Programming Windows: A Timeline (Premium)

After obsessing over the idea of an open-ended “Programming Windows” series for months, I finally took a chance and published the introductory article last week with no real expectation of whether this would resonate with readers. So, I’m pleased with the positive response. This is something that I care about deeply, and while I understand that developer topics are somewhat esoteric to some, I really do believe that understanding these topics, even at a high level, is key to a better understanding of the platform.

Expanding on what I wrote last week, this series will proceed in no particular order, though this entry is a logical follow-up to the introduction because it spells out the major milestones that I’ll be covering, each with multiple articles, in the months ahead. Future entries can and will appear out of order, however, and I will maintain and eventually publish an index so that you can view them as a whole in chronological order. (Currently, I’m thinking about covering the .NET announcement next, for example.)  In short, this will proceed a bit like a book, but online and publicly, and it will evolve and change over time, I’m sure.

I will get things wrong*. My personal experiences with Microsoft’s developer tools and technologies were deep from roughly 1993 until roughly 2001/2002, and while I’ve kept up with the company’s strategies since then, I have my blind spots. I’ll do what research I can, talk to experts whenever is possible, and fix any mistakes so that this series is as accurate as possible. But I’m excited by this challenge and I hope the series meets and exceeds your expectations.

Ultimately, I see this series as an explanation for why things happened. The history of Windows can be seen as a series of reactions, to competitors, to market trends, and to internal forces that were seeking change. Along the way, Microsoft has worked to improve and adapt Windows to an incredible variety of scenarios and form factors. And there were many side-trips, too, from Windows for Pen Computing in the early 1990s to Windows CE in the late 1990s to Windows Mobile and Windows Phone to various embedded products, Server variants, and more. While most of those are not part of the main narrative---for now, I’d like to focus largely on what I think of as “Big Windows,” or Windows for PCs---they all impact the story in some way. Again, we’ll see where this takes us.

From a milestone perspective, most normally think of the history of Windows as a series of product version releases starting in 1985. That history is well-documented, I think, but since it’s important to our alternate history of application development technologies, it’s perhaps worth thinking about briefly. In fact, it can be done very briefly if you just consider the technological eras more broadly.

I think of them like so:

Presentation manager for MS-DOS. The initial releases of Windows were “a thing on a thing,” as Andr...

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