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

 Microsoft

Windows is more than 30 years old, so now is 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. XP was popular and long-lived. Windows XP, released in 2001, still has a larger worldwide market share than Windows 8 or Windows Vista. It dominated the market for years, and that longevity speaks to how good XP is.

XP was a rapid success, despite an early stumble. 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. 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 started to embrace 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 graphical user interface, which was 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 users 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. Until early 2018 when Windows 10 finally surpassed it, Windows 7 held the distinction of being the most popular OS in the world. That's a good thing because Windows 7 is significantly more secure and user-friendly than any Microsoft OS that came before it.

Released in October 2009, Windows 7 has a completely different look and feel from other Windows versions. It also has excellent 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.

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 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 either great or an awkward attempt to graft a mobile interface onto a desktop OS. 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 those followers could make a strong argument that their favorite Windows version is one of the most important operating systems of all time.