Today in Apple history: Microsoft reveals its plans for Windows 1.0

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This is how Windows 1.0 looked when it shipped.
This is how Windows 1.0 looked when it shipped.
Screenshot: Microsoft

November 10: Today in Apple history: Microsoft Windows 1.0 November 10, 1983: Microsoft tells the world about an upcoming product called Windows, which will bring the graphical user interface to IBM PCs.

Although Microsoft’s announcement about the new operating system comes before Apple launches the Mac, Windows 1.0 won’t actually ship until November 1985, earning it a reputation as “vaporware.”

At the time, Apple doesn’t view Windows as much of a threat. That doesn’t take long to change, however.

Apple’s frenemy gains power

When Microsoft first revealed its plans for Windows, Apple had just introduced the GUI to the general public with its ill-fated Lisa computer. The Lisa’s operating system, like Windows, drew inspiration from pioneering work carried out a decade earlier at Xerox PARC.

“The main ‘copying’ that went on relative to Steve [Jobs] and me is that we both benefited from the work that Xerox PARC did in creating graphical interface,” Bill Gates admitted during a Reddit AMA session this year. “It wasn’t just them but they did the best work … We didn’t violate any [intellectual property] rights Xerox had but their work showed the way that led to the Mac and Windows.”

Compared to the Lisa, however, Windows 1.0 looked incredibly limited. Microsoft’s software engineers based it on the same concepts of pull-down menus, mouse support and tiled windows. However, they failed to pull it off.

Windows did do one thing that grabbed people’s attention. It appealed to customers with its low pricing of just $99.

By the time Windows 1.0 launched, Microsoft was best known as a developer for the Mac. After Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985, Microsoft used its position as the maker of Word and Excel to strong-arm Apple CEO John Sculley into signing a deal granting Microsoft “non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, nontransferable license to use [parts of the Mac technology] in present and future software programs” for its then-fledgling Windows.

The Apple-Microsoft battle intensifies

Not seeing the potential of Windows, Sculley agreed to the deal. It wasn’t until Microsoft released the follow-up to Windows, which looked suspiciously similar to Mac OS, that Apple sued Microsoft for copyright infringement.

Microsoft then went from strength to strength, as PC sales went through the roof over the following decade. At the same time, Apple faltered.

The long-running Microsoft-Apple legal battles ultimately got resolved in August 1997, when Cupertino agreed to drop all lawsuits against its rival. By that point, Microsoft was nearing the height of its post-Windows 95 power. And Apple was ready to start climbing back to the top of the tech industry.

Were you a computer user in the early days of Windows? Leave your comments below.

  • aarg

    Those were some weird, wacky days – not only Windows 1.0, but IBM’s GUI offering, OS/2, Commodore’s GeOS, Atari licensing GEM from Digital Research – all attempts to embrace the mouse.

    In my opinion, what set Apple apart was its Human Interface Toolbox and the work put into refining it. That consistent “language” across apps is something we take for granted today, but it was a radical concept at the time for a hardware manufacturer to dictate standards to software developers.

  • bIg hIlL

    To knee Sculley in the nuts for signing that deal would be a pleasure