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Windows 1.0 launched exactly 30 years ago today, and it kind of sucked

It's old and so are you.


AJ Dellinger


Posted on Nov 20, 2015   Updated on May 27, 2021, 3:04 pm CDT

Thirty years ago, Microsoft gave to the world the first version of what would become the most popular operating system in the world. Windows 1.0 was released on November 20, 1985, and while the importance of its legacy cannot be overstated, it’s worth remembering one forgotten detail: Windows 1.0 kind of sucked.

For context as to where we were as a people when Windows 1.0 arrived, the top song on the charts United States was “We Built This City” by Starship and Once Bitten was the top film in the box office. It wasn’t exactly a high point for American culture.

It had been just over two years since Microsoft announced the Windows operating system, and the first from the company that would feature a graphical interface. At the time of its introduction, Bill Gates said Windows would be running on 90 percent of all PCs—a goal it would eventually accomplish, but come nowhere near in its first attempt; Windows 1.0 sold just 500,000 copies between launch and the release of Windows 2.0.

Windows 1.0 had some steep requirements at the time: two floppy disks, 256 kilobytes of memory, and a graphics processor just to run the operating system. A hard disk and 512 kilobytes of RAM was needed to run more than one program at a time, and even then, the New York Times compared the speed of the OS to “pouring molasses in the Arctic.” 

Bill Gates

Microsoft’s history of the OS notes that it shipped with several programs, “including MS?DOS file management, Paint, Windows Writer, Notepad, Calculator, and a calendar, card file, and clock.” That set of features is anything but impressive now, but was enough to get Steve Ballmer screaming at the time (though to be fair, Ballmer will scream about just about anything).

Windows 1.0 did eventually make its impact on the computing world; the operating system paved the way for future versions of Windows that would continue to improve on interface and offer openness for developers, which attracted more software companies to build for the platform. 

The groundwork for what made Windows the OS of choice for most of the world was all set in place 30 years ago by Windows 1.0, and the legacy of the operating system is still well in-tact today, as it’s remembered fondly for the computing revolution that it set in place. 

But it still kind of sucked.

Photo via Rezonansowy/Wikimedia Commons

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*First Published: Nov 20, 2015, 3:26 pm CST