Top 5 Windows Editions

A Look of the Most Important Microsoft Windows Operating Systems

Woman using Windows 10 in S mode on a Microsoft Surface Laptop


Windows is more than 30 years old now so it's as good a time as any to look back on the five most important Windows releases of all time. Note that this isn't a list of the best Windows releases, but rather the ones that were most important. It's been a long, strange trip, Microsoft.

Windows XP

Windows XP
Windows XP.

Chances are good that you have worked on a Windows XP computer at some point, and that's why it's on this list. Windows XP, released in 2001, just recently dropped below 10 percent market share. It dominated the market for years, and that longevity speaks to how good XP is.

Originally taking hits for what some called its "Fisher Price interface," XP was a rapid success. It wasn't until Service Pack 2 that Windows Firewall, the primary security tool, was enabled by default. This delay contributed in part to Microsoft's reputation for building insecure products, but despite its flaws, XP had many advantages, which accounted for its remarkable popularity.

Windows 95

Windows 95
Windows 95.

Windows 95, released in August 1995, is when the public truly started embracing Windows. Microsoft launched a gigantic public-relations blitz for Windows 95, highlighting the introduction of the Start button, unveiling it to the tune of the Rolling Stones "Start Me Up." Perhaps in an ominous sign of things to come, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates suffered through a Blue Screen of Death during one Windows 95 demo.

Windows 95 was Microsoft's first true graphical user interface, which it layered on top of DOS. This approach made Windows much more accessible to the average user and helped launch Windows' dominance in the market.

Windows 7

Windows 7
The Windows 7 desktop. Microsoft

Windows 7 has way more fans than previous Windows versions, and many think it is Microsoft's best OS ever. It is Microsoft's fastest-selling OS to date — within a year or so it overtook XP as the most popular operating system. That's a good thing because Windows 7 is significantly more secure and user-friendly than any previous Microsoft OS.

Released in October 2009, Windows 7 has a completely different look and feel than other operating systems. It also has the best networking features, built-in touch-screen functionality, better backup and recovery tools, and quicker startup and shutdown times. In short, Microsoft got it right with Windows 7. As of late 2017, Windows 7 still holds the distinction of being the most popular OS in the world with a 48 percent market share, well ahead of the operating system in second place: Windows 10. 

Windows 10

The Windows 10 desktop
The Windows 10 desktop. Microsoft

Windows 10, which was released in July 2015, is fast and stable. It includes robust anti-virus and impressive internal search capabilities, and you don't need to use the unpopular Metro interface anymore. It's not your father's Windows, but there is nothing wrong with Windows 10. It just exists in a slightly post-PC world.

With Windows 10, Microsoft kept some of the touch features it introduced in Windows 8 and combined them with the Start menu and desktop. The operating system is more secure than it was in its predecessors, and it introduces a new browser — Microsoft Edge — and the Cortana assistant. Windows 10 also runs on Windows phones and small tablets. 

Windows 8 

How to Upgrade to Windows 8 from Windows 7, Vista, XP
How to Upgrade to Windows 8 from Windows 7, Vista, XP. (c) Image Courtesy of Microsoft

Depending on who you ask, 2012's Windows 8 is great, while other users feel the attempt to graft a mobile interface onto a desktop OS was awkward at best. However, Windows 8 is stable and speedy. Fans of Windows 8 love the live tiles and easy gestures. The introduction of the ability to "pin" just about anything to the Start screen is immensely popular, and the Task Manager is updated and adds more functionality in an attractive space.

All the Others

Wondering where Windows Vista and Windows Me fall in this list? Way, way down. Other versions that didn't make this most-important list are Windows 1.0, Windows 2, Windows 3.0, Windows RT, Windows 8.1, Windows 2000, and Windows NT. However, each OS had its purpose at the time and had many followers. No doubt they could make a strong argument that their favorite is one of the most important operating systems of all time.