Today, we are continuing on an epic journey. Nay. A quest. To take every Operating System and rank them, best to worst, on a 50 point scoring system.

There are five categories. Each is worth 10 points:

  • Enjoyability: How much fun is the OS to use?

  • Polish: How polished is the experience?

  • Immortality: How well does the system run now… and how well will it run in the future?

  • Importance: How important (technologically, culturally, or historically) is the OS?

  • Wildcard: 10 Points that can be awarded for other reasons (with the idea that each system is unique).

As a refresher, here are the current standings:

Today, we're going to travel back to November 20th, 1985 – less than one month after McFly first revved the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour – and the release of one of the most historically important software releases in history.

Microsoft Windows 1.04.

When Windows 1.0 was first released (actually the first public release was version 1.01… technically speaking version “1.0” never saw the light of day) it didn't receive the most positive reception.

The New York Times compared the performance of Windows 1.0 as “akin to pouring molasses in the Arctic.”

This poor reception (some of which was quite valid criticism, others were results of people not understanding what they were reviewing) led to a general misunderstanding of what early versions of Windows actually were. This confusion was bolstered by poor and confusing marketing and communication from Microsoft.

The result is that many considered Windows 1.0 to be “essentially just a patch, or add-on, to” MS-DOS. In fact, this general sentiment and attitude continued through the Windows 3.1 years. “Windows is just a GUI on top of DOS!” being a common refrain.

The reality is a bit more complex (and far more interesting).

While it's definitely true that Winodws 1.0 sat on top of DOS (and was, in fact, a DOS application) the features it provided were many, varied, and impressive. Those include, but are not limited to:

  • Cooperative Multitasking.
  • Virtual Memory.
  • A new executable file format.
  • A full, new API set.
  • Device drivers, and APIs for using the hardware in an abstracted way.
  • A tiled window manager.

Does Windows 1.0 sit on top of DOS? For sure. Is Windows 1.0 “just” a shell for DOS? Heck no. The amount of features it provides is far too impressive for that to be an accurate description. It is, without question, a powerful Operating System in its own right. Just one that happens to be reliant on DOS.

In fact, here's what the installation of Windows 1.0 looks like. In DOS. (Note the adorable ASCII art floppy drive. Love that.)

Win 1

All that said… Windows 1.0 has problems. Lots of them. Oodles.

Let's go through some of that as we score Microsoft's first forray into Windows-land.

We're going to be using version 1.04 for this specific test as it was the most polished of the 1.0x series. And giving Windows 1.0 the best chance at a good score just seems like the nice thing to do.

Enjoyability – Score: 1 / 10

When Windows 1.0 is first run (after installation) this is what it looks like:

Win 1

No “Program Manager.” No “Explorer.exe.” If you're familiar with Windows 3.x or Windows 95 onward… well… Windows 1.0 looks almost nothing like those.

What you have, as your application launcher and primary interface, is something called “MS-DOS Executive” – an incredibly simple file manager that you can use to launch software.

The way you intract with windows in Windows 1.0 is very much a tiled window manager approach. No overlapping, movable windows here. You can place running application side by side, or on top of each other. It generally works well enough to get things done… but it all feels a bit clumsy and inconsistent.

The look. The default color scheme. It's all a bit eye-bleed-y.

Win 1

This is what it looks like when running a DOS command prompt as the only running application (other than MS-DOS Executive). Note the color scheme that makes you want to time travel back to the early 1980s. Most likely to commit murder.

Do I enjoy using Windows 1.0? No. No, I do not. It's not the worst thing ever. But it's not fun. If I have the choice between using Windows 1.0 and not… I chose not. Every time.

Polish – Score: 2 / 10

Dialogs in Windows 1.0 are not only inconsistent (which I can usually overlook)… but they often are just cluttered messes. The color scheme makes no sense. The overall interface design is just… just… not good.

What's funny is that Microsoft clearly got some things right in the design of Windows 1.0. But then managed to screw it all up.

For example… take a look at those screenshots above. Notice how they look just awful? Now look at this screenshot below.

Win 1

Same OS. But this screenshot was taken with a black and white video driver.

Notice how it looks significantly classier? It's still not perfect… but it's far easier on the eyes, and the interface elements are far more obvious. The way the system works almost instantly becomes more clear.

That's right. Windows 1.0 looks about 785 times worse in color than in black and white.

It feels like the crew at Microsoft were on the right track with Windows 1.0… they were close to creating a system with not only some significant technological acheivements… but with a user interface that could almost rival some of the early Macintosh systems.

Then they stuck it in a blender, spray painted it with Fisher Price colors, drank it, then vomited it all back onto a floppy.

Immortality – Score: 3 / 10

Windows 1.0 is easy to run on modern systems. Maybe not with all the device drivers you'll want… but there were never that many drivers available for it anyway.

Runs great in a virtual machine. Any of them. Requires very little system resources (640k ought to be enough for anybody).

But, in reality, there's simply not much in the way of software available for the earliest Windows system. Thus… there's not much use actually running Windows 1.0. Now, 20 years ago… or 20 years into the future.

Importance – Score: 7 / 10

Windows 1.0 is a historically important software release. The first Windows! The beginning of the beast that would quickly begin to dominate the computing world for years (nay, decades) to come.

It also was significantly different – both technologically and design wise – from other windowing systems and graphical operating systems of the day. In those early days of such (consumer focused) systems, those differences (as companies tried different approaches) were highly significant.

And, let's be honest, the feature set of Windows 1.0 was nothing short of impressive. It had other probblems (like usability) that really dragged it down.

Not the most significant release ever, but a critical piece of history – not just for Microsoft, but for computing in general.

Wildcard – Score: 0 / 10

I really am not a fan of Windows 1.0. It's default look is attrocious. It's buggy. The way the user interface works is, in a nutshell, not overly enjoyable.

Microsoft released the source code for the earliest versions of MS-DOS. And one of the earliest versions of Word for Windows. Heck, Microsoft also released the code for WinFile (a file manager for versions of Windows that came later).

But not Windows 1.0. A system that nobody uses and Microsoft has explicitly not supported in any way for roughly two decades.

If they released the source code, I would add some points to the score here as it would be hightly interesting and beneficial from a historical perspective.

As it stands… Windows 1.0… gets a big, fat zero for the Wildcard score from me.

Total – Score 13 / 50

Holy guacamole. We have a new winner… for the lowest score of any Operating System to date. 13 points. Yikes. And the only reason it has a score that high is due to the historical importance it has.

It's funny. Many people criticize the early versions of Winodws. In my opinion, those criticisms are (sometimes) unwaranted. But, the reality is, version 1.0 is just downright dreadful.

Next time… we're going to be jumping far ahead into the future… into the (drumroll) 1990s.

Here's the updated rankings.

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