Microsoft celebrates Windows NT's 20th birthday

20 years ago this coming Saturday, Microsoft launched Windows NT, its first fully 32-bit OS. Technically, all of Microsoft's Windows operating systems since the launch of Windows 2000 are considered to be part of the Windows NT family, including Windows 8, since they all share the same 32-bit core that Windows NT introduced two decades ago.

Microsoft decided to mark the 20th birthday occasion a day early today with a quick post on a section of its Servers and Tools blog, with team member Mark Morowczynski noting, "It can almost drink legally!" He also links to an Amazon.com page for a book published in 2009 that goes over how Windows NT was first developed at Microsoft called, "Showstopper! The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft."

The first versions of Windows NT were made mostly for workstations and servers (appropriate for today's celebration of Sysadmin Day). The first version of the OS had the version number 3.1, so that it matched the version number of the consumer 16-bt Windows 3.1 OS. The last version under the Windows NT name was 4.0. Even though Microsoft doesn't technically sell the OS under the Windows NT brand anymore, it continues to keep track of its version numbers since all of the Windows operating systems are considered to be based on "NT Technology". Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are, for example, under the 6.2 Windows NT version number and the upcoming Windows 8.1 has the version number of 6.3.

You can check out Neowin's own "family tree" that shows the evolution of most of Microsoft's operating systems in a Trivia Tuesday post from October 2012.

Source: Microsoft via ZDNet.com | Image via Microsoft

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Microsoft Windows doesNT Workstation

Anyway, that explains a lot. 20 is the average age of when most people quickly go from not having any sense to not making any sense.

Not sure how Showstopper was published in 2009 when my copy is dated 1994 It's literally about Windows NT, like, 90s NT, and Dave Cutler... It's way older than 2009.

It's called "reprinting". It happens when either a first edition sells out really quickly (best-sellers) AND when a book goes out of print for a stretch then demand picks up.

Snake89 said,
Someone should tell Mark Morowczynski that NT can drink legally here in Canada.

And its been supping back the bud for a whole 2 years over here in blighty

Ah Windows NT, the most modern operating system on the planet. And of course still the undisputed king on the desktop. No doubt it will still rock 20 years from now.

NT was great and the real start of reliable, dependable, suitable for business Windows. But anyone who had to manage it will remember dealing with drivers as of course there was no plug and play... not good fun when you had troublesome hardware!

Actually, NT 3.5 ("Daytona") gained NT's first Plug and Play support (that was, in fact, THE major advance in this version of NT), which was improved in NT 3.51 (which is the oldest version of NT supported by the current flavor of Oracle VirtualBox or vmWare). NT 3.5/3.51 also marked the inclusion of support for ATAPI/IDE CD-ROM drives - it was NT 3.51 that I dared to put on an AMD386DX-40 to settle a bet.

Chicane-UK said,
NT was great and the real start of reliable, dependable, suitable for business Windows. But anyone who had to manage it will remember dealing with drivers as of course there was no plug and play... not good fun when you had troublesome hardware!

NT was so good, Apple almost licensed the kernel for Mac OS.

It was flat-out disruptive and caused panic in the Unix world.

Chicane-UK said,
NT was great and the real start of reliable, dependable, suitable for business Windows. But anyone who had to manage it will remember dealing with drivers as of course there was no plug and play... not good fun when you had troublesome hardware!

NT had plug and play before it was really happening on the consumer version of Windows, as it was a couple of years later Win95 offered plug and play.

Remember though, plug and play was young at this point and even going into the late 1990s, it wasn't uncommon to find modems and other devices that were not plug and play devices.

As for NT and drivers, there were two problems that really weren't problems with NT, but with how OSes previously had dealt with devices.

For example, if you were using Windows 3.11 or Windows 95 and had two devices install that were on the same IRQ, they would continue to somewhat work, although they would often be at the heart of causing crashes. (Modem and Sound Card on same IRQ, then the user would go online and have a seemingly random crash when a sound would play.) On NT, this was forbidden and the OS would simply fail the device, creating confusion for users that were upgrading. Even going forward to the days of Windows XP, people didn't understand why their modem would no longer be working, as it was a 'jumper' based configuration and was trying to use an IRQ already in use.

So this hardware abstraction that NT enforced created some confusion and upgrade problems, but was the right thing to do to ensure better security and system stability.

Prior to the shared driver model of the late 90s, there were a few issues with not having NT drivers for some devices, although by the time XP shipped there were few devices that were no longer supported, as even XP still allowed the older NT 4 driver model for many peripherals. It helped that, Microsoft had been actively requiring hardware device makers to have NT versions of drivers to get certification for their devices for Windows 98/ME. (Which is also what MS did to ensure 64bit drivers would be around in the Vista/7 era, as they started requiring 64bit driver versions for certification, so there was at least a 64bit XP level driver that could be used even on older hardware.)

"Technically, all of Microsoft's Windows operating systems since the launch of Windows 2000 are considered to be part of the Windows NT family"

I think it should actually say Windows XP there. Windows Me was released after Windows 2000.

Thrackerzod said,
"Technically, all of Microsoft's Windows operating systems since the launch of Windows 2000 are considered to be part of the Windows NT family"

I think it should actually say Windows XP there. Windows Me was released after Windows 2000.

One exception (that many would like to forget anyway) noted.

Wasn't NT 3.1 basically OS/2 with Windows API's and shell added? From what I've read about it Microsoft was already working on the next version of OS/2 when they decided to part ways with IBM because Windows 3.1 was a success with consumers. I know NT supported a lot of OS/2 stuff for a long time, the HPFS file system, OS/2 subsystem for text mode applications, etc.

I've also read that they scrapped most of the OS/2 stuff and wrote NT 3.1 from the ground up. Never did know what the true story was. I still remember buying OS/2 Warp 4.0 with my student discount card. I thought it was good but by then most software was written for Windows only.

neufuse said,
I might be the only one, but I actually liked OS/2 back in the day

OS/2 had a few flaws that when combined with IBM's inability to understand the development market relegated it to more of a hobbyist platform.

The single input queue was a disaster, as the UI is the most important aspect of a 'consumer' grade OS and even if the applications themselves would run pre-emptively, if a single application could break the input queue, the system would no longer respond and the OS would feel more like the non-preemptive 16bit Windows 3.x.

OS/2 also was a hybrid OS that never fully made the transition to a full and truly 32bit OS. IBM was depending on too many 16bit drivers and even with OS/2 4.0, you could still find a lot of 16bit code in the OS.

If it was just a 'difference' of bits, this wouldn't have been so bad, but in the x86 world, 16 to 32bit was more than just extra lanes, it was a new operating mode for the CPU that allowed preemptive multitasking. With some 16bit drivers and 16bit pieces of the operating system itself, OS/2 would have to shift to a non-preemptive mode when executing this code or when the user would access a drive that was using a 16bit based driver.

Then you have IBM, that for the first generations of OS/2 2.x wanted to make money off of developers with insane (old school) costs for the SDK and other development tools. In contrast Microsoft had VB a good partnership with Borland and a free SDK that made it cheap and easy to develop software. This is where the Win 3.x compatibility hurt OS/2, as developers could write software for Win 3.x cheaper and OS/2 users could still run it.

During this time in computing history I was studying OS architecture, and as we learned more about OS/2, it was almost like IBM was intentionally clinging to older technologies and sabotaging themselves.

In contrast, NT was seen as the new stuff, and it was an exciting time, as OS engineers like myself were wondering Microsoft could really pull off NT and get reasonable performance knowing that they were combining a lot of new 'theoretical' concepts that could have potentially created a lot of overhead. NT not only surprised a lot of people like myself, but as hardware/software complexity increased over the next few years, the overhead in NT was now advantageous, as this extra work the OS was doing one time, was having to be redundantly replicated on other OSes like Linux.

(The OS/2 object based shell was a great design and sadly because of the success of Windows 3.1, Microsoft dumped it from NT, with only portions of it to reappear in Win95/NT4.)

It was the technology behind NT that was a major step forward. Saying it's "old" based on it's theme is stupid. NT brought improved stability and security - a much needed upgrade. I think it was amazing that Microsoft was able to complete such a feat over a few years (with a lot of input coming from the genius of Bill Gates).

Technically, all of Microsoft's Windows operating systems since the launch of Windows 2000 are considered to be part of the Windows NT family, including Windows 8, since they all share the same 32-bit core that Windows NT introduced two decades ago.

Huh?

Windows 2000 RTMed in late 1999, GA February 17th 2000.
Windows ME RTMed July 2000, GA September 2000
Windows XP RTMed August 2001, GA October 2001.

ME is not part of the NT lineage.

NT's history goes back as far as December 1989 according to Show Stopper.

Windows NT 3.1 - May 1993
Windows NT 3.5 - 1994
Windows NT 3.51 - 1995
Windows NT 4.0 - July 1996
Windows 2000 - December 2000 (NT 5.0)
Windows XP - August 2001 (NT 5.1)
Windows Vista - November 2006 (NT 6.0)
Windows 7 - July 2009 (NT 6.1)
Windows 8 - August 2012 (NT 6.2)
Windows 8.1 - August 2013 (NT 6.3)

20 years. Not bad! Now its on Phones, Game Consoles and variety of embedded devices.

It's actually brilliant though. You add a big blocky colorful UI to your OS that is just perfect for preschoolers, and they grow up using it and you have a whole new market for the next generation.

UXGaurav said,
Omg look what they made of NT. A OS that started as a product for 'pros' reduced to Windows 8 Metro.

Originally there was NT and NT Server, which was later renamed to NT Workstation and NT Server at release. The 'professional' moniker wasn't added until Windows 2000, to retain a distinction between it and WindowsME.

As for professionals and Metro, I don't think you really want to have an argument with a 'professional OS engineer' like myself that likes and uses the Modern UI.

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