called, and it introduces a number of significant advances over Win2K. Unfortunately important parts of the kernel were altered to run in user mode for performance reasons, resulting in reduced stability as compared to Win2K.
- Win2003: A 32-bit and 64-bit server OS upgrade to Win2K. This is the first Microsoft OS to natively ship full support for the .NET system (it was formerly referred to as Windows.NET). Like Win2K it is available in a number of variations targeted to specific environments. This is the first OS for which Microsoft hopes to provide a reasonably secure "out of the box" experience for users and admins. The 64-bit version runs on Intel Itanium CPUs and is promised for AMD Opteron CPUs.
The primary interface for all recent releases of the OS is a GUI which is similar to virtually every GUI in use today. The OS provides excellent "out of the box" support for a staggering variety of hardware.
Most versions of Windows have an unfortunate (though probably not undeserved) reputation for being insecure and buggy. Part of this is based in simple fact, while parts can be attributed to a side-effect of the popularity of the OS. If more people run it, and more applications are written for it, then failures are more likely to appear, and more people will expend effort to attack it. Recent releases show significantly better stability, although Microsoft's true commitment to security is still questionable at best.