Skip to main content

Microsoft’s Desktop Evolution Over The Years Illustrated: From Win 95 to Windows 8

Microsoft Windows desktop has changed tremendously over the years, right alongside Windows Explorer, the process that works behind all navigation commands. Although from the visual aspect, the desktop hasn't evolved considerably between Windows 95 and Windows 7, the Windows 8 preview version has shown us that Microsoft can really add weight to the balance. Also, active elements appeared through the years and the desktop has advanced from plain wallpapered look with icons and folders to an area where the user could receive live updates from various services.

As any manufacturer/developer would do, Microsoft announced its every new creation to be ground-shaking. When Windows 95 and NT 4.0 were running on most computers, they released the Internet Explorer 4.0, the first browser to introduce the Active Desktop. It allowed any user to link internet dependent elements right on the desktop, so the user could be notified of the newest sport news, podcasts, etc. Although it wasn't a great feature according to current times, it did manage to open the gate for a new era.

As time passed by, Windows 98, 2000 and ME hit the scenes. Because of user complaints, Microsoft chose to discontinue the Active Desktop concept and the user interface didn't suffer any major changes. With more powerful monitors being released over time, the pixel density and the resolution increased forcing Microsoft to improve its Windows graphics quality.

When Windows XP arrived in 2001, it set a milestone in the operating systems race, requiring few resources to run and actually looking decent. It was compatible with most applications even when newer OS appeared on the market and when it came to hardware drives, it could handle most of them. Themes were introduced in XP, giving the user the possibility of changing the visual appearance at a minimal cost.

Alongside its stylish taskbar that could have been modified to fit most needs, Windows XP introduced shade-free icons, a new graphics system powered by DirectX 8.1 (upgradable to 9.0c), image viewing in a shell, transparency and a lot more.

Five years passed by and Windows Vista was released. This is the point when Microsoft bragged too much of their creation, which only ended as a disappointment; the OS was relying on too much hardware to run and XP was still a reliable choice.

Although a failure, Windows Vista introduced the Windows Aero user interface, complete with full transparency, live thumbnails and icons, animations, the ability to set videos as backgrounds (in Ultimate versions only) and a simpler look.

The Windows Shell was revamped and the "search as you type" function was born. All of these elements made navigation much easier and stylish, especially when users took advantage of the Sidebar. As you would surely remember, this transparent feature held customisable gadgets, thus reviving the "Active Desktop" concept.

In 2009, Windows 7 hit the scene and relieved users from their hardware resources consuming prison that Vista created. The new operating system mostly changed the taskbar, where you now could pin applications and integrate them into the area. You could easily reorder these icons and take advantage of their options, by a simple right-click. The show desktop button was moved into the far right of the taskbar and buyers could now enjoy the Aero Snap: moving a window to the side of the screen made it maximize on half of the desktop.

The ALT+TAB move was also improved in Windows 7, adding a drop of style to all those that replaced ALT with the Windows button. Each window appeared in a 3D style and clicking one would bring it to the front row.

In Windows 8, Microsoft introduced the first "PC" Metro based interface. Familiar to those that installed the developer preview version or those owning a Windows Phone smartphone, this interface is based on simple touch/click gestures and live application updates.

It's a style where the content of an application acts as its icon and where all icons are in the same colour pattern. The navigation is made very smoothly and those who unsatisfied can return to the classic Windows 7 look.

The best thing to bear in mind is that Microsoft didn't want to make a visual ground-breaking interface, but to unite all mobile worlds. And compatibility within computer, tablet and mobile worlds is the place where Windows 8 seems to excel as of now.

How this new concept would affect the world and if users adopt it remains to be seen, but Microsoft has learned from the past and is now ready for the future.