On 06 April 1992, Microsoft released Windows 3.1. As Marcel Brown notes:
For many of us that were into computers back in the day, it was the first version of Windows we actually used, as previous versions were still gaining consumer acceptance and Windows 95 wasn’t released until [three] years later.
Microsoft sold 3 million copies in a two month period; the retail price was $149 ($303 in 2022 dollars).
Eight years earlier, in a 1984 Super Bowl ad, Apple had introduced the world to the Macintosh, the first successful all-in-one desktop personal computer with a graphical user interface and mouse. The scrappy Silicon Valley company positioned itself as David to IBM’s Goliath.
In introducing the Macintosh, Steve Jobs asserted that there had been only only two milestone products in the personal computer age: the Apple II in 1977 and the IBM PC in 1981.
Bill Gates envisioned Windows as such a milestone effort.
Windows was not an operating system, per se. Instead, it was an environment, a shell, that sat atop MS-DOS, the company’s flagship product. Microsoft released the first version of Windows on 20 November 1985. Note that other versions of DOS could support Windows.
Apple unsuccessfully sued Microsoft for copyright infringement in 1988.
IBM had licensed MS-DOS (Disk Operating System) from Microsoft in 1981. Tim Paterson had developed the first version, 86-DOS, in 1980; he based it on the CP/M operating system created by Digital Research.
By the end of 1992, Apple Computer had almost matched the personal computer market share of industry leader IBM, proving in cold cash the attraction and power of an easy-to-use interface. Yet there were many more brands, as well as clones, using the DOS operating system; therefore the Apple operating system was a feature of only about 1-in-9 personal computers.
It would be Windows95, not Apple, that would drive the mass adoption of personal computers through an easier-than-command-line user interface.
[Windows 95] was undoubtedly a technical leap forward, but its biggest, most lasting impacts are about how it changed popular culture’s relationship to technology… splashy, big-budget ads for Windows 95 were ubiquitous in primetime TV in that era when everyone was still watching TV with ads…
Feeling nostalgic? You can run Windows 3.1 on your iPad (2021)!