Windows 8 arrives at midnight tonight! With its own tablet the Surface and a dramatic new colourful interface designed for tablets and phones as well as laptops and computers, Windows 8 is a huge reinvention of Microsoft's venerable software. But how did Windows take over the offices, schools and homes of almost every computer user in the world and make Bill Gates the richest man in the world?
A quarter of a century of skeuomorphic metaphors, menus and anthropomorphic paper clips began on 20 November 1985 when Bill Gates' baby first went on sale. But the Windows story began in 1975, when Seattle schoolfriends Bill Gates and Paul Allen started Micro-Soft in Albuquerque.
In 1980, IBM approached Microsoft about creating an operating system for its personal computers. Never having written an OS before, Microsoft simply bought an operating system called QDOS -- or "Quick and Dirty Operating System" -- and changed the name to MS Disk Operating System before licensing it to IBM.
MS-DOS required you to type in arcane commands, so Microsoft set to work on making a new OS with a more accessible user interface. Codenamed 'Interface Manager', the OS used a mouse and onscreen drop-down menus, scroll bars, and icons in boxes to control your computing.
These 'windows' gave a name to the software. Microsoft Windows was announced in 1983 and version 1.0 launched two years later.
Windows is born
To run Windows 1.0, you needed a minimum of 256 kilobytes, two double-sided floppy disk drives, and a graphics adaptor card. Here's Microsoft's business brain Steve Ballmer telling you how it works.
Windows 2.0 followed on 9 December 1987. Version 3.0 came along on 22 May 1990, by which time Windows was well on the way to taking over the world. 3.0 and its successor 3.1 sold 10 million copies, driven by the rise of computers packing an Intel 386 processor. That, and the fact that it had a screensaver that made it look as if you were flying through space! By then, it looked like the Windows we know and love -- or love to hate.
Windows NT was a 32-bit operating system built from scratch that arrived on 27 July 1993. It was intended to complement the MS-DOS based consumer versions of Windows, although most subsequent versions of the OS were based on NT. NT originally stood for the N-Ten Intel i860 XR processor, but marketing later created the backronym New Technology.
Start me up
Windows 95 added the Start button, taskbar and those pesky little minimise, maximise and close buttons on 24 August 1995. It came with built-in Internet support and dial-up networking, so you could surf cyberspace and cruise the Information Superhighway with the Internet Explorer Web browser. On 25 June 1998, Windows 98 added supports for USB and DVDs. It was the last version of the OS based on MS-DOS.
Windows XP emerged into the light on 25 October 2001, and was the first iteration to offer a 64-bit version as well as Media Center and Tablet PC editions.
Windows on the future
It's hard to give an exact birth date for Windows Vista in 2006, and Windows 7 in 2009, as both were rolled out in stages to developers and manufacturers before hitting shops. Both featured all kinds of flashy new graphical interface tweaks, but both launches were also marred by confusion over upgrades, price changes, and disjointed versions of the software.
And that brings us up to date with Windows 8 on 25 October 2012. We've come a long way from the basic features of 1985 to the apps and touchscreen polish of 2012. Will Windows 8 be a success, or will the new look alienate users? Click through our gallery to see the many changes leading up to Windows 8, and share your memories of Windows in the comments.