By Will Smith
It’s still hard for me to believe that Windows has been around for 20 years. I’m not going to pretend I was using Windows during its earliest years. I just didn’t see a need to burden my 286-powered “speed machine” with a clunky graphical shell that ran on top of DOS, which I was perfectly comfortable using.
Then I bought a new 386—a Wang, in fact—bundled with Windows 3.0. True, it was useless for playing games, it was slow, and it was an unbelievable memory hog, but I could run my spreadsheet and word processor at the same time. Wow.
My true gee-whiz, this-Windows-thing-might-work-out moment didn’t happen until I saw Photoshop 3.0 running on a Pentium-powered Windows 3.1 machine. Not only was I able to scan in photos, I could also manipulate them pixel by pixel. I spent the better part of that first afternoon with Windows 3.1 scanning blurry shots of license plates and trying to sharpen them enough to read the numbers.
The ability to manipulate photos is something we take for granted today; digital cameras are plentiful and cheap, image processing software is free, and even the slowest computer can handle photo editing with aplomb. In 1994, it took a state of the art rig—think Pentium 60 with 16MB of RAM—that cost more than $4,000, and a hyper-expensive piece of software to even rudimentarily edit photos.
When I upgraded to Windows 95—10 years ago to the day that I’m writing this—a whole new world opened up. To me, the biggest feature in Windows 95 wasn’t the new interface, but native support for TCP/IP. I kissed goodbye the cobbled-together collection of apps and drivers I needed to connect to the Internet in Windows 3.1, and embraced the dialer and WinSock built into Win95. Still, I was frustrated with Windows 95’s unstable nature, and the seemingly constant need to reboot the machine.
In 1996, I bought Windows NT 4 and fell in love. It had everything I was looking for: the built-in stability of a native 32-bit kernel, native support for Internet protocols, and the spiffy new Windows 95 interface. Sure, I had to boot to Windows 95 (and later 98) to play games, but once I used NT for the first time, I never went back to a DOS-based operating system again.
When you’re reading the “Happy Birthday, Windows” cover story on page 34, check out those screens of Windows 1.0 and 2.0, and just think about what your PC operating system is going to look like in another 20 years.