Microsoft's Windows operating systems have always developed along two distinct product family lines. One family, whose roots lie with the Windows 3.x operating environment (DOS is the true operating system for Windows 3.x), has been developed for the consumer market. The emphasis here has been on compatibility and ease of use. The Windows 3.x (3.1, 3.11, and so on) line gave way to Windows 95, which became Windows 98 (and 98 Second Edition), and then… Millennium Edition, or just Windows Me. I explain why in just a bit. Because there have been no major changes in any of these OS revisions, the entire line is commonly referred to as 9x.
The other product line has been developed specifically to meet the higher security and stability needs of corporate users. Microsoft wanted the operating system business of organizations like Coca-Cola, Boeing, and the Pentagon, to name a few, and Windows 3.x just wasn't going to cut it. The business product line has been named NT, and it got its start with Windows NT 3.5. NT 3.5 begat NT 3.51, which then evolved into NT 4. NT version 5 then was released as… Windows 2000.
What gives? Why was the 9x line suddenly given a name (Millennium) rather than a year number, and why was the NT product line released with a year number, as if it were the upgrade to Windows 98? Here's what messed it up: Windows Me.
Microsoft has harbored a dream for a single operating system that meets both consumer and corporate needs for years now. They thought they had it with Windows NT 5. They were going to get rid of the NT moniker altogether and release the new OS as Windows 2000. Windows 2000 Professional and Server were ready to go, represented huge leaps forward over NT 4 technologies, and most of the tech community was cheering. The Windows 2000 Home edition would be along shortly as an upgrade to Windows 98.
But Windows 2000 Home, as it turns out, was a stinker. It was so widely panned, in fact, that Microsoft didn't want it to soil Windows 2000's sparkling reputation. So, Microsoft renamed the Windows 2000 Home versionwhich was based on the Windows 9x code baseto Windows Millennium in order to prevent guilt by association. In fact, most techiesalso known as "tweakies," a more apt description in my estimationstill recommend Windows 98 Second Edition (SE) over Windows Me on older machines.
Enter XP and, with its entrance, the achievement of Microsoft's long sought-after objective. Now the consumer and corporate lines of Windows desktop operating systems (9x and NT) have merged under one roof. True, there's still a Home edition for consumers and a Professional edition for corporate clients (among others; see the next chunk), but they're both built on the same underlying code base.