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1.1. The Big Picture

The first few releases of Microsoft Windows in the early 1980s were little more than clunky graphical application launchers that ran on top of the Disk Operating System (DOS) (see Chapter 6 for details). Version 3.x, released in the late 1980's, gained popularity due to its improved interface (awful by today's standards, though) and ability to access all of a computer's memory. Being based on DOS, however, it was not terribly stable, crashed frequently, and had very limited support for networking and no support for multiple user accounts.

Soon thereafter, Windows NT 3.0 ("NT" for New Technology) was released. Although it shared the same interface as Windows 3.0, it was based on a more robust and secure kernel, the underlying code upon which the interface and all of the applications run. Among other things, it didn't rely on DOS and was capable of running32-bit applications (Windows 3.0 could only run more feeble 16-bit applications).[1] Unfortunately, it was a white elephant of sorts, enjoying limited commercial appeal due to its stiff hardware requirements and scant industry support.

[1] A bit, or binary digit, is the smallest unit of information storage, capable of holding either a zero or a one. 32-bit operating systems like Windows NT and Windows 95 were capable of addressing memory in 32-bit (4 byte) chunks, which made them more efficient and powerful than a 16-bit OS like Windows 3.x.


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