Microsoft Windows is an operating environment for personal computers. It was first introduced by Microsoft in 1985 and eventually came to dominate the world personal computer market. All recent versions of Windows also function as a fully-fledged operating system.
The term Windows is used as a collective term for numerous different products, falling into four broad categories:
The most obvious feature of the more recent Windows versions (since Windows 95 and NT 4.0) is the desktop, which is essentially a Microsoft version of IBM's 1992 OS/2 Presentation Manager. The Windows desktop has produced a significant change in the way people and computers interact: it is possible to perform many common tasks with very little computer knowledge, including some quite complex ones, but the Windows interface also isolates the user from the inner workings of the computer and makes it very much more difficult to control and configure the system. (In large part, this is a more-or-less inevitable outgrowth both of the increased power and complexity of modern computer systems, and of the vastly increased user base with a lower average computer skill level.)
Windows has achieved enormous market penetration. Windows is thought to be installed on over 90% of personal computers at present, however it is difficult to be exact as users of other operating systems buying a PC often have to purchase Windows and delete it before installing the OS of their choice (most commonly one of the free open source products) because manufacturers almost always include Windows in the computer package. As a result both of its market penetration and of the practices used to achieve and maintain that penetration, Windows is a highly controversial product.
Windows XP is the current version. The upcoming Windows 2003 comes in four different versions: Windows 2003 Web Edition, Windows 2003 Standard Edition, Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition and Windows 2003 Datacenter Edition. Web Edition is designed mostly for web hosting, while Datacenter is the flagship product for extremely high end infrastructure. Standard and Enterprise fall in the middle.
Microsoft has a number of new initiatives planned: .NET, Palladium and the "Longhorn" operating system. There is some current speculation that Microsoft may use .NET and Longhorn as a way of moving away from the Windows brand. It is suggested that this may help Microsoft avoid the consequences of antitrust actions, as it will be able to claim that the Windows successor is an entirely new product, and not subject to any regulation applied to Windows.