If you look closely at the current version of Windows, you can find several different flavors. Different users need different sets of features. This section provides a glimpse at the various iterations in the Windows evolution.
Throughout Microsoft's history, several different versions of Windows have appeared, with each new version building on the successes of the previous versions.
In between each new version, Microsoft typically makes regular updates available as Service Packs. These Service Packs include fixes and improvements to the current system.
Microsoft's first operating system was a text-based system of commands known as the Disk Operating System, or DOS for short. It worked by allowing users to type in specific commands that could manage the hard drive data and files.
After several versions of DOS, Microsoft branched into a new visual user interface that relied on a unique device known as a mouse to move a cursor around the screen. A similar interface had been used on the popular new Macintosh computers that appeared around the same time.
Early versions of Windows were problematic, but offered a uniquely different operating system that didn't require users to memorize all the DOS text commands. Windows 3.1 marked a stable version release that was adopted extensively by business users. It allowed common users access to an operating system that was easy to use and efficient.
However, this version of Windows ran on top of the stable DOS system, maintaining support for those users that had mastered the skill of working with DOS. It also allowed any problems with the Windows software to be quickly remedied using the underlying DOS system.
Another huge advantage of Windows 3.1 was all the applications that shipped with the system. Right out of the box came utilities such as a calculator, WordPad, a paint program, and even games.
In 1995, Microsoft released a new version of Windows that was completely redesigned. The new version was called Windows 95 and it was quickly adopted by the home market. Three years later an updated version named Windows 98 was released that was much more stable and robust.
About the same time that Windows 95 was dominating the consumer market, Windows NT was making inroads into the higher-end workstation and business markets. Windows NT differed from Windows 95 in that it was no longer built on top of a DOS system, but was instead a native operating system. This gave Windows NT additional security features that made it work well for businesses.
Windows 2000 was an updated version of Windows NT aimed at the business market. It included many of the security features that made Windows NT so popular, but it also was streamlined, allowing access to the trickier functions like the Windows Registry without confusing the nontechnical user.
For the home market, Microsoft released Windows Millennium Edition (ME).
In 2002, Windows XP was released, taking the operating system to a new level. Windows XP was redesigned to be more efficient than its predecessors while including many of the Windows NT advancements in networking and security.
There are several different versions of Windows XP available, each with its own unique set of features. These versions include the following:
There are also several different flavors of Windows Server that aren't included here.
Windows XP Home Edition: The Home Edition is focused for home computers.
Windows XP Professional Edition: The Professional Edition includes additional security features and the ability to remotely access the system.
Windows XP 64-Bit Edition: The 64-Bit Edition has a larger data pipeline for using software optimized for 64-bit architectures.
Windows XP Tablet PC Edition: The Tablet PC Edition is designed specifically for Tablet PCs that includes support for writing commands instead of typing them.
Windows XP Media Center Edition: The Media Center Edition includes support for television and stereo systems so programs can be recorded and saved using hard drive space.
About the same time as Windows XP was being developed, a new version of Windows called Windows CE was released. This version was made for PDA devices and provided the familiar Windows tools on a smaller system.
The latest desktop version of Windows, named Windows Vista, is right around the corner and Microsoft promises that it will be the best version yet. See the "What's New in Windows Vista" section later in this chapter for more details on Windows Vista.
If you're unfamiliar with the subtle differences between the various versions of Windows, there is a simple utility that you can run that tells you the current version of Windows that you're running.
To determine which version of Windows you're running, follow these steps:
Select the Start Run menu to open a dialog box where you can execute commands.
In the Run dialog box that appears, type winver and press OK.
An information dialog box, shown in Figure 31.1, appears. This dialog box shows the current version number and any service pack that is installed. It also lists the amount of memory available on the computer.
Figure 31.1: The About Windows dialog box lists the version number for the current version of Windows.