Did you know that Windows has been around since 1985? Like Tommy Hilfiger, Discovery Channel, and Super Mario Bros (all introduced the same year), Windows would become a household name. As part of our “The Story of Windows” series, Amy Stevenson, the Microsoft Archivist, will walk us through her favorite versions of Windows in a series of articles. This is the first one.

Interface Manager: The Start of Windows

Code-named Interface Manager, the Windows project started in 1982 during the early days of Graphical User interface. Here is an excerpt from an early communications plan: “Interface Manager finally fulfills the promise of ease-of-use, software portability and an open applications environment with specs readily available/affordable so software is available and standardized across many computers.” In other words, software applications were hard to use because they all worked differently, and were expensive to create because they often had to be changed for different computers.

From the beginning, Interface Manager was meant to be the solution for the people using the software as well as the programmers creating the software.

Windows team standing on a staircase outside Microsoft office

<Windows team>: left to right (Top Row) Gordon Letwin, Mark Bebie, Irvin Shizgal, Marc MacDonald, Greg Post, Hans Spiller, David Basin, Bob Powell; (Middle Row) Aaron Reynolds, Eric Evans, Bob Scheulen, Ross Garmoe, Mike Householder, Anthony Short, Mark Nitzberg, Vic Heller; (Bottom Row) Henry Burgess, Nancy Cedar (Panners-Scheulen), Ellen Aycock-Wright, Paul Butzi, Andy Padawer, Barry Shaw, Alan Whitney. 

Naming Windows:

Although Interface Manager was considered as a final product name, thankfully a movement was afoot to strengthen the Microsoft brand through a simpler naming system intended for people to always use Microsoft with the product name. Other products were referred to as Microsoft Mouse and Microsoft Word. At the same time, one of the marketing ideas posed by Pam Edstrom, our PR head, was to page our new product at airports around the world. She tested “Mr. Interface Manager” at the San Jose airport and was told “that doesn’t sound like a person” and “we don’t do products.” This influenced her vote during the final decision, hence Microsoft Windows.

Windows was officially announced and demonstrated at Fall Comdex in 1983. A press kit sent to journalists included a small brass window squeegee, headlined “For a clear view on what’s new in microcomputer software…”

Old computer screen with MS-DOS

Vaporware: When Would Windows Arrive?

While some were skeptical about this new Windows thing, the industry was still very interested to see the product hit the market. They waited and waited for two full years. The term “vaporware” had just recently been published in a headline by Esther Dyson, an industry pundit, referring to announced products that never saw the light of day. It was commonly applied to Windows.

So why did it take so long to ship? Rao Remala, a graphics programmer on the projects, gave some great insights in the 25th anniversary book “Inside Out”. Here are some excerpts:

“When we started thinking about the graphical user interface, there wasn’t any kind of plan for how to implement such a thing—we had a few memos from Bill and others that gave us a rough outline of what Windows should be, but beyond that we were on our own.”

“We had all these great ideas about how to implement a GUI, but how were we going to make them work on a dual-floppy 8086 PC with 640K—which is what most people had in those days—and still have enough memory left over to run applications?”

“A lot of the things we take for granted today, such as where the menus and icons are on the screen, weren’t standardized back then, so we also had to do a lot of usability testing to see what worked and what didn’t.”

Another factor was that an early decision, reportedly made by a development manager who ended up leaving the company months before Windows shipped, had been to create tiled rather than overlapping windows (like you see today). This was much more difficult to implement, according to Rao.

Even though Windows was graphical and would work with a mouse, it also had to work with keyboard commands, as not many users had adopted the new mouse technology. Features were coded in an ideal way, but would need to be adjusted to use less memory. Building a product from scratch clearly took more time than expected.

Launch:

The Windows launch event, when it finally happened at Fall Comdex 1985, was promoted as a roast, hosted by industry luminary, John C. Dvorak. Speakers wore full tuxedos and made fun of Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and Microsoft. Steve donned a baseball cap and brandished a big window cleaner while declaring, “At Microsoft, we’re damned proud to have done Windows,” and Bill started his presentation with a couple of lines from the “The Impossible Dream” chorus sung as a duet with Steve.

Old Windows computer

Interestingly, the version of Windows that was actually launched was known as v 1.01, not 1.0. There is an edition known as the Premiere Edition, but that was released earlier to “key application vendors, analysts, and members of the press.” The splash screen shown in the first photo is from the Premiere edition.

Impact:

Windows ran more than one application at a time, copied from one application to another using a mouse or the keyboard, and managed this all visually on one screen. It even came with some built-in applications and tools some of us still use – Write, Paint, Calculator, Cardfile, Clock, Notepad and more. And it looked great in color:

Screenshot of old Windows

Despite the innovation, it wasn't very popular and very few developers wrote applications that worked with it.

I remember running Windows 1.0 in college. I had just bought my first used computer, a Leading Edge IBM clone, from my friend Bob. He’d also given me a copy of Windows. I loaded it up once, took a look around, and immediately went back to my familiar DOS commands.

In those days, color monitors were a huge luxury and I didn’t own a mouse. The product was not fast and I was taking quite a few programming classes at the time, so ease-of-use wasn’t a big appeal. I was probably fairly typical of the market at the time and the software publishers would have been even geekier and harder to sell. While every great thing has to start somewhere, it would be awhile before Windows would become that household name.

My next installment will be about Windows 3.0, the version that jumpstarted the Windows movement. In the meantime, if you want more, follow the links to see some footage of 1983 Windows, 1985 Windows on a monochrome monitor, and read a firsthand account of the birth of Windows.

References:

Fall Comdex 1983 Video Windows booth footage starts at 6:52.

Playing Reversi on Windows 1.01 Monochrome

The Secret Origin of Windows by Windows 1.0 Product Manager Tandy Trower