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History of Microsoft Windows

Oracle Database Tips by Donald BurlesonJuly 29, 2015

The immediate lineage of Windows Server can be summed up in three letters - VMS.  More about that later, but first, for those who want more background, it would seem appropriate to start out with a bit of history. 

In November of 1983, Microsoft Corporation announced Microsoft Windows, a new operating system that provided a then-new idea, graphical user interface, combined with a multitasking environment for computers.  Rumor has it that Bill Gates wanted to name the operating system Interface Manager, but his marketing manager convinced him to call it Windows.  Microsoft did not actually ship Windows 1.0 until November 20, 1985, almost two years later than the original release date.

Windows started as a desktop product.  While working on the Windows product, Bill Gates was also working in conjunction with IBM.  Both were collaborating with each other in developing their PC operating systems and had access to each other's code.  In August of 1985, the development of OS/2 began when IBM and Microsoft signed the Joint Development Agreement, a joint project aimed at developing and improving the OS/2 operating system.

By the early 1990s, problems began emerging in Microsoft's relationship with IBM. Microsoft wanted to further develop Windows, while IBM wanted future operating system work to be based on OS/2. In an attempt to resolve the conflict, IBM and Microsoft agreed that IBM would develop OS/2 2.0, to replace OS/2 1.3 and Windows 3.0, while Microsoft would develop a new operating system, OS/2 3.0, to later succeed OS/2 2.0.

Things soon went sour between the two, and the Microsoft collaboration with IBM was ended.  IBM continued with OS/2, while Microsoft went on to work on 'New Technology', or as it is better known, Windows NT.  Although both companies retained the rights to use OS/2 and Windows code developed up to the termination of the agreement, Windows NT was destined to be written almost totally from new roots.  Those roots were to come from Digital Equipment Corporation's (DEC) then-flagship operating system.

Windows NT, and thus Windows 2000/2003/2008, can be traced back to what was a favorite O/S of many people who have been in this business for awhile:  VMS.  VMS is short for Virtual Memory System , a multitasking, virtual memory operating system with many users that runs on DEC's Virtual Access Extension (VAE). It is now called OpenVMS.  VMS in its day was used by banks, hospitals, specialty software companies such as Intergraph, and many large businesses. It had a reputation for extreme reliability.  It was also the first to use true clusters and actually had a Distributed Lock Manager, allowing several nodes to access the same disk drives at once in much the same way which Oracle RAC functions. That is one thing Microsoft still has not been able to do.  Today's Microsoft Clusters  can only have one node accessing a disk device at a time.

One of the main architects and project leader of VMS at Digital was Dave Cutler.  Once VMS was developed, Dave Cutler and his team continued work on new releases of VMS.  By 1981, Cutler was looking to leave Digital. In an attempt to keep him, Digital gave him a new project and about 200 hardware and software engineers with a mission to design a new CPU architecture and OS that would lead Digital into the next decade. The new project was called Prism, and the operating system was slated to be named Mica.

In 1988, Digital cancelled Cutler's project and laid off many of Cutler's group. It was this action that finally caused Cutler to decide to finally leave Digital, and in August 1988, Bill Gates hired him to work at Microsoft. One of Cutler's conditions for accepting the position at Microsoft was that he could bring several former Digital employees with him, including several hardware engineers. This was agreed upon, the result of which was a team of developers and engineers that had previously built and maintained VMS for several years.  These people were the same team that began work on Windows NT at Microsoft.

It would only logically follow that these developers would use their past VMS design experience directly in the design and implementation of NT.  Many users believe that NT's developers carried concepts from VMS to NT, but most do not know just how similar NT and VMS actually are at the kernel level.  The result is, if a DBA has worked with VMS, Windows NT/Server 200x really is not as much of a shock as it is to someone who is coming over from UNIX/Linux. 


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