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Overview of Microsoft Windows

Windows series are operating systems (OS) developed by Microsoft Corp. Microsoft started developing Windows in 1980s. It was Apple Corp. that firstly developed graphic-based operating systems. Microsoft was not the first in that field. Microsoft decided to catch up. Microsoft developed its own graphic-based operating system Windows. From the very beginning to now, Windows has always been not so beautiful as Mac OS, but taking up less graphic resource. Now Apple's new Mac OS X is extremely decorated. Also, Windows XP is very beautiful. Microsoft is going after Apple with Windows XP. Today, the coming Windows Vista is even more decorated than Mac OS X, which puts a new burden on hardware.
Now let me talk about several popular Windows products. As of year 2000, there are mainly two lines of Windows today. One line is Windows 9x, whose versions were derived from Windows 3.x. They are 16-bit and 32-bit combined operating systems. Another line is the Windows NT series. They are 32-bit operating systems, which were derived from Microsoft OS 2. The famous architect of VMS, David Cutler, designed Windows NT. There are only a few differences of user interface between these two series of Windows, and their application binary interfaces are quite compatible. The major difference is their working mode. There are 16-bit drivers and applications in Windows 9x series. They work in the same space with 32-bit drivers and applications. This may be bad for the stability of the system: try running a 16-bit Windows program with a non-terminated loop, the computer will lose control. There, try running one in Windows NT. You will find that Windows NT doesn't stop responding. Also, MS-DOS programs running in Windows 9x are possible to cause the system stop responding due to memory access violation, but this doesn't happen under Windows NT. It is because in Windows NT, 16-bit applications are run on a Virtual Machine called NTVDM, that is, Windows NT Virtual DOS Machine. Another important difference is that basically the system kernel of Windows NT in memory cannot be modified by custom applications. But that of Windows 9x can be partly modified. So, Windows NT series are usually more stable than Windows 9x.
The versions of Windows 9x include: Windows 95 (Chicago), Windows 95 OSR2, Windows 95 OSR2 with Internet Explorer (Memphis, also called Windows 97), Windows 98, Windows 98 SE and Windows ME. Windows 95 supports long filenames, multi-tasking and 32-bit Windows applications. Windows 95 OSR2 supports FAT32. Windows 97 has an early version of Microsoft Internet Explorer---version 3.0. Windows 98 has Internet Explorer 4.0, and supports Active Desktop. Windows 98 SE has an early version of Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 and Windows Media Player 6.1. Windows ME has Internet Explorer version 5.5 and Windows Media Player 7.0 and 6.4, and it has System Restore and System File Protection features.
Windows NT 4.0 is a typical version of Windows NT. It features: Pure 32-bit operation (all 16-bit applications are run on Windows NT Virtual DOS Machine), NTFS 4.0 support (offering access control authorization and enhanced recoverability in the file system), computer policy assignment, and multiple user logging-on service. Windows NT 4.0 Server version has IIS and can be used as a web server OS. Windows 2000 supports FAT32, NTFS5, System File Protection and Active Desktop. They have different versions of Internet Explorer: NT4 with IE 3.0, 2000 with IE 5.0. Windows 2000 English version supports international languages. Today, there is a new operating system distributed by Microsoft. That is, Windows XP. Microsoft named it "new working eXPerience and eXPansion". Windows XP doesn't seem to be as beautiful as Macintosh OS X. It integrates Windows 2000 and Windows Me together, and it supports more graphic user interface enhancements. In my original thought, Windows XP was only a mixture of Windows 2000 and Windows Me with some minor upgrades. I don't appreciate it because of its low speed on many computers. However, I after using it for several months, I found that it is an upgrade for Windows 2000, because it implements better memory management, and optimizes start up time, which is important for desktop use.
Since Windows XP, Microsoft stopped the development of the Windows 9x series. Windows Server 2003 is an operating system after Windows XP, and while Windows XP was originally called Windows 2002, Windows Server 2003 was orignally called Windows XP Server. Windows Server 2003 is similar to Windows XP in the user interface (with the Themes service started), but it has changed a lot in the underneath. The changes was aimed at providing a higher performance, but they also brought some incompatibility with old programs. One example was: I used Windows Media Encoder 9 on Windows Server 2003 SP1, and found it stop responding without a clear reason. Now, in year 2006, Windows Vista is coming. I don't know which operating system is its code based. I hope that was Windows XP rather than Windows Server 2003. Windows Vista added 3D desktop---another beautiful but useless feature, and many security enhancements---to let non-professionals can have a secure environment, but not without price. The price is: there are more user confirmations.
Microsoft produced their versions of Windows year by year:
1995: Windows 95
1996: Windows NT 4.0
1997: Windows 97
1998: Windows 98
1999: Windows 2000 and Windows 98 SE
2000: Windows Me
2001: Windows XP
2003: Windows Server 2003
2006: Windows Vista (estimated)
See a brief history of Windows at For more information about Windows NT series, please visit Microsoft Corporate Website. You can look for technical information about Windows NT on Microsoft TechNet.
To go on with the trip of my Windows exploration, please go to the next stop (you can also find topic links at the top of each page):
Advantages and Disadvantages of Windows  >>
If you are new to Windows, you can go to the Beginners' Land first.
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