Windows 1.0

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Microsoft Windows 1.0
A release of the Microsoft Windows operating system
Windows logo and wordmark - 1985.svg
Screenshot of Microsoft Windows 1.01
Developer Microsoft
Source model Closed source
Released to
20 November 1985; 28 years ago (1985-11-20)
Latest release 1.04 / April 1987; 27 years ago (1987-04)[1]
License Commercial software
Succeeded by Windows 2.0 (1987)
Support status
Unsupported as of 31 December 2001[2]

Windows 1.0 is a graphical personal computer operating environment developed by Microsoft. First released on 20 November 1985 as the first version of the Microsoft Windows line, Windows 1.0 ran as a graphical, 16-bit multi-tasking shell on top of an existing MS-DOS installation, providing an environment which can run graphical programs designed for Windows, along with existing MS-DOS software. Development of the software was spearheaded by company founder Bill Gates after seeing a demo of a similar software suite known as Visi On at COMDEX.

Despite noticeably positive reception to its early presentations, and support from a number of hardware and software makers, Windows 1.0 received poor reception from critics, who believed that it did not meet their expectations. In particular, they felt that Windows 1.0 placed too much emphasis on mouse input at a time when the concept was not yet widespread, not providing enough resources for new users, and for suffering from performance issues—especially on systems with lower hardware specifications, or when multitasking. However, the future impact of Windows was underestimated by critics at the time; contemporary critics considered 1.0 to, despite its deficiencies, be an important milestone for Microsoft and its future products. Windows 1.0 was officially declared obsolete and unsupported by Microsoft on 31 December 2001.


Microsoft Windows 1.0 brochure, printed in January 1986

The development of Windows was spearheaded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, after seeing a demonstration at COMDEX 1982 of Visi On, a graphical user interface software suite for IBM PC compatibles.[3]

Microsoft first presented Windows to the public on 10 November 1983.[4] Requiring two floppy disk drives and 192 KB of RAM, Microsoft described the software as a device driver for MS-DOS 2.0. By supporting cooperative multitasking in tiled windows when using well-behaved applications that only used DOS system calls, and permitting non well-behaved applications to run in a full screen, Windows differed from both VisiCorp's Visi On and Apple Computer's Lisa by immediately offering many applications. Unlike Visi On, Windows developers did not need to use Unix to develop IBM PC applications; Microsoft planned to encourage other companies, including competitors, to develop for Windows by not requiring a Microsoft user interface in their applications.[5] Many manufacturers of MS-DOS computers such as Compaq, Zenith, and DEC promised support, as did software companies such as Ashton-Tate and Lotus.[4] After previewing Windows, BYTE stated in December 1983 that it "seems to offer remarkable openness, reconfigurability, and transportability as well as modest hardware requirements and pricing ... Barring a surprise product introduction from another company, Microsoft Windows will be the first large-scale test of the desktop metaphor in the hands of its intended users".[5]

IBM was notably absent from Microsoft's announcement,[4] and by late 1984 the press reported a "war of the windows" between Windows, IBM's TopView, and Digital Research's GEM.[6] Microsoft meanwhile had promised in November 1983 to ship Windows by April 1984,[4] but now denied that it had announced a release date, and predicted that Windows would ship by June 1985. Deemphasizing multitasking, the company stated that Windows' purpose, unlike that of TopView, was to "turn the computer into a graphics-rich environment" while using less memory.[6] Windows 1.0 was officially released on 20 November 1985.[7]

Version 1.02, released in May 1986, was an international release. Version 1.03, released in August 1986 included enhancements that made it consistent with the international release. It included drivers for European keyboards and additional screen and printer drivers. Version 1.04, released in April 1987, added support for the new IBM PS/2 computers, although no support for PS/2 mice or new VGA graphics modes was provided.[8] At the same time, Microsoft and IBM announced the introduction of OS/2 and its graphical OS/2 Presentation Manager, which were supposed to ultimately replace both MS-DOS and Windows.[9]

In November 1987, Windows 1.0 was succeeded by Windows 2.0. Microsoft supported Windows 1.0 for 16 years, until 31 December 2001 - the longest out of all versions of Windows.[2]


Windows 1.0 offers limited multitasking of existing MS-DOS programs and concentrates on creating an interaction paradigm (cf. message loop), an execution model and a stable API for native programs for the future. Due to Microsoft's extensive support for backward compatibility, it is not only possible to execute Windows 1.0 binary programs on current versions of Windows to a large extent, but also to recompile their source code into an equally functional "modern" application with just limited modifications.[10]

Windows 1.0 is often regarded as a "front-end to the MS-DOS operating system", a description which has also been applied to subsequent versions of Windows. Windows 1.0 is an MS-DOS program. Windows 1.0 programs can call MS-DOS functions, and GUI programs are run from .exe files just like MS-DOS programs. However, Windows .exe files had their own "new executable" (NE) file format, which only Windows could process and which, for example, allowed demand-loading of code and data. Applications were supposed to handle memory only through Windows' own memory management system, which implemented a software-based virtual memory scheme allowing for applications larger than available RAM.[11]

Because graphics support in MS-DOS is extremely limited, MS-DOS applications have to go to the bare hardware (or sometimes just to the BIOS) to get work done. Therefore, Windows 1.0 included original device drivers for video cards, a mouse, keyboards, printers and serial communications, and applications were supposed to only invoke APIs built upon these drivers. However, this extended to other APIs such as file system management functions. In this sense, Windows 1.0 was designed to be extended into a full-fledged operating system, rather than being just a graphics environment used by applications. Indeed, Windows 1.0 is a "DOS front-end" and cannot operate without a DOS environment (it uses, for example, the file-handling functions provided by DOS.) The level of replacement increases in subsequent versions.[11]

The system requirements for Windows 1.01 constituted CGA/HGC/EGA (listed as "Monochrome or color monitor"), MS-DOS 2.0, 256 kB of memory or greater, and two double-sided disk drives or a hard drive.[12] Beginning with version 1.03, support for Tandy and AT&T graphics modes were added.

MS-DOS Executive file manager.

Windows 1.0 runs a shell program known as the MS-DOS Executive, which is little more than a mouse-able output of the DIR command that does not support icons and is not Y2K-compliant. Other supplied programs are Calculator, Calendar, Clipboard viewer, Clock, Notepad, Paint, Reversi, Cardfile, Terminal and Write.[13][14][15]

Windows 1.0 does not allow overlapping windows. Instead all windows are tiled. Only dialog boxes can appear over other windows.[13]

Windows 1.0 executables, while having a similar .exe extension and initial file header similar to MS-DOS programs, do not contain the code that prints the "This program requires Microsoft Windows" message and exits when the program is run outside of Windows. Instead, the exe file header has a newer C programming model specifying more memory and makes DOS reject the executable with a "program too large to fit in memory" error message.[16]


Windows 1.0 was released to mixed reviews. Most critics considered the platform to have future potential, but that Windows 1.0 had not fulfilled expectations. Many reviews criticized its demanding system requirements, especially noting the poor performance experienced when running multiple applications at once, and that Windows encouraged the use of a mouse for navigation, a relatively new concept at the time.[3] The New York Times compared the performance of Windows on a system with 512 KB of RAM to "pouring molasses in the Arctic", and that its design was inflexible for keyboard users due to its dependency on a mouse-oriented interface. In conclusion, the Times felt that the poor performance, lack of dedicated software, uncertain compatibility with DOS programs, and the lack of tutorials for new users made DOS-based software such as Borland Sidekick (which could provide a similar assortment of accessories and multitasking functionality) more desirable for most PC users.[17]

In retrospect, Windows 1.0 was regarded as a flop by contemporary technology publications, who, however, still acknowledged its overall importance to the history of the Windows line.[18][3] Nathaniel Borenstein (who went on to develop the MIME standards) and his IT team at Carnegie Mellon University were also critical of Windows when it was first presented to them by a group of Microsoft representatives. Underestimating the future impact of the platform, he believed that in comparison to an in-house window manager, "these guys came in with this pathetic and naïve system. We just knew they were never going to accomplish anything."[7] The Verge considered the poor reception towards the release of Windows 8 in 2012 as a parallel to Microsoft's struggles with early versions of Windows. In a similar fashion to Windows 1.0 running atop MS-DOS as a layer, Windows 8 offered a new type of interface and software geared towards an emerging form of human interface device on PCs, in this case, a touchscreen (software which, coincidentally, also could not run in overlapping windows, and only "snapped" to the side of the screen), running atop the legacy Windows shell used by previous versions.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b "Obsolete Products". Microsoft Support. Microsoft Corporation. 25 July 2011. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Revisiting Windows 1.0: how Microsoft’s first desktop gracefully failed". The Verge. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d Markoff, John (21 November 1983). "Microsoft Does Windows". InfoWorld (Menlo Park, CA: Popular Computing) 5 (47): pp. 32–36. ISSN 0199-6649.  "On November 10, in New York, Microsoft announced Windows… Microsoft says it will ship Windows to dealers in April (although a product like Windows is difficult to predict and may take longer), priced between $100 and $250,
  5. ^ a b Lemmons, Phil (December 1983). "Microsoft Windows". BYTE. p. 48. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Rosch, Winn L. (1984-12-25). "The Curtain Rises On The War of the Windows". PC Magazine. p. 33. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  7. ^ a b "Windows 1.0 turning 25: First experiences recalled". NetworkWorld. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  8. ^ Winhistory, "Windows 1",
  9. ^ "A history of Windows". Microsoft. 2012. Retrieved 19 April 2012. "On November 20, 1985, two years after the initial announcement, Microsoft ships Windows 1.0." 
  10. ^ Nathan Lineback (October 2007). "Misc. Windows Screen Shots". Graphical User Interface Gallery. Retrieved 4 September 2009. 
  11. ^ a b Slideshare, "Windows 1.0",, 2009
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b Toasty Tech, Microsoft Windows Version 1.x,
  14. ^ Toasty Tech, Microsoft Windows Version 1.x,
  15. ^ Toasty Tech, Microsoft Windows Version 1.x,
  16. ^
  17. ^ "PERSONAL COMPUTERS; WINDOWS ARE OPEN AT LAST". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  18. ^ "Windows 1.0: The flop that created an empire". CNET. Retrieved 18 March 2014. 

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