Visual tour: 25 years of Windows

See how the world's most popular operating system has evolved over the last quarter century.

2009: Windows 7

Windows 7

Windows 7, released in October 2009, is Microsoft's current desktop operating system. Many people feel it's the OS that Windows Vista should have been. It retains the Aero interface and other enhancements from Vista, but rather than adding a slew of new features in Windows 7, Microsoft focused more on fixing the shortcomings of Vista. Windows 7 is generally considered more stable than Vista, and most users upgrading from Vista to Windows 7 did not experience the kinds of hardware problems that they encountered when they upgraded from XP to Vista.

Windows 7 did introduce a few new features -- notably an enhanced taskbar, a slightly redesigned Start menu and a trio of nifty navigation shortcuts known as Aero Peek, Aero Snap and Aero Shake. Some features of Windows Vista were taken away, including the Windows Photo Gallery and Windows Mail.

Windows 7 comes in multiple versions, including Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate. It requires a 1-GHz processor (either 32- or 64-bit), 1GB of system memory, 16GB of free hard disk space (20GB for the 64-bit version) and a graphics card that's able to support Windows Aero.

What's next?

No one, including Microsoft, knows the shape that Windows will take in the next 25 years, because there's simply no way to peer that deeply into the technology future. It's a good bet, though, that the Windows of 25 years from now will be radically different from today's version.

In fact, it's reasonable to expect that there will be greater changes to Windows in the next 25 years than in its first 25 years. That's the case because, despite all the changes in technology, for the past several decades the personal computer, whether desktop or laptop, has been people's main computing device. It's not clear that that will be true in the next 25 years, given the prevalence of smartphones and the increasing popularity of tablets.

Several questions spring to mind: How will Windows accommodate the increasing role of cloud-based software and services in computing? Will operating systems even matter in the future? Will Windows move to a modular model, with pick-and-choose components?

For now, Microsoft isn't saying. In the meantime, we'll have our first peek at the future of Windows when the first Windows 8 beta is released sometime next year.

Want more Microsoft history? See Microsoft turns 35: Best, worst and most notable moments.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works, Windows XP Hacks, and Windows Vista in a Nutshell.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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