Are Windows 95 and 98 earlier releases than Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and 10?

Yes. Yes they are.

This question might seem a bit silly to those of us who lived through, and paid attention to, the early releases of Windows in the 1980s and 1990s. But to someone who didn’t, these numbers can be confusing and misleading.

The naming convention of versions of consumer/desktop Windows has changed over the years. Ultimately, these are just names. You can’t necessarily deduce the order of the releases without knowing a bit the history about how the naming conventions changed over time.

In the early days, numeric major/minor version numbers were assigned to each new release, a common practice for software in those days. From 1985 through 1994, we had 1.0, 1.02, 1.03, 1.04, 2.03, 2.10, 2.11, 3.0, 3.1, 3.11, and 3.2. These where the actual internal software version numbers used by the development team.

Then, in 1995, to shake things up, the naming convention was changed to be derived from the year of release:

  • Windows 95 (1995, internal version 4.0)
  • Windows 98 (1998, internal version 4.10)

But that was going to get confusing as the millennium approached, and it was difficult to express minor releases that had been so natural with the previous version numbering scheme. So, we got:

  • Windows 98SE (Second Edition, 1999, internal version 4.10.1998)
  • Windows ME (Millennium Edition, 2000, internal version 4.10.2222)

This transitioned into a non-numeric version scheme, with:

  • Windows XP (2001, internal version NT 5.1)
    • This and all subsequent consumer/desktop Windows versions for the PC were based on the Windows NT kernel.
  • Windows Vista (2007, internal version NT 6.0)

But then there was a switch back to simple numbering of versions, which didn’t match the internal software version number or the year of release. This gave us:

  • Windows 7 (2009, internal version NT 6.1)
  • Windows 8 (2012, internal version NT 6.2)
  • Windows 8.1 (2013, internal version NT 6.3)
  • Windows 10 (2015, internal version NT 10.0)

Where did Windows 9 go?

Windows 9 was skipped, because some commercial application software actually checks whether it’s running on Windows 95 or Windows 98 by comparing the beginning of the current operating system name with “Windows 9”. So, if the application were running on an actual Windows 9 operating system, it would think it’s running on Windows 95 or Windows 98. Depending on how the application used that information, the application might behave strangely or fail dramatically.

Stay tuned for a blog post about the various ways an application can check for Windows versions, and how to avoid the perils and pitfalls.

With Windows 10, we’re finally back to a name that matches the internal software version number, but the internal software version number was artificially increased to 10 to match the name of the product.

At the time of this writing, Microsoft’s position is that Windows 10 will be the last named release, and all subsequent releases will be updates to Windows 10. Time will tell. But for now, at least, we have a reprieve from having to figure out a new product naming convention.

I purposely left out the changing numbering schemes of the Windows NT and Windows Server product lines. Those may find their way into a future blog post.

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