Was Windows NT actually “New Technology”?

First, what is Windows NT? It’s the first fully 32-bit Windows operating system. It’s the predecessor of Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Windows Server 200x – you get the idea. NT was released in July 1993. The name “NT” was actually named after the codename of the Intel i860 processor, “N-Ten”. But, for marketing purposes, Microsoft expanded the letters to “New Technology”. The original concept was to have common code running on top of a custom Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL). The scope was scaled back when they dropped support for MIPS and Alpha.

The chief architect of Windows NT was David Cutler. Before NT, he developed the 32-bit OS for Digital’s PDP-11 (RSX-11M). He was currently in the process of developing the OS for the RISC Machines. Many of the concepts in these Operating Systems were used in the NT Operating System. In 1988 Cutler and his team were let go, they were working on the new OS that was going to lead Digital into the 90’s. Microsoft scooped him and some team members up quickly. Five years later, Microsoft NT 3.1 was released in 1993.

Just because I think this is somewhat entertaining, check out the minimum hardware requirements:

NT 3.1, CPU – 386, 25 MHz , RAM – 12 MB and free disk space 90 MB: released July 1993

Windows 7 – CPU-Pentium III, 1GHz, RAM – 1 GB and free disk space 1 GB: released October 2009

Much of the terminology in NT came from the VMS environments. The Windows NT Kernel and Executive subsystems are based on the VMS system. The Executive subsystems include the process manager, the scheduler, memory manager and IO managers. The two OS’s are so similar that some people have said you can read parts of a book on VMS internals and data structures and it holds true for the NT OS as well. There are way too many similarities to go into. If you are interested, there are several articles about this topic.

There is a big difference in the process manager. NT’s schedule gives CPU time to a thread, not a process. Funny, Digital released this functionality in VMS OS Version 7 released in 1995, after NT was released. NT was released with event wide logging and a configuration database (Registry), guess what, VMS 7.2 was released in early 1999 and it included both of these functionalities. Also interesting with the OS structure being so similar, Digital came out with clustering in 1984 but Microsoft didn’t release this functionality until late in 1997. So, you can see how closely these two operating systems track.

If you’re interested, you can read more details about the similarities and differences here: http://www.krsaborio.net/research/1990s/98/12_b.htm

My professional career started as a VMS system administrator and then I transitioned to Windows NT. You can see by some of the history that I’ve outlined, that this was a natural and easy transition to make since many of the concepts that I all ready understood carried over to the Windows world.


Here comes Windows Live Mail!

Windows Live Mail is the latest email client from Microsoft. It is intended to replace Outlook Express and Windows Mail (the e-mail client that came with Vista). All window users can download the program from Live.com or use the version that comes with Windows 7. It has more features and has better security than its predecessors.

The first version was released in November of 2007. It’s part of a larger suite called “Live”. Windows Live is a set of services and software from Microsoft. Most of the tools are web based (accessible through a browser, however there are some that require local installations. Some examples of web based are: calendar service, online photo gallery, online contacts list, online file storage (called skydrive). Some examples of software requiring installation are: Windows Live TV, Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Messenger.

OK, back to Windows Live Mail.

Live Mails’ foundation is Outlook Express although the interface and features are superior. The first big change is the interface. It is more flexible and allows the user to configure it to his liking. You can now setup multiple email accounts including gmail, hotmail and yahoo accounts. So, you can collect all your emails in one location. And, each account will get its own set of default folders (inbox, drafts, sent items, junk e-mails and deleted items).

Another cool feature is when you send photos over e-mail. The recipient will receive a thumbnail first. You also have control on how the thumbnail will look such as: size, frames, borders and text. The thumbnail is sent to the recipient and the larger picture is stored at a private web location. The picture will be downloaded when the recipient clicks on thumbnail. Thus, there inbox is not clogged up waiting for a large picture to be downloaded. Cool…

The search tools are faster and better, RSS feeds can now be brought into your mailbox and blogging is directly accessible to your Windows Live Space location.

So go ahead, start using Windows Live Mail. Of course I prefer the full Outlook version, but most home users will find everything they need in Windows Live mail.

Migrating from Outlook Express into Windows Live Mail is straight forward. If you have a new computer running Windows Live Mail, then you will need to copy the dbx files over from the old computer. Open Windows Live Mail and import the data. I won’t go into each step here, there are numerous instructions on the web for this. Do a google search…

Microsoft, The Early Years

Well, lets start with the computer that got Bill Gates interested. The MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems) Altair 8800 was introduced on 1/1/1975 on the cover of Popular Electronics. There were other computers being developed, but this one sparked ideas in Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Namely, What do you do with this computer, well of course you need software that is specifically developed for it.

Paul Allen was working at Honeywell, while Bill Gates was a sophomore at Harvard. There first task was to adapt BASIC to work on that machine. They finished the job and on January 2nd Paul Allen delivered the product to MITS. The next day Paul Allen joins MITS as director of software. Later that year, Bill Gates formed an informal partnership with Paul Allen called Micro-soft. MITS then starts traveling the US demonstrating the Altair and “Micro-Soft” BASIC. July 1st 1975, BASIC is officially shipped as version 2.0 in both a 4k and 8k edition.

Paul Allen resigns from MITS to work with Bill Gates full time on November 1, 1976. And, on November 26, the tradename “Microsoft” is officially registered in New Mexico. They still ran the company as an informal partnership. Do you know what the first ad campaign for Microsoft was called? “The Legend of Micro-Kid”.
Bill Gates actually went back to Harvard for the spring, and still lead Microsoft through the process of licensing BASIC to GE, NCR and Citibank – to name a few.

By the middle of 1977, Microsoft is developing and releases its next set of tools such as FORTRAN, COBOL and Assembler. And, with the introduction of the Intel 8080, people started to think they could own their own computers. So on February 3rd 1977, Paul Allen and Bill Gates finally establish an official partnership. Their main product was still BASIC which is still associated with MITS. Although, they are starting to feel like MITS is not contributing the way they should. Arbitration follows and on November 18th Microsoft is free to market BASIC to all vendors.

Microsoft started out with these 9 employees.

Original Microsoft Employees

Original Microsoft Employees

The picture shows:
Starting from the top, left: Steve Wood, Bob Wallace & Jim Lane
Next row: Bob O’Rear, Bob Greenburg, Marc McDonald & Gordon Letwin
Next row: Bill Gates, Andrea Lewis, Marla Wood & Paul Allen

Before there was a rivalry between Microsoft and Apple, they did work together. In 1977, Microsoft licensed the product Applesoft BASIC to Apple, established its first international office in Japan and is getting ready to move the office to Washington (officially moved on Jan 1, 1979).

June 11 1980, Steve Ballmer is hired. He is Bill’s first assistant, taking on the administrative aspects of Microsoft. The biggest deal happened during this year. Microsoft gets a contract with IBM to develop languages for their first personal computer. And, they need an operating system too! Yep Microsoft MS-DOS is alive.

In 1983 two key events happened. First, Microsoft Word for MS-DOS 1.00 is released on September 29, 1983. Second, On November 10, Microsoft unveils Microsoft Windows, MS-DOS with a graphical operating environment.

At this point, I think you know what happens next. The Microsoft wagon really gets rolling and the rest is history. Let me know if you’re interested in hearing about some of the big events leading up to NT, XP and Vista. At this point you are probably ready for a nap. By the way, there are lots of interesting stories through out their history.

One quick story: IBM approached Microsoft to discuss home computers and Microsoft products (in 1980). As far as OS development, Gates referred IBM to a product called CP/M written by Gary Kildall (from Digital Research). The day IBM was to meet with Kildall, he thought it was more important to meet with one of his bigger customers. So, he left his wife (who worked with him) to deal with IBM. She refused to sign IBM’s non-discloser until she talked to their lawyer. During this time, Gary Kildall came back to the office and decided to sign the agreement and meet with IBM. He didn’t like the deal and turned it down. The deal was $200,000 flat fee + $10 royalty and change the name to PC-DOS. IBM went back to Bill Gates to try and persuade Kildall to change his mind. But, of course Bill Gates took advantage of the opportunity and closed the deal himself. Microsoft MS-DOS was based on QDOS which in turn was based on Kildall’s CP/M. The world of operating systems was sitting in Kildall’s lap.