The 50 Best (and Worst) Moments in Windows History

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In just a few days, Microsoft at long last will officially release Windows 7 to an eager public ready to put the Vista saga behind them. It's a been a long wait, particularly for those who opted to stick with XP until something better came along, but no matter how you feel about Vista, it's been an even longer ride getting to this point.

With the release of Windows 1.0 way back in 1987, Microsoft set in motion a series of events that would ultimately change the way the entire world uses their computers. It's pretty amazing when you stop and think about just how many businesses around the globe rely on Windows.

Of course, Windows' storied history isn't without its many bumps and bruises along the way, from record setting fines for anti-competitive practices to controversies surrounding Microsoft's WGA scheme. As Microsoft gears up to release its greatest OS to date, we celebrate the occasion by taking a trip down memory lane to where it all began, and how we got to this point. We cover the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

So sit back, hit the jump, and enjoy the ride!

It All Begins with Windows 1.0

Circa 1985

Image Credit: emsps.com

What would eventually become the most dominant OS on the planet was born out of a project started in 1981 called "Interface Manager." This would later be renamed to Windows and Microsoft would introduce Windows 1.01 to the public in November 1985.

Essentially a shell designed to run on top of MS-DOS 5.0, the Windows GUI traded in a command prompt for point-and-click computing via the now ubiquitous computer mouse. The 16-bit OS retailed for $99, which at the time was enough to buy nearly 91 gallons of unleaded gas or watch Back to the Future in the movie theater 36 times. It was only available on floppy disks and took up about 1MB of hard drive space, but would later consume around 2.2MB in version 1.03 (released in 1986).

Because Apple owned the right to have overlapping windows in the GUI, Windows 1.0 was limited to using tiled windows, though an exception was made for dialog boxes only.

Fun Fact: Steve Ballmer appeared in a short ad energetically promoting the OS well before Billy Mays became a household name. You can view the grainy YouTube video (and have a good laugh) here .

Windows 2.0

Circa 1987

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Two years after the release of Windows 1.01, Microsoft would follow suit with version 2.0. Unlike the original release, this new version supported overlapping windows. It also greatly enhanced the UI with the addition of icons, better graphics, a control screen layout, and keyboard shortcuts. On the performance side, Windows 2.0 supported expanded memory. Later on, version 2.03 would take advantage of the protected mode and extended memory capabilities of Intel's 386 architecture.

Whereas Windows 1.0 never saw any significant sales numbers, version 2.x would be a much bigger hit. It also more closely resembled the Apple's Macintosh platform, so much so that Apple in 1988 would file a suit against Microsoft for allegedly infringing 189 of Apple's copyrights on "visual displays."

Late 1980s Tech Boom: Several tech companies were founded in the late 1980s, including VIA, Apogee, and ECS in 1987, Promise, Trend Micro, and Xircom in 1988, and EPoX, Abit, Asus, the PCMCIA trade association, Citrix, and S3 in 1989.

Microsoft Announces its First Ever Windows Application (Excel)

Circa 1987

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In 1985, Microsoft released it's first version of Excel for the Macintosh platform. Two years later, Microsoft would port the spreadsheet software over to its own operating system, making it the first app for Windows ever developed by Microsoft. It was labeled version 2.05 to coincide with its Mac counterpart.

Meanwhile, Lotus Software (now owned by IBM) was busy marketing Lotus 1-2-3, a popular spreadsheet program that helped drive PC sales in the business sector. Lotus Software may have underestimated the Windows platform, and because it was late in bringing a version of Lotus 1-2-3 over to Windows in 1987, Excel was able to capitalize on its advantage and had leapfrogged Lotus in sales by 1988.

Now a part of Microsoft Office, Excel is the most used spreadsheet program on the planet.

Microsoft Surpasses Lotus as No. 1 Software Vendor

Circa 1988

The rapid success of Excel, as noted above, combined with the growing audience of Windows users propelled Microsoft past Lotus Software as the No. 1 software vendor in the world. By the end of the year, Microsoft's revenue had reached $590.8 million, up from $345.9 million a year prior, and its worker-base 2,793 employees strong, up from 1,815 employees in 1987..

Windows 3.0

Circa 1990

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The third major release of Windows represented a major overhaul of the base OS and a recognition by Microsoft that the whole GUI thing had a major future. Not that this was ever in doubt, considering Microsoft managed to sell around 10 million copies before the release of 3.1. Microsoft attributes part of the success to a "new wave of 386 PCs," and it certainly didn't hurt that some PC manufacturers for the first time had begun pre-installing Windows on PCs rather than including the disks with a computer purchase.

Other keys to version 3.0's success were the ability to address memory beyond 640K and the release of a new Windows software development kit (SDK). For the most part, the widespread hardware and developer support enjoyed on the Windows platform can be traced back to this release.

In October 1991, Microsoft would release Windows 3.0a with Multimedia Extensions designed to support CD- ROM drives and soundcards.

Did You Know?: Windows 3.0 would be the last version of Windows to advertise 100 percent compatibility with previous versions.

Microsoft Shifts from OS/2 to Windows NT

Circa 1991

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Following the success of Windows 3.0, Microsoft saw the writing on the wall and knew it had a future in designing and selling its own OS. in 1991, Microsoft severed its collaborative relationship with IBM and announced it had decided to discontinue development of the OS/2 operating system.

While IBM went on to release OS/2 Version 2, Microsoft took some of the code base and used it to develop Windows NT. Some saw the move as Microsoft's way of "exerting its muscle as the dominant player in deciding the future of the microcomputer market," the first time Microsoft had been in such a position. The move also drew the attention of investors. Following Microsoft's announcement, shares of the company soared $5 to close at $71 for the day.

The divorce was a bitter one for both sides. IBM, perhaps scorned over Microsoft's departure, would tell anyone that would listen that OS/2 was more stable than Windows. In response, Steve Ballmer showed several ways of how it was possible to crash a PC running OS/2.

Windows 3.1

Image Credit: businessweek.com

Circa 1992

Continuing the success of version 3.0, Windows 3.1 sold over 3 million copies during its first two months on the market, which includes upgrades from 3.0. Some key features include True Type font support, built-in audio device drivers, and color screen savers.

By most accounts, Windows 3.1 is when the OS really began to spread its wings over the marketplace. With thousands of applications being written for it, this marked the first time that there were more Windows apps being developed than there were for DOS.

Fun Fact: The time waster known as Minesweeper replaced Reversi in Windows 3.1 and has been bundled with just about every Windows OS ever since.

First TV Ads for Windows Appear

Circa 1992

In recent times, we've seen Microsoft fire back at Apple with its Laptop Hunter ads, Jerry Seinfeld as an OS pitchman, and more recently, pink unicorns and happy words. All of these are the result of a 17- year evolution that began in 1992 when Microsoft first tapped into televisions to promote Windows. The ads, which were developed by the Oglivy & Mather Agency in Los Angeles, ran on network and cable programs and sought to show how easy computing could be on the Windows platform.

Judge Dismisses Apple v Microsoft Lawsuit

Circa 1993

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Apple thought its suit against Microsoft for infringing upon the look and feel of the Mac OS was a slam dunk case, but Apple was wrong. First filed in 1988, the suit dragged on for five years until a U.S. court finally dismissed the lawsuit in August 1993.

In a nutshell, Apple accused both Microsoft and Hewlett- Packard of copying the look and feel of Apple's Lisa and Macintosh operating systems. The suit was largely in response to Microsoft adding overlapping windows in Windows 2.0. The trial never made it to jury, and though Apple would appeal the case to the Supreme Court, Apple's appeal would be denied.

Windows Becomes Most Popular GUI OS with 25 Million Licensed Users

Circa 1993

In April of 1993, Microsoft announced that there were over 25 million licensed Windows users, more than other operating system with a graphical interface.

Windows NT 3.1

Circa 1993

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Despite the same number scheme, same release year, and a similar interface to Windows 3.1, the NT version was based on an entirely new operating system kernel. Or as Bill Gates put it: "Windows NT represents nothing less than a fundamental change in the way that companies can address business computing requirements."

The NT (New Technology) version was aimed at enterprise users and was the first Windows OS to combine support for high-end client and server business applications with popular productivity apps. Available in both desktop and server form, power users and developers alike enjoyed greater stability and security with the 32-bit OS.

Fortune Magazine Names Microsoft "Most Innovative Company Operating the U.S."

Circa 1993

Microsoft could do no wrong in 1993. The company was cleared of any wrongdoing against Apple, more people were using Windows than any other graphical operating system in the world, and Windows NT 3.1 was finally released. The company's success didn't go unnoticed, nor was the perception of Microsoft as divided as it is today. As a result, Fortune Magazine voted Microsoft "1993 Most Innovative Company Operating in the U.S."

Public Perception: Microsoft would continue to win favor from the public, and in a 1997 poll carried out by Hart and Teeter, Microsoft was voted as the "most admired" company in one of the "most admired" industries.

Windows 95

Circa 1995

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An evolutionary leap over previous versions, Windows 95 (or 4.0 as it was referred to during development) featured a completely revamped GUI with a focus on ease-of-use to attract home users. Windows 95 was also a complete OS rather than a shell for MS-DOS, though some take exception to this 'fact' since DOS could still be loaded

If you ask Microsoft, they'll tell you that Win95 was the successor to the company's three existing general-purpose desktop OSes: Windows 3.1, Windows Workgroups, and MS-DOS. And that's true, as Win95 brought together the best of all worlds while adding several new bullet points. A handful of key features include an integrated 32-bit TCP/IP stack for built-in Internet support, new Plug and Play capabilities, a right-button context menu, support for 32-bit apps, preemptive multitasking, and much more.

For many, this would be the first viable version of Windows to fully replace MS- DOS.

Internet Explorer

Circa: 1995

You know Microsoft’s browser as Internet Explorer, or IE for short, but the full name is actually Windows Internet Explorer. IE first made it into the public’s hands in 1995, but not as a standalone download. Instead, Microsoft included it as part of the Plus! for Windows 95 add-on package.

Development had begun a year prior, which doesn’t seem like a long time for a new piece of software, but Microsoft had a substantial head start since it was basically just re-tweaking the source code for the Mosaic browser. In fact, the project’s team was less than 10 people strong at the time.

IE would be embroiled in controversy right from the get-go. By offering the browser for free to Windows, Microsoft did not have to pay royalties to Spyglass, makers of the Mosaic browser. This set in motion a lawsuit and eventually an out-of-court settlement for millions of dollars.

Later that same year, Internet Explorer 2.0 would become the first cross-platform browser, but it wasn’t until IE 4, released in 1997, that things really got interesting. Microsoft had entrenched the browser into Windows more than it had ever done before, and by installing IE4 and choosing Windows Desktop Update, Windows Explorer would be replaced by a version that more closely resembled the browser’s interface. This tight integration led to a series of civil lawsuits, which would be consolidated into a single case: United States v Microsoft.

Also tying into the lawsuit was Microsoft’s ability to catch up with the competing Netscape Navigator browser with the release of IE 3.0, and surpass it with version 4.0. Netscape would remain a competitor until its last release in 1998, but it simply could not compete with Microsoft’s ability to reach a wider audience by bundling IE with Windows.

By version 5.0, there were over 1,000 people churning out code for the browser, and with the release of IE 6, the browser’s market share exploded to just under 83 percent, thanks in large part to the demise of Netscape. With a stranglehold on the market, Microsoft may have grown content, as IE 7 wouldn’t make it to market for another 5 years, the longest gap between releases in the browser’s history.

In the meantime, alternative browsers had started to gain momentum, especially Mozilla’s Firefox. It, and others, had come out with features that IE 6 lacked, most notably tabbed browsing. Microsoft would address this with the release of IE 7 in 2006, and it would also completely revamp the interface. For the better or for worse depends on who you talk to, but IE 7 marked a clear departure in terms of the UI, and an awakening of a giant.

No longer content to rest on IE’s monumental market share success, Microsoft would once again become an active participant in the browser wars like it had been when Netscape was around. IE 8, released earlier this year, upped the ante with several new modern features, including a private browser mode, improved JavaScript performance, add-on support, and even much improved web standards compliance, albeit it still lacks the competition.

DirectX

Circa 1995

One of the best decisions Microsoft ever made with the Windows platform was to focus on gaming. This was a strong point of DOS, and if Windows was to succeed, it also needed a strong gaming foundation.

Towards that end, Microsoft would release its DirectX API in September 1995 as the Windows Games SDK. Developed mainly for Windows 95, it wasn’t originally part of the new (at the time) OS, but could be installed by games that used the bundled technologies.

Starting with DirectX 2.0, the API was, however, included with Windows 95 OEM Service Release 2, as well as subsequent versions of Windows. To push DirectX and game development for the Windows platform, Microsoft would aggressively promote the API to developers, and eventually win them over.

In 1997, Microsoft would release DirectX 5.0, which was actually the fourth version (DirectX 4.0 was never released). This would propel the API forward by laying the foundation for extending DirectX multimedia, Internet, and other performance applications. 3D audio was added, as was a simplified setup for end-users.

DirectX 6 would again kick things up a notch in a number of ways, including the addition of multiple texturing, which gave compatible videocards the ability to render multiple textures simultaneously onto a polygon in a single pass. And by now, Microsoft had an install base of 3D hardware accelerators exceeding 50 million PCs, making Windows a dominant gaming platform.

Many would consider DirectX 9 the last major, must-have release. The updated API emerged in 2002 and supported much longer shader programs than previous versions had, and this would continue through DirectX 9.0c with shader model 3.0 support. Then came a bit of a controversy.

From a technical standpoint, Microsoft probably could have released DirectX 10 for Windows XP, but instead the Redmond company decided to leverage the new API as a way to push Vista sales, and so DX 10 to this day requires Vista. This might have been okay, had Vista not been met with several early performance woes, and if DirectX 10 brought more to the table than a handful of games sporting slightly improved graphics. But even today, XP users have been content to miss out on the added visuals DX 10 brings to the table.

Microsoft Bob Fails to Make Windows More User-Friendly

Circa 1995

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Microsoft Bob, you won’t lose any geek cred points with us. That’s because the project was short lived and unceremoniously scrapped before it ever really took off.

So what was Microsoft Bob? Well, in 1995, Microsoft had the idea of replacing the desktop of Windows 3.1 and 95 with a noob-friendly interface that grandma would be more comfortable using. That may have sounded like a good idea on paper – enough for Microsoft to kick off a pretty ambitious advertising campaign – but the project ultimately fell flat on its face, much to the surprise of Microsoft.

Part of the problem can be traced to the steep system requirements. A 486 processor with 8MB of RAM, 30MB of disk space, and a 256-color VGA display sounds laughable today, but at the time, this was some pretty serious hardware out of reach by most of Microsoft Bob’s target audience.

Then there was the cost. At $100, it wasn’t cheap, and users with the compatible hardware had to ask themselves if they weren’t better off just investing in Windows 95 instead. Or a Mac.

In the end, Microsoft Bob was just too hokey, too demanding, and too expensive. Put it all together and you have the recipe for one of Microsoft’s bigger failures.

Microsoft Halts Sales of Chinese Language Windows 95 Because of Anti-Communist Slogans

Circa 1996

We're not entirely sure as to the validity of this one, but according to The Wall Street Journal , Microsoft came under fire in China when it was discovered that a Chinese language version of Windows 95 contained a pair of anti-Communist slogans. One of the phrases called out China's leaders as "Communists bandits," while another supposedly urged Taiwan's government to "take back the mainland."

As the report goes, Microsoft said the Windows 95 kits were written by contractors and not by Microsoft's own software writers.

MS Flight Simulator Makes Its Debut on the Windows Platform

Circa 1996

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The very first version of Microsoft Flight Simulator was released in 1982 in all of its monochrome glory. Fourteen years later, Microsoft would release its Flight Simulator for Windows 95 , the version ever designed to run on Windows. This was also the first time the simulation deviated from using the version number in the title (it would have been version 6.0).

Earlier in the year, Microsoft made it known that it was committed to pushing Windows-based PCs as a gaming platform, saying "Make no mistake, Microsoft isn't playing around when it comes to games." At the time, Microsoft was the sixth largest PC game publisher.

Several State Attorney Generals Try to Block Sales of Upcoming Windows 98

Circa 1998

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The imminent release of Windows 98 wasn't without considerable controversy. Several Attorney Generals argued that Microsoft engaged in anti-competitive practices in order to maintain its alleged Windows operating system monopoly, and as such, the group urged the Department of Justice to take action, or else they would proceed on their own.

The threat of a lawsuit wasn't well received by the public, who by a 5-to-1 margin, opposed the idea, according to a poll conducted by Peter D. Hart Research and Robert Teeter Research. The timing also came under suspicion, considering that at least two of the Attorney Generals were running for governor, and several others were up for reelection.

Nevertheless, the DoJ and 20 Attorney Generals filed an antitrust suit against Microsoft in a trial that began in October 1998. A year later, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued his initial findings that Microsoft did hold a monopoly and used it to harm consumers, rivals, and other companies.

Windows 98/98SE

Circa 1998

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Not quite the evolutionary leap that Windows 95 was to previous versions, Windows 98 was more of an update to 95, albeit a fairly significant one in many ways. Microsoft says Win 98 was the first version of Windows designed specifically for consumers, and towards that end, it brought with it more hardware support, a more attractive GUI, improved support for the still popular FAT32 file system, and much improved USB support over its predecessor.

Windows 98 would also begin to signal the death knell for Netscape. Internet Explorer came integrated with Windows 98, paving the way for a major market share advantage in the browser market, and we all know how that ended. Even today, Internet Explorer enjoys the lion's share of the browser market, although alternative browser are beginning to gain ground.

In 1999, Microsoft would release Windows 98 Second Edition, an incremental update to 98.

Windows Update Launches

Circa 1998

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Tied in with the release of Windows 98, Windows Update was launched with a link to the service included in the OS's Start Menu. Windows Update was primarily used to push additional content, such as desktop themes, driver updates, and optional software, although it would also be used to serve up several security updates.

Microsoft Decides to Drop NT Nomenclature

Circa 1998

After months of rumors, Microsoft confirmed the speculation that it had decided to drop the "NT" initials from future versions of Windows. This was purely a marketing move, and the software giant would continue to use the NT name scheme internally.

Some believed the real motivation for dropping NT was to divert attention away from missed release dates. There had been some hope that Windows 2000, which would have been NT 5.0, would ship in 1999.

"They're trying to cushion the blow a little bit in case the dates slip. But I think it would be better to wait till 2000 anyway because will be too busy with year 2000 issues to go crazy making the switch," said James Graham , a network architect at Atlanta-based BellSouth Business Systems.

Windows 2000

Circa 2000

Released in early 2000, Microsoft intended for Windows 2000 to replace Windows 95, 98, and NT Workstation 4.0 on all business desktops and laptops.

Windows 2000 would ship in four different versions, including Professional, Server, Advanced Server, and Datacenter Server. Later on, Microsoft would release two more 'Limited Edition' versions (Advanced Server and Datacenter Server) intended to run on 64-bit Intel Itanium processors.

While targeting different markets, each version shared several core attributes, including better networking and wireless products support, an improved Start menu, Internet Explorer 5.0 integration, and better security and hardware support.

Microsoft Criticizes Judge During Appeal

Circa 2000

Not at all happy with U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's order that Microsoft be split into two companies, the legal beagles from Redmond accused the judge of harboring a bias , saying: "By repeatedly commenting on the merits of the case in the press, the district judge has cast himself in the public's eye as a participant in the controversy, thereby compromising the appearance of impartiality." Oh snap!

The Cour of Appeal in Washington would agree in a unanimous decision and rule in Microsoft's favor, while adding some harsh criticisms of their own towards Judge Jackson, saying he engaged in "serious judicial misconduct."

Windows Millennium Edition (ME)

Circa 2000

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As the last OS to be built around the Windows 95 code base, Windows ME was targeted at home users, much to the chagrin of the very users it was intended for. Or not, depending on who you talk to. In reality, the truth lies somewhere in between - Windows ME wasn't the abomination many have made it out to be, though there's no denying the various problems and instability several users were reporting.

While most power users opted to skip WinME, the OS did introduce a few useful features, including System Restore, Windows Movie Maker, Universal Plug and Play, Image previews, and more.

End of an Era: Following Windows ME, Microsoft announced that all future versions of Windows would be based on the Windows NT and 2000 kernel.

Increased System Requirements for XP Beta Sparks Backlash

Circa 2001

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When the second beta version of Windows XP emerged, it was met with contempt from some users and analysts. The reason? Comparatively 'steep' system requirements calling for an Intel Pentium 300MHz processor and a whopping 128MB of RAM (oh, to be young again!).

By comparison, Windows Professional only required a 133MHz Pentium processor and half the amount of RAM. The higher hardware requirements were seen as a way to spur demand for new component purchases, which wasn't well received by those who didn't see a need for more powerful PCs at the time.

Windows XP

Circa 2001

For eight years, most would consider XP the greatest OS Microsoft ever made, and possibly the best OS ever (Linux and Mac OS X buffs undoubtedly have other favorites in mind). And it's still the only operating system to ever receive a perfect 10/Kick Ass verdict in Maximum PC ( November 2001 issue, page 41 ).

Built around Windows 2000's stable code base, XP also introduced a much more visually appealing GUI than any previous version of Windows. Improved game support, NTFS file system, a huge install base prompting widespread developer support, and light enough on resources to run on today's netbooks, it's easy to see why XP remains a fan favorite.

XP also shipped with a critical flaw that wouldn't be addressed until it's second Service Pack. Prior to SP2, XP's firewall came disabled by default, leaving new installations vulnerable to Internet-bound attackers always on the lookout for new victims.

Microsoft Ships First 64-Bit Windows Server for Itanium

Circa 2001

Image Credit: Intel

At about the same Windows XP made it to RTM (Release to Manufacturing), Microsoft launched its first ever 64-bit version of Windows for Intel's IA-64 platform. It shipped in Advanced Server Limited Edition form.

Perhaps slightly ahead of its time, many felt it was wiser to wait for Intel to release its McKinley platform before jumping on the 64-bit bandwagon. A lack of 64-bit applications also stunted initial adoption.

XP Media Center Edition

Circa 2002

First released in October 2002, the initial release could only be obtained by purchasing a PC with media center capabilities - the OS wasn't available as standalone software.

As Paul Thurott described it, XP MCE was essentially "Windows XP Professional Service Pack 1 with an additional application, Media Center, and related supporting services." It also required a powerful PC (for the time), most of which would retail for anywhere between $1,400 to $2,000.

Windows XP Tablet PC Edition

Circa 2002

Microsoft had been flirting with pen-based computing since 1992, starting with its prototype WinPad devices intended to run a special Windows 3.x version called Windows for Pen Computing . While that never took off, Microsoft hoped its Windows XP Tablet PC Edition would be met with considerable more fanfare.

Like XP Media Center Edition, the Tablet variety was based on Windows XP Professional with SP1, but with added features. This included support for the active digitizer adn stylus, instant display switching between normal and portrait modes, and a handful of Tablet PC-enabled apps.

AMD Founder Defends Microsoft in Court, Opposed Gimped Version of Windows

Circa 2002

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Still under fire for allegations of anti-competitive business practices, one proposed settlement suggested Microsoft should sell a stripped down version of Windows. AMD CEO Jerry Sanders appeared as Microsoft's first defense witness and testified that such harsh sanctions could end up setting the computer industry back by one or two years.

However, Sanders' testimony wasn't without controversy. During cross- examination, Sanders admitted that he hadn't studied the proposal, and an attorney for the state argued that Sanders was only testifying because Microsoft promised to support AMD's upcoming Hammer chip.

Microsoft Imposes DRM Scheme into WMP Security Update

Circa 2002

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What does a Windows Media Player security update and DRM have in common? They shouldn't have anything to do with each other, but in 2002, Microsoft riled its customers when the company decided to make the automatic installation of undisclosed future anti-piracy measures a prerequisite in order to receive a security update for WMP.

Users were understandably miffed, particularly since they had no idea exactly what they were agreeing to. And as Sony would later find out with the whole rootkit fiasco, that's a no-no.

European Union Slaps Microsoft with €497 Million Fine

Circa 2003

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In what ranked as the largest fine ever handed out by the European Union at the time, Microsoft in 2003 was ordered to pay 497 million Euros (roughly $794 million) for anti-competitive practices. Furthermore, Microsoft was ordered to sell a version of Windows with Window Media Player stripped out, as well as hand over the source code that would allow competing networking software to be fully compatible with Windows servers.

The issue began when, 10 years prior, Novell accused Microsoft of making server protocol information unavailable. Sun would later add to the controversy when it complained that its rival would not disclose technical interfaces to Windows NT. The EU eventually widened its investigation to also look at how Microsoft integrated streaming media technology into Windows, hence the ruling to strip out WMP.

Microsoft did all it could to get out of paying a record fine handed out by the European Union in 2004 as part of antitrust ruling, including appeal the decision. But in 2007, a European court rejected Microsoft's appeal.

It wasn't a total loss, however, as the court did reject the EU's decision to appoint a third party to monitor Microsoft's compliance, which was also to be paid by Microsoft.

Blaster Worms Continues to Chew Through Windows Machines

Circa 2003

Forgot about lions and tigers and bears, it's the Blaster worm that caused all kinds of havoc on Windows XP and 2000 machines, oh my! Of course, it didn't help that businesses and other customers didn't heed Microsoft's warning to patch up a known security hole in its Windows software by July 16th. This negligence -- by both experienced and inexperienced users -- made it that much easier for Blaster to, er, worm its way through computer systems, which spread using Remote Administration.

Ironically, the worm wasn't difficult to eradicate, but you first had to be aware it was even there. Symptoms weren't always the same, which gave Blaster time to do some damage before users even realized they were infected.

Go Directly to Jail: Jeffrey Lee Parson, an 18-year-old from Hopkins, Minnesota, found himself on the losing side of the law and sentenced to 18 months in prison for creating the B variant of the Blaster worm.

Microsoft Settles Antitrust Lawsuit over Netscape Dispute

Circa 2003

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We all know what would eventually become of Netscape, but before the browser would be buried six feet under, it looked as though it might thrive thanks a settlement between Microsoft and AOL Time Warner, which owned Netscape.

It all started when AOL Time Warner sued Microsoft in 2002, claiming the Redmond company had competed unfairly to paralyze the Netscape browser, which was once the most dominant browser in the world. Seeking to avoid litigation, Microsoft in 2003 agreed to pay $750 million to AOL Time Warner to settle the suit. In addition, the two sides said they would work together to make AOL and MSN instant messaging services work in tandem.

Patch Tuesday

Circa 2003

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Before there was Patch Tuesday, there was Patch Whenever. Then in 2003, Microsoft introduced Patch Tuesday as a way to cut back costs associated with patch deployment. Why Tuesday? Microsoft felt that Monday, being the first day of the week, typically has enough issues for business to deal with, so Redmond chose Tuesday since it was still early in the week.. And according to Microsoft, this would also give the IT department plenty of time to deal with any ensuing problems before the weekend rolled around.

Early Security Alerts to Bigger Clients Pisses Off the Little Guys

Circa 2004

Microsoft may have been well intentioned when it began giving its larger clients advance warning of security problems with its products, but that didn't come as any consolation to smaller businesses, who felt that they were being put at a disadvantage.

"This is safety-related defect information, and for it to be selectively given to some and not to others is a bad thing," complained John Pescatore, VP for Internet security at research firm Gartner.

Under the free program, Microsoft would give some customers three days' notice of how many security fixes it planned to release on Patch Tuesday, as well as alerting customers to which products were affected.

Windows XP Service Pack 2 Makes Security a Priority

Circa 2004

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In the summer of '04, Microsoft issued its second Service Pack for Windows XP, and in doing so, the company addressed a potentially major security threat. Prior to SP2, new installs of XP would leave the built-in firewall disabled by default. This created a security risk for anyone connected to the Internet and not behind a router with a built-in firewall, and such systems could possibly be inundated with Internet borne security threats within a matter of minutes.

SP2 changed this by enabling the integrated firewall by default. It also added WPA encryption, improved WiFi support, a pop-up blocker for IE6, and Bluetooth support. Out of the three Service Packs for XP, this one was undeniably the most critical.

Microsoft Distributes WGA as a "Critical Update"

Circa 2006

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In 2006, the free ride was over for those who pirated XP. Or at least those who wanted to keep their copy updated with the latest security patches. Starting in April 2006, Microsoft labeled its Windows Genuine Advantage scheme as a critical update, sparking an arms race between Microsoft's anti-piracy team and hackers looking to circumvent the DRM measure.

Systems that failed to pass WGA were greeted with an alert at startup and an all black background. in addition to prompting some users to go legit, this also made it possible for Microsoft to identify and file suit against several companies caught selling pirated copies of Windows, thanks to reports by users who thought they had purchased a legitimate copy.

Microsoft Gives Away Laptops Loaded with Vista to Bloggers

Circa 2007

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Who wouldn't want to wake up on Christmas to find out they've been given a Ferrari? Most people would be thrilled, but the problem occurs when it's an Acer Ferrari laptop loaded with Vista, the gift giver is Microsoft, and the lucky recipients are bloggers. Can we say conflict of interest?

The $2,300 laptops were sent out 30 days prior to Vista's release and the recipients were under no obligation to return the review units. Slashdot called the promotion a "bribe," and while not everyone agreed, at the very least the whole situation was suspect.

Windows Vista

Circa 2007

By the time Vista came out, it had been more than five years since Microsoft last released an OS. Was it worth the wait? Legions of XP fans would say 'no,' though Vista's sales numbers would suggest otherwise, even if Microsoft did artificially inflates the actual figures by counting Vista sales even when the end-user 'downgraded' to XP.

Like ME, part of Vista's problem really does come down to perception, a point Microsoft tried to punch into the public through its Mojave ad campaign. Early problems plagued the release -- not all of which were Microsoft's fault -- and following SP1, much of the performance bugs had been stomped out.

Capitalizing on Vista's poor perception, Apple would relentlessly attack the Windows platform with a series of ads starring Justin Long as the hip Mac guy and John Hodgman as the stereotypical geeky PC user. Microsoft would eventually attempt several advertising rebuttals, one of which included a short-lived Jerry Seinfeld ad campaign, but none could atone for Vista.

Microsoft Denies Vista Loads Slower than XP, Blames Users

Circa 2007

Vista's performance woes have been well documented, and it's one reason why so many XP users have been loathe to upgrade. But when reports began to surface that the much hyped OS took longer than its predecessor to boot, shutdown, and load application, Microsoft quickly went into denial.

Not only did Microsoft refute the reports based on its own internal testing, but it claimed users should be taking advantage of sleep mode so that "they can achieve two-to-three second resume times."

Vista Capable Lawsuit

Circa 2007

You've probably heard of the Vista Capable Lawsuit, which started with two angry consumers filing suit against Microsoft for its alleged false advertising. The problem began when some PCs labeled as "Windows Vista Capable" lacked the necessary hardware to run even a bare-bones version of the OS.

In 2008, the suit would be granted class-action status, but it wouldn't last long. In February 2009, Judge Marsha Pechman said the case no longer warranted class-action status, citing "absent evidence of class-wide price inflation."

Microsoft Claims Open-Source Violates 235 of Its Patents

Circa 2007

Image Credit: ibinary.com

There's no love lost between the open-source community and Microsoft, whose closed-source software is the best selling software in the world. Fueling the competitive fire, a Microsoft lawyer revealed in an interview with Fortune that Microsoft believed free and open-source software violated 235 of its patents.

More specifically, Microsoft alleged that the Linux kernel was responsible for violating 42 of Microsoft's patents, while its user interface and other design elements violated another 65. The Redmond company accused OpenOffice.org of infringing on 45 patents, in addition to 83 more in other free and open-source programs.

Vista SP1 Fixes Crappy Performance

Circa 2008

Image Credit: gizmodo.com

Surely Vista, in its current form at the time, wasn't the OS we had been waiting all this time for, right? It was and it wasn't. While early problems plagued the OS, Microsoft managed to fix most of them with the release of its first Service Pack for the OS, just not right away.

Following the release of SP1, complaints began to surface that the Service Pack was throwing PCs into an endless reboot cycle and causing all kinds of quirks. Microsoft quickly pulled the software update to iron out the bugs, then re-released it into the wild.

This time, all was well with the Service Pack, and even better with the OS. Suddenly the poor file transfer performance had disappeared, as did several niggling bugs. True to Microsoft's promise, SP1 improved performance, stability, and reliability, finally turning Vista into a serviceable OS.

Olympic Fail: Billions Catch BSOD Cameo in Beijing Olympics

Circa 2008

Image Credit: gizmodo.com

No Windows write-up would be complete without a mention of the dreaded blue screen of death, and when we look back at the history of Windows through the ages, none were bigger (literally, that is) than the one that appeared during the Beijing Olympics.

As Li Ning, one of China's sporting greats, swung over the crowd inside the Bird's Nest, onlookers had their attention diverted to the ceiling where a giant BSOD appeared - d'oh! The familiar sight was ultimately traced back to the specialized theatrical computer controlled lightening equipment.

Windows Sales Drop 24% as Competition Catches Up

Circa 2008

Image Credit: telecomtv.com

You can blame it on poor public perception or any number of other factors, but in the third quarter of 2008, Microsoft reported that sales of Vista has plummeted 24 percent. The software giant downplayed the numbers, insisting that third quarter sales a year prior were inflated because they included revenue not just from Windows licenses sold during the period, but also $1.2 billion in revenue from Vista presales.

Microsoft could explain the poor sales performance until it was blue in the face, but there's more to the story than the company would like to admit. During the same period, Apple noted that Mac shipments had surged 51 percent, which would explain, at least partially, why Vista was doing so poorly. In addition, Linux had finally matured to the point where mainstream users weren't as hesitant about rolling open-source as they had been in years past, particularly with the strides being made by Canonical and its Ubuntu distro.

Bill Gates Enters Semi-Retirement

Circa 2008

On July 27, 2000, Bill Gates, at age 52, traded in his full-time digs for a part time role with the multi-billion dollar corporation he helped create. The Harvard dropout kept his position as chairman and vowed to still spend one day a week at the company, but he passed the leadership torch to Steve Ballmer.

Retirement Video: During the CES 2008 keynote by Bill Gates, a spoof video was shown depicting what Gate's last day on the job was really like. You can watch the 7 minute clip here .

Microsoft Strikes Back with Seinfeld, Mojave, and Laptop Hunters Ads

Circa 2008-2009

Like guacamole, you either loved the new Seinfeld adverts for Windows, or you hated them. Seinfeld's spot as new OS pitchman kicked off with the comedian starring alongside Bill Gates in a commercial that appeared to focus more on shoes than it did on Windows. The intent was for Microsoft to bond with its consumers, and in a sense, it did show that it understood this whole geek culture thing.

On the other hand, the commercials made little sense, at least in terms of promoting a product. Even worse, they didn't fire back at Apple, who had been roasting the Windows platform with their humorous (yet misleading) Apple vs PC ads. Apple continued to have the upper hand when it came to advertising, but the worst part is we're still waiting on that chewy computer to materialize.

Battling the poor public perception of Vista, Microsoft set out to once and for all prove that the OS wasn't as bad as everyone made it out to be, and daggonit, it's actually a decent operating system. To prove its point, the company took users who had no experience with Vista, plopped them in front of a PC, and told them they were using an upcoming OS called Mojave.

The reactions -- at least the ones Microsoft showed -- were overwhelmingly positive and filled with praise for what Microsoft was supposedly working on. But Mojave wasn't a new OS, it was actually Vista!

While the ads may have seemed like a good idea, it was probably too little too late. By now, everyone who had skipped Vista had pretty much decided to wait for Windows 7, and outside of those who had actually been duped with 'Mojave,' there was never a subsequent rush to run out and buy Vista.

It took a lot of tries, but Microsoft finally had an answer to all those tired Mac vs PC ads. Turning the tables on the competition, Microsoft fired off a series of ads, each one giving a consumer the task of finding a PC that fits their needs within a certain budget, and if successful, Microsoft would foot the bill.

Not surprisingly, every candidate settled on a PC instead of a Mac, claiming that the latter was just too expensive. Just like in real life, the Laptop Hunter ads showed that Windows-based PCs are less expensive yet every bit as capable (can't wait to get the hate mail on this one).

Microsoft Admits Linux OS is Competition, Hell Freezes Over

Circa 2009

Image Credit: mattwardman.com

Suggesting that Linux presents competition to Windows isn't exactly a new revelation, but when the acknowledgment comes from Microsoft, well, that's news.

In its annual filing with the SEC, Microsoft earlier this year listed Canonical (maker of Ubuntu) as competition to the its OS business. That's something Microsoft had never done before, and given the media attention, it might never do again.

"Competing commercial software products, including variants of Unix, are supplied by competitors such as Apple, Canonical, and Red Hat," Microsoft wrote. "Apple takes an integrated approach to the PC experience and has made inroads in share, particularly in the U.S. and in the consumer segment. The Linux operating system, which is also derived from Unix and is available without payment under a General Public License, has gained some acceptance."

in related news, the weather channel reported a chilly outlook in hell.

Microsoft Sued Over WGA

Circa 2009

Image Credit: insidesocal.com

Windows Genuine Advantage has always come under fire, but it wasn't until last month that a class action suit was filed against Microsoft over the use of WGA in Windows XP. According to the suit, WGA changed dramatically in April 2006 and the way it was delivered ran afoul of the law.

The issue at hand is Microsoft's decision to label the DRM scheme as a high priority update without clearly explaining exactly what it does.

"Microsoft hid, misrepresented, and/or failed to disclose the true nature, features, and functionality of the WGA software to consumers," the suit alleges. "Contrary to the express written statements Microsoft made in the inadequate disclosures that were provided, the software collected and communicated private identifying information from consumer's computers and sent that information back to Microsoft on a daily basis."

The suit seeks $5 million in damages, which would make the prosecuting lawyers awfully happy, but probably won't amount to much for anyone else.

Microsoft Agrees to Ship Windows 7 with Browser Ballot

Circa 2009

Image Credit: kaspersorensen.com

Sometimes it's just easier to concede defeat, count your lumps, and move on. And that's certainly the position Microsoft recently took with the European Commission when it bowed to pressure to offer a version of Windows in Europe without Internet Explorer. Microsoft has agreed to do just that in order to avoid even more fines for alleged anti-competitive business practices, and it will soon be up to OEMs (in Europe) to decide what browsers to include, or not include, with Windows.

Windows 7

Circa 2009

Every bit the OS that Vista should have been, Windows 7 takes the performance of XP and meshes it with the security, features, and GUI of Vista.

Equally important, Windows 7 appears on track to repair the PR beating Vista has taken since its launch. Reviews of the OS feature far more praise than criticism, and Microsoft has been quick to capitalize this in yet another ad campaign. And to better compete with Mac OS X Snow Leopard, promotional and discounted pricing as been a stable of Windows 7 so far, including the introduction of a 3-license Family Pack.

The successful launch of Windows 7 can't be underscored enough. With Linux gaining ground, both in terms of usability and consumer adoption, Microsoft could ill-afford another bumbled OS launch.

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