So, how did the Windows GUI that we use today come to be? It came to be through a slow process of evolution.
First, let's take a quick look at the various versions of Windows that have been developed over the last 20 years. Although most people regard Microsoft Windows 3.0 as the first version of the Windows platform, it was actually preceded by Windows 1.0 (1985) and Windows 2.0 (1987, there were specialized versions of 2.0 for computers running 286 and 386 processors). Microsoft Windows 3.0 was launched with much fanfare in the spring of 1990. It was not until the release of Windows 3.1, however, in 1992 (when over one million copies of the platform were sold in the first few months after it was made available), that Windows truly experienced a large install base both in the home and business markets. With the launch of Windows 95 (released in 1995, more than one million copies were sold in the first few days it was available), Microsoft offered a client operating system that no longer required an initial installation of DOS. Windows 95 was also an interface design departure for Microsoft that offered tools that are still around in Windows XP, such as the Start menu and the taskbar. Additional versions of Windows 9x followed including Windows 98 and Windows Millennium Edition. That brings us up to the current version of the Windows OS, Windows XP (available in both Home and Professional versions), which is the subject of this book.
While the Windows operating system evolved for the home and small business market, Microsoft also developed a line of desktop operating systems for the business market (with a number of enhancements for networking); these "higher-end" operating systems include Windows NT, Windows 2000 Professional, and Windows XP Professional.
As the Windows operating system has changed and evolved, so too has the GUI itself. Windows 3x provided a fairly cluttered desktop that emphasized an icon-filled window called the Program Manager. The Program Manager provided the launch pad for the various applications running on the computer. Windows 3x provided little capability in terms of customizing the desktop, although you could create new folders and arrange items in the Program Manager. Figure 1.4 shows the Windows 3x desktop.
Figure 1.4. The Windows 3.1 Program Manager and icon groups.
The capability to customize the Windows desktop increased with each subsequent version of Windows. Windows 95 provided the ability to change the screen colors and also gave the user control over the background, or wallpaper, shown on the desktop. Windows 95 also provided the familiar taskbar and Start menu that are still a part of the Windows XP GUI. Figure 1.5 shows the Display Properties dialog box of Windows 95.
Figure 1.5. The Windows 95 desktop and Display Properties dialog box.
If a Windows 95 user wanted additional GUI customization abilities, he could purchase an add-on application called Plus for Windows 95, which provided custom wallpapers, screensavers, icons, and sounds. Figure 1.6 shows the Microsoft Plus Desktop Themes dialog box.
Figure 1.6. Microsoft Plus provided additional customization options for the GUI.
The next version of Windows, Windows 98, further fine-tuned the GUI interface and added elements to the GUI that are still found in the Windows XP interface, such as the Quick Launch bar on the Windows taskbar. Windows 98 provided the same types of GUI modifications that were provided by Windows 95, such as the GUI colors and desktop background, but also provided additional possibilities, including the ability to customize desktop icons. Figure 1.7 shows the Windows 98 desktop and the Display Properties dialog box.
Figure 1.7. The Windows 98 GUI was built on the more "conservative" Windows 95 environment.
As with Windows 95, a version of Plus was available for Windows 98, making it easier for the novice Windows user to modify the desktop environment.
With the launch of Windows XP, the possibilities for modifying the GUI interface were greatly increased. Windows XP provides a truly rich environment that allows for both basic and advanced customization. It is the capability to personalize the Windows GUI that we will be taking a look at throughout the course of this book.
Although most users are very familiar with the layout of the Windows desktop and how to navigate Windows applications, the section that follows provides an overview of the various elements of the Windows XP desktop. We then discuss some of the GUI modification possibilities in terms of themes, visual styles, and skins.