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Most people are familiar with the name “Microsoft Windows.” But how did the operating system come to be called that, and why wasn’t it named after something else? Let us explain.


Microsoft Interface Manager

Microsoft began developing the rudiments of it in 1981. It was originally called Interface Manager and added a graphical overlay to MS-DOS, allowing visual program control using a mouse (instead of typing commands). It would also allow for multitasking by displaying different applications simultaneously on different parts of the screen-a concept pioneered by Xerox PARC with its Alto and Star computers and later refined by Apple.

Computer vendors at the time called these multi-window displays “windows,” and the software to manage them “windowing systems.” In the early 1980s, IBM developed TopView, Digital Research developed GEM, and VisiCorp developed Visi On. Microsoft’s “Interface Manager” would be one of many when it launched several years later.

Enter “Windows”

Microsoft hired Rowland Hanson, a veteran of the cosmetics industry, as its new marketing VP in 1982. Hanson brought a fresh perspective to Microsoft’s brand management. Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel are products with the “Microsoft” name in front of them.

The goal was to find a new name for Interface Manager by reading trade articles about PC multitasking systems. In the context of terms like “window manager” and “windowing system,” he came up with the idea of using “Windows” as a generic product category term for Microsoft. From then on, everyone tangentially promoted the “Windows” brand when they referred to windowing systems.

It’s developers were reticent to switch the name to Windows, according to Bill Gates’ Barbarians Led. When Gates backed the name, the developers followed suit-and Microsoft Windows was born.

The Windows Legacy

On November 10, 1983, Microsoft revealed Windows publicly-far before the product was ready to entice hardware and software vendors. Several competitors in the early 1980s were working on PC windowing systems, so it had its intended effect.

Originally a MS-DOS shell, 1.01 developed into a standalone operating system, and then into the brand we know today. If there are billions of dollars in it, Microsoft will keep using the “Windows” name for years.

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