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May 22, 1990: On this day 25 years ago, Windows 3.0 was released.

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+Frank B.    7,151



Windows 3.0 was a milestone release for Microsoft in several ways. It essentially paved the way for the later dominance in both the operating system and the application market for the PC.


Before the release of Windows 3.0 Microsoft and IBM considered OS/2 the future. The official mantra coming out of Redmond was 'develop applications for OS/2, DOS and Windows are on their way out'. Application developers like Lotus and WordPerfect consequentially focused their development efforts on OS/2 versions of their applications and entirely neglected developing for Windows. 


With the success of Windows 3.0 and what would later be known as Microsoft Office the other major application vendors were caught on the wrong foot and struggled to catch up. The older ones of us will remember how quickly products like WordPerfect or Lotus 1-2-3 were losing marketshare to WinWord and Excel.


On the operating system front, the combination of DOS and Windows 3.0 with its cooperative multitasking was what Microsoft needed to free itself from the OS/2 partnership they were in with IBM at the time. OEMs adopted Windows 3.x fairly quickly, giving Microsoft control of the PC operating system market. The reasons why Windows 3.0 became so popular? 

  • It offered a modern-looking graphical user interface.
  • It offered cooperative multitasking.
  • It offered the above while having lower system requirements than OS/2 1.x.
  • It wasn't developed by IBM, a fact other hardware vendors had been wary of ever since the release of OS/2.

Yes, there were better operating systems in the market back then. Microsoft themselves knew that Windows 3.x and DOS were no future-proof OS, hence the development of Windows NT - originally known as OS/2 3.0. But: Windows 3.0 and subsequent DOS-based releases were good enough to dominate the market, paving the way for the > 90% marketshare Windows enjoys on the desktop to this day.

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