1990–1994: Windows 3.0–Windows NT—Getting the graphics
On May 22, 1990, Microsoft announces Windows 3.0, followed shortly by Windows 3.1 in 1992. Taken together, they sell 10 million copies in their first two years, making this the most widely used Windows operating system yet. The scale of this success causes Microsoft to revise earlier plans. Virtual Memory improves visual graphics. In 1990 Windows starts to look like the versions to come.
Windows now has significantly better performance, advanced graphics with 16 colors, and improved icons. A new wave of 386 PCs helps drive the popularity of Windows 3.0. With full support for the Intel 386 processor, programs run noticeably faster. Program Manager, File Manager, and Print Manager arrive in Windows 3.0.
Windows software is installed with floppy discs bought in large boxes with heavy instruction manuals.
The popularity of Windows 3.0 grows with the release of a new Windows software development kit (SDK), which helps software developers focus more on writing programs and less on writing device drivers.
Windows is increasingly used at work and home and now includes games like Solitaire, Hearts, and Minesweeper. An advertisement: “Now you can use the incredible power of Windows 3.0 to goof off.”
Windows for Workgroups 3.11 adds peer-to-peer workgroup and domain networking support and, for the first time, PCs become an integral part of the emerging client/server computing evolution.
When Windows NT releases on July 27, 1993, Microsoft meets an important milestone: the completion of a project begun in the late 1980s to build an advanced new operating system from scratch. “Windows NT represents nothing less than a fundamental change in the way that companies can address their business computing requirements,” Bill Gates says at its release.
Unlike Windows 3.1, however, Windows NT 3.1 is a 32-bit operating system, which makes it a strategic business platform that supports high-end engineering and scientific programs.
Geek trivia: The group that develops Windows NT was originally called the “Portable Systems” team.