With Windows Vista now upon us, we thought it was a good idea to revisit our Windows history books and give you a quick guide to Windows past and present. We've also got some rare screenshots of the early versions, too.

On November 10, 1983, Microsoft announced the first version of Windows. It was hailed as an extension of the MS-DOS operating system that would provide a graphical operating environment for PCs. The product included a set of desktop applications, including the MS-DOS file management program, a calendar, card file, notepad, calculator, clock, and 'telecommunications programs', according to Microsoft.

1987's Windows 2.0 was designed to make the most of Intel's 286 processor and provided better graphics and usability. You could even overlap the windows and change the layout. A follow-up release, Windows 2.03, was released to coincide with the improved capabilities of Intel's 386 chips.

Windows 3.0

It was in 1990 that Windows really took a great step forward. It had fallen behind other operating systems such as Apple's MAC OS and even Acorn's RISC OS.

Windows 3.0 offered improved performance, advanced 16 colour graphics, and full support of the 386 processor. Other functions were also introduced such as Program Manager, File Manager, and Print Manager. There was also a whole new icon set. It then became Windows 3.1. Microsoft also released a new software development kit (SDK), which helped software houses to focus on developing their applications.

Windows NT 3.1 was coded from scratch and released in 1993 for the business market. The NT actually stands for New Technology. Unlike Windows 3.1, Windows NT 3.1 was a 32-bit operating system. It's successor, Windows NT Workstation 4.0, included the popular Windows 95 user interface yet with a more robust architecture that later became Windows 2000.

Windows 95

For the consumer market, it was in 1995 that the really big development came. Windows 95, along with the Start Menu, taskbar and internet support, paved the way for everything that's existed since. The redesigned OS had a 32-bit TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) stack for built-in Internet support, dial-up networking, while it became far easier to install new hardware.

Windows 98 was designed as the consumer-friendly follow up to Windows 95. Search was improved while there was support for DVDs and USB devices. The more stable Second Edition (98 SE) was released in 1999 and introduced Internet Explorer 5.0, and DirectX 6.1. 98 SE could also work with NT drivers. 98 SE was followed up with the Windows Millennium Edition (Me) version. Bit of a confusing one this since there was no clear version for it and there was no leap forward. Microsoft Windows Media Player 7 and Windows Movie Maker added to the entertainment aspects, but there was precious little else.

Windows XP and Vista

October 2001 saw another leap forward though, with the release of Windows XP, or Windows Experience. It was more stable, would recognise most things you plugged into it and was based around the NT/2000 platform. That meant there was now just a single code base for both the consumer and business lines. There were two main editions, Home and Professional, as well as a later 64-bit version. The Tablet PC and Media Center editions later added to XP's allure.

Microsoft announced in 2003 it was working on a new version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn, before Microsoft announced in July 2005 that it was to be called Windows Vista.