It is interesting to browse old computer magazines to see how things were back then. Reviewing some numbers of the specialized magazine Byte, a reference in the decades of the 80s and 90s, I find that in their Reader’s Choice Awards, some prizes where their readers voted, the software of the year 1993 was Windows 3.1.

Even if the beginnings of Windows they were not very favorable, in the history the memory of Windows 3.1 remains as the version that put Microsoft in the first place. Had already achieved success with MS-DOS, but Windows was a great milestone in a domestic market in which it also had its share IBM OS / 2. Interestingly, also created by Microsoft.

But 1993 had more good news for Microsoft. The launch of a new version of Windows. A Windows identical to Windows 3.1 that existed since spring 1992 but was aimed at the professional sector. However, the birth of Windows NT, which is what this younger brother was called, dates back to 1988. In that year, Microsoft offered Windows 2.0, 16 bit. An improved version of its first graphics operating system that was not yet successful.

Also, initially Windows NT it was not to be the sole property of Microsoft. The idea was that it was a OS / 2 upgrade, the graphical operating system created by IBM and Microsoft. Let’s see what is the history of its origins.

Microsoft and operating systems

Lets start by the beginning. Microsoft is founded in 1975. Not in a garage, as Silicon Valley legends say, but in a small office in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Its founders are Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Among their first achievements, they will adapt BASIC Altair, Apple, Commodore and IBM computers.

But let’s focus on what concerns us, the operating systems. Interestingly, Microsoft’s first operating system is Xenix, a variant of UNIX that will be purchased by the telecommunications giant AT&T. But success in this market will come with TWO, a clone of CP / M it will become a standard in the personal computer industry, partly dominated by IBM. The merit is not from Microsoft itself, since DOS, originally called 86-DOSIt was purchased from another company for $ 100,000 at the time. In 1983, Microsoft had already earned $ 55 million.

And now let’s talk about Windows. In 1985 it is presented Windows 1.0, a graphical interface that works on MS-DOS. In parallel, Microsoft continues in its good relationship with IBM developing another graphic operating system, OS / 2. First it will be in text mode (1987) but soon it will adapt to graphic mode (1988), a trend from then on. And although OS / 2 has its technical peculiarities, the interface is practically identical to that of Windows.

As well. If in 1975 Microsoft was a small software company, by 1986 they moved to their new offices in Redmond, Washington. And by 1987, it will already be considered the largest producer of software for personal computers, either with its own creations or based on purchases.

And in 1988, being the first in the domestic sector, Microsoft decides that it is high time make the leap to the professional sector.

Dave Cutler has an order

I said in the previous section that the first Microsoft operating system is officially Xenix. It was a variant of UNIX, the father of modern operating systems. But Microsoft will dissociate itself from that project with its prompt sale. However, UNIX will still be on the mind of Bill gates during years.

Moreover, as an anecdote, in the Unix Expo October 1996, Bill Gates gave a talk in which he recalled Xenix And he said, verbatim: “Going back in time, Microsoft was the first to go to AT&T and beg for a good high-volume business license for Unix. And for many, many years we were the highest volume licensee“Not only for our own Xenix products, but also for Siemens with theirs, Santa Cruz with theirs, and dozens and dozens of sub-licensees.”

The thing is, while personal computers were running DOS, OS / 2 or Windows, her older sisters they used UNIX and direct derivatives. A huge and very appetizing market for anyone. Hence, Bill Gates decided to bet on an operating system compatible with processors. RISC and have the best of UNIX.

Dave Cutler is still working at Microsoft on projects like Azure or Xbox. Source: Wikipedia

He did not undertake this ambitious task. The work went to Dave Cutler, who left his then job at Digital Equipment Corporation and that in his extensive curriculum he had the honor of having created operating systems like RSX-11 (1972) for PDP-11 computers, and systems VMS (1977) and VAXELN (1980) for VAX computers.

So Cutler comes to Microsoft with some members of his previous team and starts working on Windows NT in November 1988. Initially, although the purpose of this operating system was ambitious, the idea was that it was an update of OS / 2.

Yes, it should meet unusual requirements at the time, at least in the market in which Microsoft was moving at the time: support for various architectures, multithreading, network support, compatibility with POSIX and security standards of the time and multi-user support. Obviously, IBM did not dislike the idea to scratch part of the professional market to which this new operating system was directed.

For 1989, this first version of Windows NT, called NT OS / 2, already worked correctly on x86 architectures. And by 1990, it was made to work on MIPS processors as well. That same year, a Windows API 32-bit, an improvement on what was then Windows (Windows 3.0 was 16-bit), thus changing the purpose of being an improvement of OS / 2 to become a renewed version of Windows.

This turn will be completely unknown, both by the public and by IBM itself, which will find out in 1991. By then, will cancel its agreement with Microsoft to develop OS / 2 between both companies. Hence OS / 2 2.0 Hereinafter they are exclusively developed by IBM. It should be remembered that although Microsoft and IBM had this great agreement, by 1990 in the domestic market they were rivals with Windows and OS / 2 competing face to face.

Introducing Windows NT

We all remember some of Microsoft’s disastrous presentations, like that of Windows 98 in which Bill Gates himself could not help but smile at a blue screen that all those attending the act saw.

But in the case of Windows NT, everything went well from the presentations, and that is that Dave Cutler’s team did a great job. For starters, in October 1991 it was presented to the public in COMDEX, where there was much expectation for the cancellation of that same presentation the previous year. In addition, Microsoft was right to offer developers a 32-bit development kit.

And in 1992, Windows 3.1 it incorporates that compatibility in part. We would have to wait for Windows 95 for full support, but that door was already open. That same year, Microsoft will again introduce Windows NT, virtually finished, for the public to see its compatibility with x86 and MIPS architectures. They also offered a Beta version and a new development kit, something that they will repeat again at COMDEX that same year.

The legacy of Windows NT

Windows NT 3.1 It goes on sale in the summer of 1993. As I said at the beginning of this article, by then Windows in its domestic version is a complete success. In a television program of the time, The Computer Chronicles, we are presented with Windows NT along with Windows 3.11. In appearance, identical. But as the guest, Mike Nash of Microsoft, remarks, the differences are notorious: a file manager much more comfortable, permissions and users to limit access to folders and files, multitask, control of available resources, etc.

Bill Gates in Times Square presenting Windows XP. Source: IDG

Windows NT 3.1 It came in two flavors, Workstation and Advanced Server. It was compatible with Intel x86 and RISC processors, could run 32-bit applications, and could support up to 2 CPUs and 64 MB of RAM. In addition, it incorporated its own file system, NTFS, in addition to supporting HPFS and FAT-16 file systems. And among its own applications, user management, file permissions, disk manager or event viewer stood out.

In short, Microsoft offered the professional public a professional Windows, with its home interface but with office and server tools. He even had his own version of SQL Server.

From the perspective of the years, Windows NT is the best thing that could have happened to Microsoft. Hence, in 2001, it decided to unify the two branches of Windows, the domestic and the professional, in Windows Xp. From there on. Thanks to NT we also have the file system NTFS and with the possibility of creating several users for the same team. Obviously, nothing new in computing back then for those who knew UNIX but did for the domestic sector, which benefited from these developments.


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