microsoft error

OK, I’ll start this thread by admitting I’m a devoted Mac advocate. But I have a question about Microsoft’s latest OS strategy that seems like a major mistake to me.

Back in Apple’s DARK TIMES, one of the biggest problems was confusion with all their different hardware setups. You had the Quadra series, the Performa series, the PowerPC series – all with very little difference between them. And you had just as many types of laptops.

Now they’ve consolidated (thankfully) into a consumer desktop and pro desktop, and a consumer laptop and pro laptop. Sure you can get different options, but the basic boxes are that simple.

MS seems to be confusing their OS line in the other direction. There originally was Windows 9X and Windows NT. Now, in a short amount of time, you have Windows 2000, NT, ME, XP.

Why on earth does one computer company need 4 different operating systems? Other than NT being aimed at businesses, I have no idea what the differences are in any of the other ones. (Just that they always seem to lag behing Apple… OSX… and then XP? Geez, how transparent can you be?)

So first, can someone please explain the basic differences of the 4 OS approaches to me?

And second, is this MS’s first marketing snafu? Or is it just another attempt to take over the world that I don’t understand?

Well, XP is supposed to be the new, unified line of both professional and consumer operating systems that run on PeeCees. That is, Microsoft is now standardized upon a single operating system.

BUT… now there’s the “home,” “professional,” and soon, “server” versions of this. They have different functions built in, mostly to charge people more that need higher functionality (like being able to log onto Windows NT domains) which USED to be doable in the “consumer” versions. The big point is the kernal is “unified,” that is, they’re ALL NT underneath.

There’s parity in the Mac world – the “single” Mac OS X comes in both the Workstation (client) and Server version (the workstation version is the one we all have). The server version does extra things out of the box that we can’t do on the workstation version. But, underneath, they’re the same core technologies (the Mach kernal and the BSD subsystem in lieu of that troublesome NT).

Windows 2000 - the most recent version of Windows NT, which runs on a different (newer, more stable) kernel and file system (with security down to the individual file) than Windows 9x…aimed at businesses and servers.

Windows ME - the most recent version of the Windows 9x line…essentially created to bridge the gap between Windows 98 and Windows XP, since NT isn’t considered geared for the home user for some reason or another. The best reason I can surmise is that the NT line doesn’t use the DOS kernel, so old DOS apps are ran through a flawed emulator. WinME is really just a bastardized version of Win98 SE with a few minor new features (like built-in zip support, also in XP) and one big annoyance: Microsoft tried to cover up that they’re still running good old (old, old…) DOS under it all, which means not only can’t you exit into pure DOS, but some old DOS games won’t run in it. Advantage over Win2k? Not sure, it’s really just Windows 95 Final. It’s been replaced by Windows XP, anyhow.

Windows XP - it’s big, it’s bad, it’s sort of new. As I know it, it runs on the NT kernel (DOS has at last been laid to rest). It’s for the home user definitely, but I’m not sure if it’s also the successor to Windows 2000…it certainly adds a few interesting (if long overdue) features that any user could appreciate (the little things, like the improved renaming system and the more useful details in Explorer like the resolution of images and the encoded rate of MP3s), but it’s look makes it very deserving of the title “the Fischer-Price Operating System.” One step forward, two steps back, that Microsoft.

Well, someone clear up my ramblings.

Despite what the MS propaganda machine is trying to make you believe how XP is going to revolutionize the world, it’s really just a minor upgrade from Win2k. Yes, it has a brand new user interface, and it is definitely a big step up for the average 9x users, but under the hood, there’s nothing particularly excitingly new that 2k doesn’t already has. The numeric version number alone tell the whole story: 2k is 5.0, XP is only 5.1, not 6.0.

Well, NT 4.0 has been around for awhile, and now is obsolete (they aren’t selling it any more). The rest of what you’re saying is valid, though.

ME, the successor to Windows98 and Windows95, is new enough that many folks have not upgraded to it it.

Windows2000, the successor to Windows NT, is also new enough that many businesses and individuals have not upgraded to it either.

Those who have upgraded to ME or 2000 have done so recently enough to be permitted the expectation that their new OS will last them awhile before it becomes obsolete. And those who bought new computers with these operating systems preinstalled may well feel the same way.

XP is the authentic successor to Windows2000 (yeah, already) as well as being the replacement wannabe for ME (yeah, also already again). Essentially, it is the NT/2000 operating system with a lot more done to it to try to make it run most of the DOS/Windows95/Windows98 stuff that NT and 2000 sometimes had trouble running.

Why would a Windows2000 corporation upgrade to XP? In most business environments, that’s a damn good question, since they just got finished going to 2000 and are probably still in the process of learning its quirks and tendencies and the ways in which it is different from NT 4.0, and in all likelihood an upgrade to XP is not a budget priority right now.

Why would a Windows2000 private individual upgrade to XP? Better compatibility with W95 and W98 stuff (like games) and with 3rd-party hardware, I’d imagine. Lots of these folks will probably do it. Private individuals who use Win2K are your geekier, more technically proficient PC users, and they are more likely to shell out for new OS toys and more likely to have the patience to install and tweak. These folks will probably opt for XP Professional, not XP Home. (Yeah, it’s more complicated than you thought!!)

Why would a Windows ME or Windows 98 individual upgrade to XP? Damn good question. These folks would be the intended target audience for XP Home, but oh man…if you aren’t a geek and you’re installing it on top of your older OS, all kinds of things might stop working until you geek and tweak and curse your way through it (it’s a fundamentally different OS); XP Home is the one with all the rigid hardware registration stuff in it, requiring you to ask Microsoft’s permission before adding more than a couple new hardware peripherals, and requiring you to be online practially all the time (if you are on a modem, it will be dialing out a LOT); and XP Home gives you LESS ability to participate in networked environments than Windows ME/98/95 did, so for the individual who occasionally dials in by modem and VPN’s into the company network, umm, nope, no can do.

Of course, they could opt for the Professional edition instead, or download some illegal hacks, but the typical ME/98/95 user isn’t generally quite that enamored of operating systems for the sake of operating systems, they are more likely to want to be able to turn it on and launch their programs and get to work (or play).

All in all, by the time you add in the fact that virtually nothing out there REQUIRES you to have XP in order to run it, it would indeed seem to be a marketing and timing screwup.

I wouldn’t exactly say there are 4 operating systems. Maybe 2.

Windows 2000 is just the next version of NT. You can think of Windows 2000 as Windows NT 5. Before 5 was version 4, and before 4 was 3.51.

Windows Me is just the next version of Windows 98. The “Me” is actually an abbreviation for Millenium, if you didn’t already know. To avoid confusion with Windows 2000, Microsoft decided to call it Millenium, or ‘Me’ for short.

That brings us to their latest incarnation - XP. XP is supposed to be a combination of Windows 9.x and NT. That is, the user friendliness of 9.x, while having the stablity of NT. With the introduction of XP, the 9.x line is no longer being produced.

So, Microsoft essentially has two OSs - Windows 2000 and Windows XP.

In the beginning there was one version of windows, and it was a royal piece of (censored). (should probably add an IMHO here too). Then came version 2, and finally came version 3, which was the first one that actually worked well enough to be usable (again IMHO). It was the first really big seller for Microsoft, and you’ll find very few people these days who worked with any version of windows prior to 2, but you will find many who used 3.

Windows 3.0 was designed basically for a single user machine. 3.1 added some nifty enhancements to take advantage of the 386 processor (if you used 386 enhanced mode, it would still run in 286 mode). For business users, Microsoft made a version with a bunch of network support. I’m not sure what all the different versions were. The one I used was 3.51.

Then came Windows 95, which was a huge leap from 16 bit code to 386 code (not just the minimal 386 enhanced mode for windows 3.1, but a true 32 bit operating system). Despite the name change and the marketing hype, windows 95 identifies itself as windows 4.0.

In the mean time, Microsoft developed their next version for business and network users, and called this NT 4.0. One of the main problems that affected windows 3.x and windows 95 was stability. A misbehaving program could easily bring the entire computer to its knees. This was a bad thing for business users, who needed more stability. One of the major factors affecting stability was the fact that windows 95 was backwards compatible to DOS, and DOS allowed programs to directly access all of the computer’s hardware. In fact, DOS was such a minimal operating system that it didn’t manage the hardware at all, and programs were forced to directly access the hardware. The whole concept of device drivers wasn’t really there in DOS.

To get around the stability issues, NT 4.0 does not allow programs to directly access hardware. This is great for system stability, but royally stinks for backwards compatibility. This led to two different philosophies for the operating systems. If you needed stability (like business users) then you used NT 4.0. If you needed direct hardware access (good for games and backward compatibility) then you used 95.

Microsoft next released Windows 98, which identifies itself as windows 4.1. As you’d expect from the version numbers, it’s just a minor improvement to 95, taking advantage of newer hardware and integrating the web browser into the operating system.

Next came Windows 2000. By this time, Microsoft is getting tired of supporting two operating system lines, so they plan on everyone upgrading to 2000. The only problem is that 2000 is NT 5.0. It has a lot of great new features, but like NT 4.0 before it, it royally stinks for things that need direct hardware access and backwards compatibility. Games tend to run fairly poorly on it. Early testers figure this out, and Microsoft changes gears and starts pushing this as the successor to NT. They then come out with ME, which incorporates a lot of the new features of 2000 into the 9.x line. Remember, they would prefer to sell one operating system to everyone, so they start taking out parts of the 9.x series that they don’t think customers need any more, so that they are starting to “merge” their operating systems (merge actually means they want to kill off the 9.x line and force everyone to NT, which isn’t really a merge).

The next big thing from Microsoft is XP. This is supposed to be more significant of a change than from windows 3 to 95, if you believe the hype coming out of Microsoft. However, the operating system identifies itself is NT 5.1, which gives you a better clue what is really going on. The guts of the operating system don’t change much from 2000, but the user interface gets a huge facelift. This is also where they choose to “merge” the two operating systems, but remember this is still NT and it has all those things that are great for stability but royally stink at backwards compatibility. As you’d expect, it tends to suck royally at running DOS programs that do a lot of direct hardware access. However, during the time between the release of 2000 and XP, most new games have switched over to using DirectX (something that was starting to happen before 2000 was released), so most games and things that people use at home will actually run on XP.

The 9.x line is officially now dead, and we all run NT from here on out, whether we like it or not. If you have old DOS games, or software that only runs on 9.x type machines (like DOS based prom burners and other specialty type things) Microsoft doesn’t care about you.

In summary, prior to the relase of XP, there were two lines, the 9.x line and the NT line, and Microsoft of course expected you to buy the latest in whichever series you use. Now there is just XP, and they expect users of both 9.x and NT to upgrade to it. In a short time, expect 2000 and ME to drop off of the shelves, and all new computers will start shipping with XP.

Microsoft is currently on about a 2 year cycle. Expect the next big thing that is going to take over the world to be released around 2003 or 2004.

engineer_comp_geek, you did a great job of summarizing the Windows history, except for this one bit:

Version 3.51 was Windows NT. This had the NT kernel, but the user interface from Win 3.1.

The successor to Windows 3.1, which added network support for business users, was Windows 3.11, by the way, also called Windows for Workgroups.

Thank you all for the replies. They strenghten my belief that MS screwed up its marketing campaign here. It’s just too difficult to work it all out. Sounds like they should have stuck with two numbering systems… one for pro, one for consumer. It’s what they did, but the massive changes in names seem to just muddy the waters.

And no, I had no idea the ME stood for Millenium, nor do I have any clue what XP stands for.

Thanks again for the explanations, very informative! And now I can – maybe? – understand the basics when I work on Win machines.

You ready?
X Perience.

And expect me not to buy it. I’m quite happy with my 98SE.

BTW: I thought “ME” stood for “Millennium Edition”.
Nitpick: note the second “n” there.