What is the Key Difference Between 32-bit and 64-bit?
So, you have a game that you love but it runs on 32-bit and you now use a 64-bit Windows computer. This can be a major blow when it comes to your favorites, but it really does not have to be. There are actually a lot of ways that you can still play your favorites with a little insight and some extra work on your part.
If you are questioning how to run 32-bit games on 64-bit Windows, look no further because this will be your ultimate guide. The first thing you should note is that many older Windows apps should work on Windows 10 with little hassle. If you got these games to work on Windows 7, then you should have no trouble at all running them on a 64-bit. However, you are finding some games just won’t work, we will fully discuss what you can do to dive back into your favorites.
We will fully discuss each of the ways that you can run 32-bit games and applications on 64-bit Windows further, but these many ways are:
- Run as an Administrator
- Install an Unsigned or 32-bit Driver
- Use 32-bit Software for Older 16-bit Software
- Adjust Your Windows Compatibility Settings
- Run Games that Require SafeDisc and SecuROM DRM
- Use Virtual Machines for Older Software
- Using Apps that Require Java, Silverlight, ActiveX, or Internet Explorer
- Use Emulators to Run Windows 3.1 Applications
Before jumping into how you can find loopholes to get your games to work, it is important to note the key differences between the two systems themselves. Windows fanatics will know that with the release of Windows 7, Microsoft made a larger effort to increase the popularity of 64-bit in the average home. The problem is, many homeowners do not know what this even means and may not even realize that they are running it.
Essentially, these numbers refer to the width of the CPU register in your personal computer. The register is the small amount of storage where the CPU keeps the data it needs to access in order for your computer to run to its optimal performance. In its simplest form, a 64-bit register holds more data than a 32-bit register, while this holds more than the smaller bit registers of the past.
Clearly, a larger register can be beneficial as it has more ample space and can handle more, using system memory more efficiently. A device that has a 32-bit register will be limited to accessing 4GB of RAM. In the past, this seemed like a lot for an at-home device, but in recent years it is very limited for a modern computer.
The Rocky Rise of 64-bit devices
Though it may seem relatively new, the first 64-bit device was actually released in 1985 and was the Cray UNICOS. For about 15 years after this release, these devices were known as supercomputers and considered large servers, not something you would often see in a home setting. However, many used 64-bit systems in popular gaming consoles like Nintendo 64 and Playstation 2, though they may not have realized it.
This style of the system took a while to take off in home computers simply because there was not an overwhelming amount of support form the devices from manufacturers. The first major device released was the Microsoft Windows XP 64-bit edition, but this was not widely adopted. Soon, OS X Panther and Linux began supporting 64-bit CPUs but macOS X did not support it for several more years and the road to at-home use remained rocky.
The Turning Point for 64-bit
The major thing that turned the PC world onto the use of 64-bit was the release of Windows 7. At this time, Microsoft was pushing this style of computing to manufacturers, offering better tools for implementing these drivers. Also, the overall way that PC manufacturers marketed their devices changed, bringing in the general public.
As mentioned, many simply did not understand what 64-bit compared to 32-bit meant, but they did understand the amount of memory their PC could hold. Manufacturers started marketing devices as having 8 GB of RAM compared to the previous 4 GB of RAM and quickly consumers jumped onto the 64-bit bandwagon. I mean who doesn’t want more memory, right?
The key problem that most consumers have run into with these newer PCs is that they simply cannot play their older games on their new device. Luckily, there are several ways that you can get around this for your favorite applications and games to run properly.
1 – Run as an Administrator
If you are hoping to run an older application, you may run into some issues at first. The problem is that when Windows XP was widely used, many users ran their PCs with an Administrator account at all times. This means that many applications were coded to assume they had administrative access and will fail without it.
When trying to run an app, if you have a problem with it failing, it may be necessary for you to run it as an administrator. To do this, you can right-click its .exe file or shortcut and select “Run as administrator.” You can also set the app to always run this way and should avoid having to do this in the future.
2 – Install an Unsigned Driver or 32-bit Driver
The problem that many run into is that 64-bit versions of Windows 10 use a driver signature enforcement, requiring all drivers to have a valid signature before they can be installed. The 32-bit versions do not require this singed driver. Though enforcing this use of a signed driver does help to improve security and stability, you can install unsigned drivers if you know they are safe.
When you are trying to install older software that needs an unsigned driver, you can use a special boot option to install them. If you only have 32-bit drivers available, you can use the 32-bit version of Windows 10 instead. You can switch to the 32-bit version by downloading this version of Windows 10 instead of the 64-bit version.
3 – Use 32-bit Windows for Older 16 -bit Software
If you are hoping to run an older application on your PC, you should note that 16-bit programs will not function on 64-bit versions of Windows. This version does not have the WOW16 compatibility layer that allows these apps to run. When you try to run a 16-bit program on your 64-bit Windows you will automatically receive a message saying you cannot run it on your PC.
4 – Adjust Your Windows Compatibility Settings
Windows does include compatibility settings that can make your old applications functional. To access these settings, you will:
- Go to the Start menu, right-click a shortcut, select “Open file location” from the context menu
- Once you have the file’s location, you should right-click the shortcut for or the .exe file for the app, then select “Properties” from the context menu
- You will go to the “Compatibility” tab of the app’s property window and then click the “Use the compatibility troubleshooter” button to access a wizard interface or adjust the options
- You will then select to “Run this program in compatibility mode for: option and select “Windows XP,” this is if the app will not run on Windows 10, but you did run it on Windows XP
There are several settings on the “Compatibility” tab that you can play around with. You can even do things like changing the colors on the app if you are interested. Technically, none of these settings will hurt your computer in any way and you can always reverse any changes you make.
5 – Run Games that Require SafeDisc and SecuROM DRM
Older games that use SafeDisc or SecuROM DRM will not work on Windows 10. In theory, this is a good thing because it does not allow junk to clog up your computer’s system. However, this means that some older games that are on CDs or DVDs will not install or run normally.
There are a few options when this happens, but not all of them are safe. One option is to use a “no CD” crack but these are not particularly safe for your PC depending on where you purchase from. You can purchase the game from a GOG or Stream distribution service or check the developer’s website to see if a patch is available.
Another option that is more advanced for those who are hoping to run older games is to install and dual-boot an older version of Windows without these restrictions. You can also run the game in a virtual machine that has an older version of Windows. This does tend to work well but may take some effort on your part.
6 – Use Virtual Machines for Older Software
This goes hand in hand with the previously mentioned option, which is that you can use a virtual machine program to run older applications or games. When Windows 7 was released, it had the Windows XP Mode that included a virtual machine program with a free Windows XP license. Windows 10 did away with this mode, but a virtual machine would allow you to access this.
A machine program called VirtualBox is an option should you want to do this, but you will also need a Windows XP license. You can install this copy of Windows in the VM and run software on the older version of Windows while still on your Windows 10 device. As mentioned, using a virtual machine is usually more involved and can still have some hardware issues.
7 – How to Use Apps that Require Java, Silverlight, ActiveX, or Internet Explorer
Windows 10 uses Microsoft Edge as its default browser; however, this browser does not support java, ActiveX, Silverlight, or other technologies. Chrome is another commonly used browser that has recently dropped support for NPAPI plug-ins. If you want to use an older application that requires these technologies, you may want to turn to Internet Explorer.
Internet Explorer still allows you to use ActiveX applications, while Mozilla Firefox supports Java and Silverlight. If you are using Microsoft Edge, you can simply open the settings menu and select “open with Internet Explorer,” opening the web page on this browser.
8 – Use Emulators to Run Windows 3.1 Applications
If you are hoping to run old DOS applications like DOS games, these will not run on Windows 10 PCs. Instead, you want to use an emulator window on your desktop like the DOSBox. You can use this to run these applications instead of relying on the Command Prompt we mentioned earlier.
You can also install Windows 3.1 in DOSBox since it was a DOS application, allowing you to run older 16-bit and 3.1 applications.
More often than not, there are newer versions of the games or applications that you are hoping to pay that are compatible for Windows 10 and 64-bit. The best way to get the most out what you are playing is to find this more modern replacement that will work properly without any hassle.
Of course, there are some games that you simply cannot replace, and newer versions are not an option. This is when you should turn to one of the compatibility tricks listed above. To learn more about any of these methods, you can click here!
There are some downfalls to trying to run your 32-bit programs on your 64-bit device, which can make doing so less than ideal. Most often, 32-bit apps are not taking full advantage of 64-bit architecture. Most often, if there is a 64-bit version of the app, it will have increased security and can access more memory directly.
On the other hand, there are not any major differences when it comes to running your apps in your real-world, daily life. Your PC will not have any performance penalties by running these older apps and when you follow the tips listed above, it can be relatively easy.
There are several benefits of using 64-bit modes for your operating system. Even if you are running primarily 32-bit applications or games, it is worth considering updating your operating system to this newer option.
If you have a newer computer, you may already be running 64-bit, which we will discuss further later on. However, there are ways that your system can run 64-bit Windows even if it is not already. Now that you know you can still use many of your favorite applications and games, you may be considering making this switch.
If you are considering making this leap, there are many benefits that come with switching to 64-bit. Just a few of the ways your PC can benefit from this jump are:
- Increased Efficiency – You will have increased efficiency when it comes to using your RAM. The way that Windows 64-bit allocates memory means you will see less of your system’s memory being wasted on secondary systems. You will feel like you have even more RAM because it is being far more efficiently used by your device.
- Double the RAM – We touched on this at the beginning of our post, but the true difference in RAM is huge when making the switch from 32-bit Windows to 64-bit Windows. The register system in newer devices are far more spacious, going from 4GB of RAM to 16 GB of RAM. In fact, this is even limited in Home editions and Professional and Ultimate editions can get 192GB of RAM when running 64-bit Windows.
- Advanced Security – Users who are utilizing 64-bit processors enjoy additional protection that is not available for 32-bit users. You will be given Kernel Patch Protection that protects against kernel exploits, hardware D.E.P, digitally signed device drivers which cut down on driver-related infections and more.
- More Virtual Memory per Process – When you use 32-bit Windows it is limited to assigning only 2GB of memory to an application. This poses a big issue when you use modern games because they are hungry for large chunks of memory, which simply is not available. As discussed, when you use 64-bit you are already given a ton more virtual memory that will support these games fully. You can use these memory-hungry applications as you want with no issue.
Now that you know even more about the benefits of running 64-bit on your device, you may want to begin running this version or at least the 32-bit version on your at-home PC. If you have an older PC that is currently running Windows 7 or Windows 8, this upgrade may still be a possibility for you. To find the right version of Windows for your needs, there are a few things you need to consider. Those are;
Are You Currently Running Windows 7 or Windows 8?
If you haven’t switched to a newer device and are still running an older version of Windows, Microsoft does recommend that you upgrade to a corresponding architecture of Windows 10. Most often, it is recommended that if you are running a 32-bit version of Windows 7 or 8, you switch to the 32-bit version of Windows 10.
You will do the same if you are running a 64-bit version. However, there are some devices that will not allow you to use later versions of Windows 10, which can require you to update your device or continue running an older system. Updating your device soon, when it fits your personal budget may be a good idea as new technology is constantly being released and older games will stop being supported with time.
How Much RAM Does Your Device Have?
As previously stated, Windows 10 64-bit offers more GB of RAM, but this is only recommended if your device has 4GB or more of RAM. Essentially the memory space for 64-bit is larger but needs twice as much memory as the 32-bit version of Windows. Though it needs more space, the 64-bit version allows you to perform tasks and process information in larger amounts and more easily.
The performance of 64-bit tends to be all-around better but is not a possibility for some devices. However, it is important to note that 64-bit works best with 4GB of RAM installed, but you can still use it for devices with only 2 GB of RAM.
Does Your Device Support Additional Security?
One of the benefits of 64-bit Windows that was listed earlier is that you receive an added security through several programs that come with the system. However, some devices may not support this additional security, which can pose a problem if you are trying to make the switch.
A big part of this added security is that 64-bit versions of Windows require all device drivers to be signed, which means you can only use drivers that Microsoft recognizes. This is a good way to prevent malicious drivers from being used on your system. The problem is that security features like this may not be compatible with older devices.
If you are having issues with 64-bit and it is not compatible with your device, you may still be able to switch to 32-bit easily. This would mean that you will miss out on these added security features, but you would still have a slightly more updated system. However, to truly get the full benefits of 64-bit you may have to purchase a newer device.
Which Processor do You Use?
If you have a device that is using an Intel Atom processor, there is a chance that is will not support 64-bit Windows, in fact, the vast majority do not. This poses an issue when you have a netbook as well, as updating to 64-bit Windows is simply not recommended. These devices were created more so for lowered work levels and 32-bit should be sufficient for doing this work. If you would still like to make the switch, you can upgrade your RAM or storage if possible.
Another issue is if you have a processor such as the Core 2 Duo, you may be running a 64-bit compatible version of Windows like the Vista or Windows 7. However, this is not always a possibility with Windows 10 and is often not recommended. These newer operating systems have larger requirements and performance levels which can be challenging for your processor.
Which Applications to You Use?
64-bit Windows is a must if you like to use newer applications or play newer games. The latest graphics in newer games require more memory to be used and do not run as smoothly using older versions of Windows. Also, most major companies have had 64-bit versions of their applications available for years now and these are often better than previous versions.
The key problem is that 64-bit Windows does not support 16-bit applications or games, which we discussed earlier. However, most of these games have newer versions that can be purchased and buying these newer versions is a great choice if you want to make the switch to 64-bit. Of course, you can always entrust in a virtual machine to run the compatible version of Windows for any older applications, while still running 64-bit Windows 10 on your device.
Of course, we have already discussed multiple ways that you can still utilize your favorite games and applications that are 32-bit on your 64-bit Windows. In fact, you should have no issues using 32-bit games once you make the switch to 64-bit.
At this point, you should fully know the benefits of 64-bit Windows 10 and why you should switch if you are using an older version of Windows. Overall, your capabilities are far better and there is a much larger amount of RAM available. This is a great option if you are playing newer games or you want to run newer applications.
As mentioned, the issue many run into when they update their device or software is that they can no longer use some of their favorite games or applications that are meant for 32-bit Windows. You can browse our list of options to get around this problem at the beginning of the post, but I will also include a few good YouTube videos you can watch to see firsthand how others get around the issue.
Some amazing videos that give you a step by step view on how to run your favorite older games on 64-bit Windows are:
Of course, if you are still dealing with issues, it may be time to look for a newer version of your game that is designed specifically for 64-bit. Many companies are bringing out new versions due to the increase in popularity of 64-bit in most home PCs. If there is an option to update your games now, it would be a good time to make the switch as 16-bit is already not compatible and you truly do not know how long 32-bit will be supported with new technology is being released regularly.
Games for Windows
For the magazine, see Games for Windows: The Official Magazine. For the service, see Games for Windows – Live.
Games for Windows is a discontinued brand owned by Microsoft and introduced in 2006 to coincide with the release of the Windows Vistaoperating system. The brand itself represents a standardized technical certification program and online service for Windows games, bringing a measure of regulation to the PC game market in much the same way that console manufacturers regulate their platforms. The branding program was open to both first-party and third-party publishers.
Games for Windows was promoted through conventionkiosks and through other forums as early as 2005. The promotional push culminated in a deal with Ziff Davis Media to rename the Computer Gaming World magazine to Games for Windows: The Official Magazine. The first GFW issue was published for November 2006. In 2008, Ziff Davis announced that the magazine would cease to be published, though online content would still be updated and maintained.
In 2013, Microsoft announced that Xbox PC Marketplace would cease operations, which would result in the discontinuation of the Games for Windows brand. In spite of this announcement, the company stated that content previously purchased could still be accessed via the Games for Windows – Live client software.
Games certified by Microsoft feature a prominent "Games for Windows" logo border across the top of their packaging, in a manner similar to games developed for the Xbox 360. Software must meet certain requirements mandated by Microsoft in order to display the brand on its packaging. These requirements include:
- An "Easy Install" option that installs the title on a PC in the fewest possible steps and mouse clicks
- Compatibility with Xbox 360 peripherals
- An "Only on Xbox 360 and Windows Vista" or "Only on Windows Vista" stamp for game packaging
- Compatibility with the Games Explorer
- Compatibility with x64 processors with proper installation and execution on 64-bit versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7; games themselves can be 32-bit
- Support for normal and widescreenresolutions, such as 4:3 aspect ratio (800 × 600, 1024 × 768), 16:9 aspect ratio (1280 × 720, 1920 × 1080), and 16:10 aspect ratio (1280 × 800, 1440 × 900, 1680 × 1050, 1920 × 1200)
- Support for parental controls and family safety features
- Support for launching from Windows Media Center
Microsoft claimed that it had increased its sales of Games for Windows-branded games in stores that had been giving the games greater focus, and stated that it planned to increase marketing efforts for the brand.
Certain games certified under the Games for Windows brand, including Shadowrun, and UNO featured cross-platform compatibility, allowing gamers to play against each other across Xbox 360 consoles and traditional Windows Vista or Windows 7 PCs.
Main article: Games for Windows – Live
Starting with Halo 2 on May 31, 2007, certain Games for Windows titles have access to Microsoft's Live network for online play and other features, including voice chat, instant messaging and friends lists, accessed from an in-game menu called the "Guide". Users can log in with their Xbox Livegamertags to gain achievements and play games and chat across platforms with games that support cross-platform compatibility. Some features, including cross-platform multiplayer gaming and multiplayer achievements, initially required a subscription to the Xbox Live Gold. However, on July 22, 2008, Microsoft announced that all Games for Windows functionality would be free for existing and future members, and that early adopters of the technology would receive refunds for previously incurred charges. In addition, Microsoft launched a Games for Windows Live Marketplace, similar to the Xbox Live Marketplace, which allowed users to download or purchase content, such as game demos, add-ons, and gamer pics, with Microsoft Points; the publisher of a title would determine if an item required to be purchased. At the same time, Microsoft announced its intentions to make the Games for Windows - Live client software interface more friendly and to reduce the technical requirements for developers.
Main article: Features new to Windows Vista
The Games Explorer, included with all versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7, is a special folder that showcases the games installed on a user's computer and their related information, essentially making it a games gallery. When a compatible game is installed, the operating system adds a shortcut of the game to the Games Explorer, and can optionally download additional information, such as game packaging and content rating information (e.g., ESRB, PEGI, ACB, CERO) through the developer's own game definition file or from information provided by the Internet, although this feature was discontinued since 2016.Windows Experience Index information is also displayed within the interface. The feature was removed entirely in Windows 10 v1803.
Games Explorer supports custom commands for games and also includes shortcuts to configure various operating system components which may be pertinent to gamers, such as audio devices, display devices, firewall settings, and game controllers. In Windows Vista, Games Explorer allows developers to expose game metadata and thumbnails to the interface and Windows Search through a shell handler. The Games Explorer is fully compatible with the parental controls feature included in Windows Vista and Windows 7. Parental controls allows parents to include or preclude certain games from being played based on their content, rating, and/or title, and can also block games from being played altogether.
Compatibility typically depends on the age or popularity of a game, with newer games having better compatibility. If a game is incompatible, a user can manually add a game by dragging and dropping it to the Games Explorer.
Tray and Play
Tray and Play is a technology developed by Microsoft for Windows Vista that allows users to insert a game disc into an optical disc drive and play the game while it installs itself in the background and streams off the disc with minimal or zero caching—in a manner similar to a game console. The first and only commercial game known to use this technology is the Windows version of Halo 2.
Xbox 360 peripheral compatibility
Part of the Games for Windows initiative involved ensuring that Xbox 360 peripherals, such as the Xbox 360 Controller and Wireless Gaming Receiver worked across Windows platforms. Xbox 360 peripherals not only work with certified games, but also with the default games included with Windows Vista, such as Minesweeper.
- ^ abcdeThurrott, Paul (October 6, 2010). "Games for Windows Vista". Supersite for Windows. Penton. Retrieved May 3, 2015.
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- ^Freidenfelds, Jason; Zane, Randy. "Ziff Davis Announces Online and Print Media Alliance with Microsoft". Ziff Davis Media. Archived from the original on November 7, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2015.
- ^Cox, Simon. "The end of an era?". 1Up.com. IGN. Archived from the original on June 5, 2011. Retrieved May 3, 2015.
- ^Orland, Kyle (April 8, 2008). "Games for Windows Magazine goes online-only". Engadget. AOL. Retrieved May 3, 2015.
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- ^"About Games for Windows". Games for Windows. Microsoft. Archived from the original on April 7, 2007. Retrieved May 3, 2015.
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- ^Wiley-Ransom, James (December 18, 2006). "Games for Windows Vista: how the new brand & OS will change PC gaming [update 1]". Engadget. AOL. Retrieved May 10, 2015.
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- ^Ploskina, Brian (March 14, 2007). "Microsoft Unifies Xbox, Windows". Dealerscope. NAPCO Media. Retrieved May 3, 2015.
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Microsoft Windows version history
See List of Microsoft Windows versions for a tabular view of releases and editions.
Overview of the version history of Microsoft Windows
MicrosoftWindows was announced by Bill Gates on November 10, 1983. Microsoft introduced Windows as a graphical user interface for MS-DOS, which had been introduced two years earlier. The product line evolved in the 1990s from an operating environment into a fully complete, modern operating system over two lines of development, each with their own separate codebase.
The first versions of Windows (1.0 through to 3.11) were graphical shells that ran from MS-DOS. Windows 95, though still being based on MS-DOS, was its own operating system, using a 16-bit DOS-based kernel and a 32-bituser space. Windows 95 introduced many features that have been part of the product ever since, including the Start menu, the taskbar, and Windows Explorer (renamed File Explorer in Windows 8). In 1997, Microsoft released Internet Explorer 4 which included the (at the time controversial) Windows Desktop Update. It aimed to integrate Internet Explorer and the web into the user interface and also brought many new features into Windows, such as the ability to display JPEG images as the desktop wallpaper and single window navigation in Windows Explorer. In 1998, Microsoft released Windows 98, which also included the Windows Desktop Update and Internet Explorer 4 by default. The inclusion of Internet Explorer 4 and the Desktop Update led to an anti-trust case in the United States. Windows 98 also included plug and play, which allows devices to work when plugged in without requiring a system reboot or manual configuration, and USB support out of the box. Windows Me, the last DOS-based version of Windows, was aimed at consumers and released in 2000. It introduced System Restore, Help and Support Center, updated versions of the Disk Defragmenter and other system tools.
In 1993, Microsoft released Windows NT 3.1, the first version of the newly developed Windows NT operating system. Unlike the Windows 9x series of operating systems, it is a fully 32-bit operating system. NT 3.1 introduced NTFS, a file system designed to replace the older File Allocation Table (FAT) which was used by DOS and the DOS-based Windows operating systems. In 1996, Windows NT 4.0 was released, which includes a fully 32-bit version of Windows Explorer written specifically for it, making the operating system work like Windows 95. Windows NT was originally designed to be used on high-end systems and servers, however with the release of Windows 2000, many consumer-oriented features from Windows 95 and Windows 98 were included, such as the Windows Desktop Update, Internet Explorer 5, USB support and Windows Media Player. These consumer-oriented features were further extended in Windows XP, which introduced a new visual style called Luna, a more user-friendly interface, updated versions of Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer, and extended features from Windows Me, such as the Help and Support Center and System Restore. Windows Vista focused on securing the Windows operating system against computer viruses and other malicious software by introducing features such as User Account Control. New features include Windows Aero, updated versions of the standard games (e.g. Solitaire), Windows Movie Maker, and Windows Mail to replace Outlook Express. Despite this, Windows Vista was critically panned for its poor performance on older hardware and its at-the-time high system requirements. Windows 7 followed two and a half years later, and despite technically having higher system requirements, reviewers noted that it ran better than Windows Vista. Windows 7 removed many applications, such as Windows Movie Maker, Windows Photo Gallery and Windows Mail, instead requiring users download a separate Windows Live Essentials to gain some of those features and other online services. Windows 8 introduced many controversial changes, such as the replacement of the Start menu with the Start Screen, the removal of the Aero glass interface in favor of a flat, colored interface as well as the introduction of "Metro" apps (later renamed to Universal Windows Platform apps) and the Charms Bar user interface element, all of which received considerable criticism from reviewers. Windows 8.1, a free upgrade to Windows 8, was released in 2013.
The previous version of Windows, Windows 10, reintroduced the Start menu and added the ability to run Universal Windows Platform apps in a window instead of always in full screen. Windows 10 was generally well-received, with many reviewers stating that Windows 10 is what Windows 8 should have been.
The current version of Windows, Windows 11, was released on October 5, 2021. Windows 11 incorporates a redesigned user interface, including a new Start menu, a visual style featuring rounded corners, and a new layout for the Microsoft Store.
Main article: Windows 1.0x
The first independent version of Microsoft Windows, version 1.0, released on November 20, 1985, achieved little popularity. The project was briefly codenamed "Interface Manager" before the windowing system was implemented—contrary to popular belief that it was the original name for Windows and Rowland Hanson, the head of marketing at Microsoft, convinced the company that the name Windows would be more appealing to customers.
Windows 1.0 was not a complete operating system, but rather an "operating environment" that extended MS-DOS, and shared the latter's inherent flaws.
The first version of Microsoft Windows included a simple graphics painting program called Windows Paint; Windows Write, a simple word processor; an appointment calendar; a card-filer; a notepad; a clock; a control panel; a computer terminal; Clipboard; and RAM driver. It also included the MS-DOS Executive and a game called Reversi.
Microsoft had worked with Apple Computer to develop applications for Apple's new Macintosh computer, which featured a graphical user interface. As part of the related business negotiations, Microsoft had licensed certain aspects of the Macintosh user interface from Apple; in later litigation, a district court summarized these aspects as "screen displays". In the development of Windows 1.0, Microsoft intentionally limited its borrowing of certain GUI elements from the Macintosh user interface, to comply with its license. For example, windows were only displayed "tiled" on the screen; that is, they could not overlap or overlie one another.
Main articles: Windows 2.0x and Windows 2.1x
Microsoft Windows version 2.0 (2.01 and 2.03 internally) came out on December 9, 1987, and proved slightly more popular than its predecessor. Much of the popularity for Windows 2.0 came by way of its inclusion as a "run-time version" with Microsoft's new graphical applications, Excel and Word for Windows. They could be run from MS-DOS, executing Windows for the duration of their activity, and closing down Windows upon exit.
Microsoft Windows received a major boost around this time when Aldus PageMaker appeared in a Windows version, having previously run only on Macintosh. Some computer historians[who?] date this, the first appearance of a significant and non-Microsoft application for Windows, as the start of the success of Windows.
Like prior versions of Windows, version 2.0 could use the real-modememory model, which confined it to a maximum of 1 megabyte of memory. In such a configuration, it could run under another multitasker like DESQview, which used the 286protected mode. It was also the first version to support the High Memory Area when running on an Intel 80286 compatible processor. This edition was renamed Windows/286 with the release of Windows 2.1.
A separate Windows/386 edition had a protected mode kernel, which required an 80386 compatible processor, with LIM-standard EMSemulation and VxD drivers in the kernel. All Windows and DOS-based applications at the time were real mode, and Windows/386 could run them over the protected mode kernel by using the virtual 8086 mode, which was new with the 80386 processor.
Version 2.1 came out on May 27, 1988, followed by version 2.11 on March 13, 1989; they included a few minor changes.
Version 2.03, and later 3.0, faced challenges from Apple over its overlapping windows and other features Apple charged mimicked the ostensibly copyrighted "look and feel" of its operating system and "embodie[d] and generated a copy of the Macintosh" in its OS. Judge William Schwarzer dropped all but 10 of Apple's 189 claims of copyright infringement, and ruled that most of the remaining 10 were over uncopyrightable ideas.
Main article: Windows 3.0
Windows 3.0, released in May 1990, improved capabilities given to native applications. It also allowed users to better multitask older MS-DOS based software compared to Windows/386, thanks to the introduction of virtual memory.
Windows 3.0's user interface finally resembled a serious competitor to the user interface of the Macintosh computer. PCs had improved graphics by this time, due to VGA video cards, and the protected/enhanced mode allowed Windows applications to use more memory in a more painless manner than their DOS counterparts could. Windows 3.0 could run in real, standard, or 386 enhanced modes, and was compatible with any Intel processor from the 8086/8088 up to the 80286 and 80386. This was the first version to run Windows programs in protected mode, although the 386 enhanced mode kernel was an enhanced version of the protected mode kernel in Windows/386.
Windows 3.0 received two updates. A few months after introduction, Windows 3.0a was released as a maintenance release, resolving bugs and improving stability. A "multimedia" version, Windows 3.0 with Multimedia Extensions 1.0, was released in October 1991. This was bundled with "multimedia upgrade kits", comprising a CD-ROM drive and a sound card, such as the Creative LabsSound Blaster Pro. This version was the precursor to the multimedia features available in Windows 3.1 (first released in April 1992) and later, and was part of Microsoft's specification for the Multimedia PC.
The features listed above and growing market support from application software developers made Windows 3.0 wildly successful, selling around 10 million copies in the two years before the release of version 3.1. Windows 3.0 became a major source of income for Microsoft, and led the company to revise some of its earlier plans. Support was discontinued on December 31, 2001.
Main article: OS/2
During the mid to late 1980s, Microsoft and IBM had cooperatively been developing OS/2 as a successor to DOS. OS/2 would take full advantage of the aforementioned protected mode of the Intel 80286 processor and up to 16 MB of memory. OS/2 1.0, released in 1987, supported swapping and multitasking and allowed running of DOS executables.
IBM licensed Windows's GUI for OS/2 as Presentation Manager, and the two companies stated that it and Windows 2.0 would be almost identical. Presentation Manager was not available with OS/2 until version 1.1, released in 1988. Its API was incompatible with Windows. Version 1.2, released in 1989, introduced a new file system, HPFS, to replace the FAT file system.
By the early 1990s, conflicts developed in the Microsoft/IBM relationship. They cooperated with each other in developing their PC operating systems, and had access to each other's code. Microsoft wanted to further develop Windows, while IBM desired for future work to be based on OS/2. In an attempt to resolve this tension, 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.
This agreement soon fell apart however, and the Microsoft/IBM relationship was terminated. IBM continued to develop OS/2, while Microsoft changed the name of its (as yet unreleased) OS/2 3.0 to Windows NT. Both retained the rights to use OS/2 and Windows technology developed up to the termination of the agreement; Windows NT, however, was to be written anew, mostly independently (see below).
After an interim 1.3 version to fix up many remaining problems with the 1.x series, IBM released OS/2 version 2.0 in 1992. This was a major improvement: it featured a new, object-oriented GUI, the Workplace Shell (WPS), that included a desktop and was considered by many to be OS/2's best feature. Microsoft would later imitate much of it in Windows 95. Version 2.0 also provided a full 32-bit API, offered smooth multitasking and could take advantage of the 4 gigabytes of address space provided by the Intel 80386. Still, much of the system had 16-bit code internally which required, among other things, device drivers to be 16-bit code as well. This was one of the reasons for the chronic shortage of OS/2 drivers for the latest devices. Version 2.0 could also run DOS and Windows 3.0 programs, since IBM had retained the right to use the DOS and Windows code as a result of the breakup.
Main article: Windows 3.1x
In response to the impending release of OS/2 2.0, Microsoft developed Windows 3.1 (first released in April 1992), which included several improvements to Windows 3.0, such as display of TrueType scalable fonts (developed jointly with Apple), improved disk performance in 386 Enhanced Mode, multimedia support, and bugfixes. It also removed Real Mode, and only ran on an 80286 or better processor. Later Microsoft also released Windows 3.11, a touch-up to Windows 3.1 which included all of the patches and updates that followed the release of Windows 3.1 in 1992.
In 1992 and 1993, Microsoft released Windows for Workgroups (WfW), which was available both as an add-on for existing Windows 3.1 installations and in a version that included the base Windows environment and the networking extensions all in one package. Windows for Workgroups included improved network drivers and protocol stacks, and support for peer-to-peer networking. There were two versions of Windows for Workgroups, WfW 3.1 and WfW 3.11. Unlike prior versions, Windows for Workgroups 3.11 ran in 386 Enhanced Mode only, and needed at least an 80386SX processor. One optional download for WfW was the "Wolverine" TCP/IP protocol stack, which allowed for easy access to the Internet through corporate networks.
All these versions continued version 3.0's impressive sales pace. Even though the 3.1x series still lacked most of the important features of OS/2, such as long file names, a desktop, or protection of the system against misbehaving applications, Microsoft quickly took over the OS and GUI markets for the IBM PC. The Windows API became the de facto standard for consumer software.
Windows NT 3.x
Main articles: Windows NT, Windows NT 3.1, Windows NT 3.5, and Windows NT 3.51
Meanwhile, Microsoft continued to develop Windows NT. The main architect of the system was Dave Cutler, one of the chief architects of VAX/VMS at Digital Equipment Corporation. Microsoft hired him in October 1988 to create a successor to OS/2, but Cutler created a completely new system instead. Cutler had been developing a follow-on to VMS at DEC called MICA, and when DEC dropped the project he brought the expertise and around 20 engineers with him to Microsoft. DEC also believed he brought MICA's code to Microsoft and sued. Microsoft eventually paid US$150 million and agreed to support DEC's Alpha CPU chip in NT.
Windows NT Workstation (Microsoft marketing wanted Windows NT to appear to be a continuation of Windows 3.1) arrived in Beta form to developers at the July 1992 Professional Developers Conference in San Francisco. Microsoft announced at the conference its intentions to develop a successor to both Windows NT and Windows 3.1's replacement (Windows 95, codenamed Chicago), which would unify the two into one operating system. This successor was codenamed Cairo. In hindsight, Cairo was a much more difficult project than Microsoft had anticipated and, as a result, NT and Chicago would not be unified until Windows XP—albeit Windows 2000, oriented to business, had already unified most of the system's bolts and gears, it was XP that was sold to home consumers like Windows 95 and came to be viewed as the final unified OS. Parts of Cairo have still not made it into Windows as of 2020: most notably, the WinFS file system, which was the much touted Object File System of Cairo. Microsoft announced that they have discontinued the separate release of WinFS for Windows XP and Windows Vista and will gradually incorporate the technologies developed for WinFS in other products and technologies, notably Microsoft SQL Server.
Driver support was lacking due to the increased programming difficulty in dealing with NT's superior hardware abstraction model. This problem plagued the NT line all the way through Windows 2000. Programmers complained that it was too hard to write drivers for NT, and hardware developers were not going to go through the trouble of developing drivers for a small segment of the market. Additionally, although allowing for good performance and fuller exploitation of system resources, it was also resource-intensive on limited hardware, and thus was only suitable for larger, more expensive machines.
However, these same features made Windows NT perfect for the LAN server market (which in 1993 was experiencing a rapid boom, as office networking was becoming common). NT also had advanced network connectivity options and NTFS, an efficient file system. Windows NT version 3.51 was Microsoft's entry into this field, and took away market share from Novell (the dominant player) in the following years.
One of Microsoft's biggest advances initially developed for Windows NT was a new 32-bit API, to replace the legacy 16-bit Windows API. This API was called Win32, and from then on Microsoft referred to the older 16-bit API as Win16. The Win32 API had three levels of implementation: the complete one for Windows NT, a subset for Chicago (originally called Win32c) missing features primarily of interest to enterprise customers (at the time) such as security and Unicode support, and a more limited subset called Win32s which could be used on Windows 3.1 systems. Thus Microsoft sought to ensure some degree of compatibility between the Chicago design and Windows NT, even though the two systems had radically different internal architectures.
Windows NT was the first Windows operating system based on a hybrid kernel. The hybrid kernel was designed as a modified microkernel, influenced by the Mach microkernel developed by Richard Rashid at Carnegie Mellon University, but without meeting all of the criteria of a pure microkernel.
As released, Windows NT 3.x went through three versions (3.1, 3.5, and 3.51), changes were primarily internal and reflected back end changes. The 3.5 release added support for new types of hardware and improved performance and data reliability; the 3.51 release was primarily to update the Win32 APIs to be compatible with software being written for the Win32c APIs in what became Windows 95.
Main article: Windows 95
After Windows 3.11, Microsoft began to develop a new consumer-oriented version of the operating system codenamed Chicago. Chicago was designed to have support for 32-bit preemptive multitasking like OS/2 and Windows NT, although a 16-bit kernel would remain for the sake of backward compatibility. The Win32 API first introduced with Windows NT was adopted as the standard 32-bit programming interface, with Win16 compatibility being preserved through a technique known as "thunking". A new object-oriented GUI was not originally planned as part of the release, although elements of the Cairo user interface were borrowed and added as other aspects of the release (notably Plug and Play) slipped.
Microsoft did not change all of the Windows code to 32-bit; parts of it remained 16-bit (albeit not directly using real mode) for reasons of compatibility, performance, and development time. Additionally it was necessary to carry over design decisions from earlier versions of Windows for reasons of backwards compatibility, even if these design decisions no longer matched a more modern computing environment. These factors eventually began to impact the operating system's efficiency and stability.
Microsoft marketing adopted Windows 95 as the product name for Chicago when it was released on August 24, 1995. Microsoft had a double gain from its release: first, it made it impossible for consumers to run Windows 95 on a cheaper, non-Microsoft DOS, secondly, although traces of DOS were never completely removed from the system and MS DOS 7 would be loaded briefly as a part of the booting process, Windows 95 applications ran solely in 386 enhanced mode, with a flat 32-bit address space and virtual memory. These features make it possible for Win32 applications to address up to 2 gigabytes of virtual RAM (with another 2 GB reserved for the operating system), and in theory prevented them from inadvertently corrupting the memory space of other Win32 applications. In this respect the functionality of Windows 95 moved closer to Windows NT, although Windows 95/98/Me did not support more than 512 megabytes of physical RAM without obscure system tweaks.
IBM continued to market OS/2, producing later versions in OS/2 3.0 and 4.0 (also called Warp). Responding to complaints about OS/2 2.0's high demands on computer hardware, version 3.0 was significantly optimized both for speed and size. Before Windows 95 was released, OS/2 Warp 3.0 was even shipped pre-installed with several large German hardware vendor chains. However, with the release of Windows 95, OS/2 began to lose market share.
It is probably impossible to choose one specific reason why OS/2 failed to gain much market share. While OS/2 continued to run Windows 3.1 applications, it lacked support for anything but the Win32s subset of Win32 API (see above). Unlike with Windows 3.1, IBM did not have access to the source code for Windows 95 and was unwilling to commit the time and resources to emulate the moving target of the Win32 API. IBM later introduced OS/2 into the United States v. Microsoft case, blaming unfair marketing tactics on Microsoft's part.
Microsoft went on to release five different versions of Windows 95:
- Windows 95 – original release
- Windows 95 A – included Windows 95 OSR1 slipstreamed into the installation
- Windows 95 B (OSR2) – included several major enhancements, Internet Explorer (IE) 3.0 and full FAT32 file system support
- Windows 95 B USB (OSR2.1) – included basic USB support
- Windows 95 C (OSR2.5) – included all the above features, plus IE 4.0; this was the last 95 version produced
OSR2, OSR2.1, and OSR2.5 were not released to the general public, rather, they were available only to OEMs that would preload the OS onto computers. Some companies sold new hard drives with OSR2 preinstalled (officially justifying this as needed due to the hard drive's capacity).
The first Microsoft Plus! add-on pack was sold for Windows 95.
Windows NT 4.0
Main article: Windows NT 4.0
Microsoft released the successor to NT 3.51, Windows NT 4.0, on August 24, 1996, one year after the release of Windows 95. Major new features included the new Explorer shell from Windows 95, scalability and feature improvements to the core architecture, kernel, USER32, COM and MSRPC.
Windows NT 4.0 came in five versions:
- Windows NT 4.0 Workstation
- Windows NT 4.0 Server
- Windows NT 4.0 Server, Enterprise Edition (includes support for 8-way SMP and clustering)
- Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server
- Windows NT 4.0 Embedded
Main article: Windows 98
On June 25, 1998, Microsoft released Windows 98 (code-named Memphis). It included new hardware drivers and the FAT32 file system which supports disk partitions that are larger than 2 GB (first introduced in Windows 95 OSR2). USB support in Windows 98 is marketed as a vast improvement over Windows 95. The release continued the controversial inclusion of the Internet Explorer browser with the operating system that started with Windows 95 OEM Service Release 1. The action eventually led to the filing of the United States v. Microsoft case, dealing with the question of whether Microsoft was introducing unfair practices into the market in an effort to eliminate competition from other companies such as Netscape.
In 1999, Microsoft released Windows 98 Second Edition, an interim release. One of the more notable new features was the addition of Internet Connection Sharing, a form of network address translation, allowing several machines on a LAN (Local Area Network) to share a single Internet connection. Hardware support through device drivers was increased and this version shipped with Internet Explorer 5. Many minor problems that existed in the first edition were fixed making it, according to many, the most stable release of the Windows 9x family.
Main article: Windows 2000
Microsoft released Windows 2000 on February 17, 2000. It has the version number Windows NT 5.0. Windows 2000 has had four official service packs. It was successfully deployed both on the server and the workstation markets. Amongst Windows 2000's most significant new features was Active Directory, a near-complete replacement of the NT 4.0 Windows Server domain model, which built on industry-standard technologies like DNS, LDAP, and Kerberos to connect machines to one another. Terminal Services, previously only available as a separate edition of NT 4, was expanded to all server versions. A number of features from Windows 98 were incorporated also, such as an improved Device Manager, Windows Media Player, and a revised DirectX that made it possible for the first time for many modern games to work on the NT kernel. Windows 2000 is also the last NT-kernel Windows operating system to lack product activation.
While Windows 2000 upgrades were available for Windows 95 and Windows 98, it was not intended for home users.
Windows 2000 was available in four editions:
- Windows 2000 Professional
- Windows 2000 Server
- Windows 2000 Advanced Server
- Windows 2000 Datacenter Server
Main article: Windows Me
On September 14, 2000, Microsoft released a successor to Windows 98 called Windows Me, short for "Millennium Edition". It was the last DOS-based operating system from Microsoft. Windows Me introduced a new multimedia-editing application called Windows Movie Maker, came standard with Internet Explorer 5.5 and Windows Media Player 7, and debuted the first version of System Restore – a recovery utility that enables the operating system to revert system files back to a prior date and time. System Restore was a notable feature that would continue to thrive in all later versions of Windows.
Windows Me was conceived as a quick one-year project that served as a stopgap release between Windows 98 and Windows XP. Many of the new features were available from the Windows Update site as updates for older Windows versions (System Restore and Windows Movie Maker were exceptions). Windows Me was criticized for stability issues, as well as for lacking real mode DOS support, to the point of being referred to as the "Mistake Edition." Windows Me was the last operating system to be based on the Windows 9x (monolithic) kernel and MS-DOS.
Windows XP, Server 2003 series and Fundamentals for Legacy PCs
Main articles: Windows XP and Features new to Windows XP
On October 25, 2001, Microsoft released Windows XP (codenamed "Whistler"). The merging of the Windows NT/2000 and Windows 95/98/Me lines was finally achieved with Windows XP. Windows XP uses the Windows NT 5.1 kernel, marking the entrance of the Windows NT core to the consumer market, to replace the aging Windows 9x branch. The initial release was met with considerable criticism, particularly in the area of security, leading to the release of three major Service Packs. Windows XP SP1 was released in September 2002, SP2 was released in August 2004 and SP3 was released in April 2008. Service Pack 2 provided significant improvements and encouraged widespread adoption of XP among both home and business users. Windows XP lasted longer as Microsoft's flagship operating system than any other version of Windows, from October 25, 2001 to January 30, 2007 when it was succeeded by Windows Vista.
Windows XP is available in a number of versions:
- Windows XP Home Edition, for home users
- Windows XP Professional, for business and power users contained a number of features not available in Home Edition.
- Windows XP N, like above editions, but without a default installation of Windows Media Player, as mandated by a European Union ruling
- Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE), released in October 2002 for desktops and notebooks with an emphasis on home entertainment. Contained all features offered in Windows XP Professional and the Windows Media Center. Subsequent versions are the same but have an updated Windows Media Center.
- Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004, released on September 30, 2003
- Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, released on October 12, 2004. Included the Royale theme, support for Media Center Extenders, themes and screensavers from Microsoft Plus! for Windows XP. The ability to join an Active Directory domain is disabled.
- Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, for tablet PCs
- Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005
- Windows XP Embedded, for embedded systems
- Windows XP Starter Edition, for new computer users in developing countries
- Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, released on April 25, 2005 for home and workstation systems utilizing 64-bit processors based on the x86-64 instruction set originally developed by AMD as AMD64; Intel calls their version Intel 64. Internally, XP x64 was a somewhat updated version of Windows based on the Server 2003 codebase.
- Windows XP 64-bit Edition, is a version for Intel's Itanium line of processors; maintains 32-bit compatibility solely through a software emulator. It is roughly analogous to Windows XP Professional in features. It was discontinued in September 2005 when the last vendor of Itanium workstations stopped shipping Itanium systems marketed as "Workstations".
Windows Server 2003
Main article: Windows Server 2003
On April 25, 2003, Microsoft launched Windows Server 2003, a notable update to Windows 2000 Server encompassing many new security features, a new "Manage Your Server" wizard that simplifies configuring a machine for specific roles, and improved performance. It has the version number NT 5.2. A few services not essential for server environments are disabled by default for stability reasons, most noticeable are the "Windows Audio" and "Themes" services; users have to enable them manually to get sound or the "Luna" look as per Windows XP. The hardware acceleration for display is also turned off by default, users have to turn the acceleration level up themselves if they trust the display card driver.
In December 2005, Microsoft released Windows Server 2003 R2, which is actually Windows Server 2003 with SP1 (Service Pack 1), together with an add-on package. Among the new features are a number of management features for branch offices, file serving, printing and company-wide identity integration.
Windows Server 2003 is available in six editions:
- Web Edition (32-bit)
- Enterprise Edition (32 and 64-bit)
- Datacenter Edition (32 and 64-bit)
- Small Business Server (32-bit)
- Storage Server (OEM channel only)
Windows Server 2003 R2, an update of Windows Server 2003, was released to manufacturing on December 6, 2005. It is distributed on two CDs, with one CD being the Windows Server 2003 SP1 CD. The other CD adds many optionally installable features for Windows Server 2003. The R2 update was released for all x86 and x64 versions, except Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition, which was not released for Itanium.
Windows XP x64 and Server 2003 x64 Editions
Main article: Windows XP Professional x64 Edition
On April 25, 2005, Microsoft released Windows XP Professional x64 Edition and Windows Server 2003, x64 Editions in Standard, Enterprise and Datacenter SKUs. Windows XP Professional x64 Edition is an edition of Windows XP for x86-64 personal computers. It is designed to use the expanded 64-bit memory address space provided by the x86–64 architecture.
Windows XP Professional x64 Edition is based on the Windows Server 2003 codebase, with the server features removed and client features added. Both Windows Server 2003 x64 and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition use identical kernels.
Windows XP Professionalx64 Edition is not to be confused with Windows XP 64-bit Edition, as the latter was designed for IntelItanium processors. During the initial development phases, Windows XP Professional x64 Edition was named Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems.
Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs
Main article: Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs
In July 2006, Microsoft released a thin-client version of Windows XP Service Pack 2, called Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs (WinFLP). It is only available to Software Assurance customers. The aim of WinFLP is to give companies a viable upgrade option for older PCs that are running Windows 95, 98, and Me that will be supported with patches and updates for the next several years. Most user applications will typically be run on a remote machine using Terminal Services or Citrix.
While being visually the same as Windows XP, it has some differences. For example, if the screen has been set to 16 bit colors, the Windows 2000 recycle bin icon and some XP 16-bit icons will show. Paint and some games like Solitaire aren't present too.
Windows Home Server
Main article: Windows Home Server
Windows Home Server (code-named Q, Quattro) is a server product based on Windows Server 2003, designed for consumer use. The system was announced on January 7, 2007 by Bill Gates. Windows Home Server can be configured and monitored using a console program that can be installed on a client PC. Such features as Media Sharing, local and remote drive backup and file duplication are all listed as features. The release of Windows Home Server Power Pack 3 added support for Windows 7 to Windows Home Server.
Windows Vista and Server 2008
Main articles: Windows Vista, Features new to Windows Vista, Development of Windows Vista, Criticisms of Windows Vista, and List of features removed in Windows Vista
Windows Vista was released on November 30, 2006 to business customers—consumer versions followed on January 30, 2007. Windows Vista intended to have enhanced security by introducing a new restricted user mode called User Account Control, replacing the "administrator-by-default" philosophy of Windows XP. Vista was the target of much criticism and negative press, and in general was not well regarded, this was seen as leading to the relatively swift release of Windows 7.
One major difference between Vista and earlier versions of Windows, Windows 95 and later, was that the original start button was replaced with the Windows icon in a circle (called the Start Orb). Vista also featured new graphics features, the Windows AeroGUI, new applications (such as Windows Calendar, Windows DVD Maker and some new games including Chess, Mahjong, and Purble Place),Internet Explorer 7, Windows Media Player 11, and a large number of underlying architectural changes. Windows Vista had the version number NT 6.0. During its lifetime, Windows Vista had two service packs.
Windows Vista shipped in six editions:
- Starter (only available in developing countries)
- Home Basic
- Home Premium
- Enterprise (only available to large business and enterprise)
- Ultimate (combines both Home Premium and Enterprise)
All editions (except Starter edition) were available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. The biggest advantage of the 64-bit version was breaking the 4 gigabyte memory barrier, which 32-bit computers cannot fully access.
Windows Server 2008
Main article: Windows Server 2008
Windows Server 2008, released on February 27, 2008, was originally known as Windows Server Codename "Longhorn". Windows Server 2008 built on the technological and security advances first introduced with Windows Vista, and was significantly more modular than its predecessor, Windows Server 2003.
Windows Server 2008 shipped in ten editions:
- Windows Server 2008 Foundation (for OEMs only)
- Windows Server 2008 Standard (32-bit and 64-bit)
- Windows Server 2008 Enterprise (32-bit and 64-bit)
- Windows Server 2008 Datacenter (32-bit and 64-bit)
- Windows Server 2008 for Itanium-based Systems (IA-64)
- Windows HPC Server 2008
- Windows Web Server 2008 (32-bit and 64-bit)
- Windows Storage Server 2008 (32-bit and 64-bit)
- Windows Small Business Server 2008 (64-bit only)
- Windows Essential Business Server 2008 (32-bit and 64-bit)
Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2
Main articles: Windows 7, Features new to Windows 7, and Windows Server 2008 R2
Windows 7 was released to manufacturing on July 22, 2009, and reached general retail availability on October 22, 2009. It was previously known by the codenames Blackcomb and Vienna. Windows 7 has the version number NT 6.1. Since its release, Windows 7 had one service pack.
Some features of Windows 7 were faster booting, Device Stage, Windows PowerShell, less obtrusive User Account Control, multi-touch, and improved window management. Features included with Windows Vista and not in Windows 7 include the sidebar (although gadgets remain) and several programs that were removed in favor of downloading their Windows Live counterparts.
Windows 7 shipped in six editions:
- Starter (available worldwide)
- Home Basic
- Home Premium
- Enterprise (available to volume-license business customers only)
In some countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland), there were other editions that lacked some features such as Windows Media Player, Windows Media Center and Internet Explorer—these editions were called names such as "Windows 7 N." Microsoft focused on selling Windows 7 Home Premium and Professional. All editions, except the Starter edition, were available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Unlike the corresponding Vista editions, the Professional and Enterprise editions were supersets of the Home Premium edition.
At the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2008, Microsoft also announced Windows Server 2008 R2, as the server variant of Windows 7. Windows Server 2008 R2 shipped in 64-bit versions (x64 and Itanium) only.
Windows Thin PC
Main article: Windows Thin PC
In 2010, Microsoft released Windows Thin PC or WinTPC, which was a feature-and size-reduced locked-down version of Windows 7 expressly designed to turn older PCs into thin clients. WinTPC was available for software assurance customers and relied on cloud computing in a business network. Wireless operation is supported since WinTPC has full wireless stack integration, but wireless operation may not be as good as the operation on a wired connection.
Windows Home Server 2011
Main article: Windows Home Server 2011
Windows Home Server 2011 code named 'Vail' was released on April 6, 2011. Windows Home Server 2011 is built on the Windows Server 2008 R2 code base and removed the Drive Extender drive pooling technology in the original Windows Home Server release. Windows Home Server 2011 is considered a "major release". Its predecessor was built on Windows Server 2003. WHS 2011 only supports x86-64 hardware.
Microsoft decided to discontinue Windows Home Server 2011 on July 5, 2012 while including its features into Windows Server 2012 Essentials. Windows Home Server 2011 was supported until April 12, 2016.
Windows 8 and Server 2012
Main articles: Windows 8, Windows Server 2012, Windows 8.1, and Windows Server 2012 R2
On October 26, 2012, Microsoft released Windows 8 to the public. One edition, Windows RT, runs on some system-on-a-chip devices with mobile 32-bitARM (ARMv7) processors. Windows 8 features a redesigned user interface, designed to make it easier for touchscreen users to use Windows. The interface introduced an updated Start menu known as the Start screen, and a new full-screen application platform. The desktop interface is also present for running windowed applications, although Windows RT will not run any desktop applications not included in the system. On the Building Windows 8 blog, it was announced that a computer running Windows 8 can boot up much faster than Windows 7. New features also include USB 3.0 support, the Windows Store, the ability to run from USB drives with Windows To Go, and others. Windows 8 was given the kernel number NT 6.2, with its successor 8.1 receiving the kernel number 6.3. So far, neither has had any service packs yet, although many consider Windows 8.1 to be a service pack for Windows 8.
Windows 8 is available in the following editions:
- Windows 8
- Windows 8 Pro
- Windows 8 Enterprise
- Windows RT
The first public preview of Windows Server 2012 and was also shown by Microsoft at the 2011 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference.
Windows 8 Release Preview and Windows Server 2012 Release Candidate were both released on May 31, 2012. Product development on Windows 8 was completed on August 1, 2012, and it was released to manufacturing the same day. Windows Server 2012 went on sale to the public on September 4, 2012. Windows 8 went on sale October 26, 2012.
Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 were released on October 17, 2013. Windows 8.1 is available as an update in the Windows Store for Windows 8 users only and also available to download for clean installation. The update adds new options for resizing the live tiles on the Start screen.
Windows 10 and later Server versions
Main article: Windows 10
Windows 10 is the current release of the Microsoft Windows operating system. Unveiled on September 30, 2014, it was released on July 29, 2015. It was distributed without charge to Windows 7 and 8.1 users for one year after release. A number of new features like Cortana, the Microsoft Edge web browser, the ability to view Windows Store apps as a window instead of fullscreen, virtual desktops, revamped core apps, Continuum, and a unified Settings app were all features debuted in Windows 10.
|2nd Half||1507 & 1511||1607||1709||1809||1909||20H2||21H2|
- Version 1507 (codenamed Threshold 1) was the original version of Windows 10 and released in July 2015.
- Version 1511, announced as the November Update and codenamed Threshold 2. It was released in November 2015. This update added many visual tweaks, such as more consistent context menus and the ability to change the color of window titlebars. Windows 10 can now be activated with a product key for Windows 7 and later, thus simplifying the activation process and essentially making Windows 10 free for anyone who has Windows 7 or later, even after the free upgrade period ended. A "Find My Device" feature was added, allowing users to track their devices if they lose them, similar to the Find My iPhone service that Apple offers. Controversially, the Start menu now displays "featured apps". A few tweaks were added to Microsoft Edge, including tab previews and the ability to sync the browser with other devices running Windows 10. Kernel version number: 10.0.10586.
- Version 1607, announced as the Anniversary Update and codenamed Redstone 1. It was the first of several planned updates with the "Redstone" codename. Its version number, 1607, means that it was supposed to launch in July 2016, however it was delayed until August 2016. Many new features were included in the version, including more integration with Cortana, a dark theme, browser extension support for Microsoft Edge, click-to-play Flash by default, tab pinning, web notifications, swipe navigation in Edge, and the ability for Windows Hello to use a fingerprint sensor to sign into apps and websites, similar to Touch ID on the iPhone. Also added was Windows Ink, which improves digital inking in many apps, and the Windows Ink Workspace which lists pen-compatible apps, as well as quick shortcuts to a sticky notes app and a sketchpad. Microsoft, through their partnership with Canonical, integrated a full Ubuntu bash shell via the Windows Subsystem for Linux. Notable tweaks in this version of Windows 10 include the removal of the controversial password-sharing feature of Microsoft's Wi-Fi Sense service, a slightly redesigned Start menu, Tablet Mode working more like Windows 8, overhauled emoji, improvements to the lock screen, calendar integration in the taskbar, and the Blue Screen of Death now showing a QR code which users can scan to quickly find out what caused the error. This version of Windows 10's kernel version is 10.0.14393.
- Version 1703, announced as the Creators Update and codenamed Redstone 2. Features for this update include a new Paint 3D application, which allows users to create and modify 3D models, integration with Microsoft's HoloLens and other "mixed-reality" headsets produced by other manufacturers, Windows My People, which allows users to manage contacts, Xbox game broadcasting, support for newly developed APIs such as WDDM 2.2, Dolby Atmos support, improvements to the Settings app, and more Edge and Cortana improvements. This version also included tweaks to system apps, such as an address bar in the Registry Editor, Windows PowerShell being the default command line interface instead of the Command Prompt and the Windows Subsystem for Linux being upgraded to support Ubuntu 16.04. This version of Windows 10 was released on April 11, 2017 as a free update.
- Version 1709, announced as the Fall Creators Update and codenamed Redstone 3. It introduced a new design language—the Fluent Design System and incorporates it in UWP apps such as Calculator. It also added new features to the photos application, which were once available only in Windows Movie Maker.
- Version 1803, announced as the April 2018 Update and codenamed Redstone 4 introduced Timeline, an upgrade to the task view screen such that it has the ability to show past activities and let users resume them. The respective icon on the taskbar was also changed to reflect this upgrade. Strides were taken to incorporate Fluent Design into Windows, which included adding Acrylic transparency to the Taskbar and Taskbar Flyouts. The Settings App was also redesigned to have an Acrylic left pane. Variable Fonts were introduced.
- Version 1809, announced as the Windows 10 October 2018 Update and codenamed Redstone 5 among new features, introduced Dark Mode for File Explorer, Your Phone App to link Android phone with Windows 10, new screenshot tool called Snip & Sketch, Make Text Bigger for easier accessibility, and Clipboard History and Cloud Sync.
- Version 1903, announced as the Windows 10 May 2019 Update, codenamed 19H1, was released on May 21, 2019. It added many new features including the addition of a light theme to the Windows shell and a new feature known as Windows Sandbox, which allowed users to run programs in a throwaway virtual window.
- Version 1909, announced as the Windows 10 November 2019 Update, codenamed 19H2, was released on November 12, 2019. It unlocked many features that were already present, but hidden or disabled, on 1903, such as an auto-expanding menu on Start while hovering the mouse on it, OneDrive integration on Windows Search and creating events from the taskbar's clock. Some PCs with version 1903 had already enabled these features without installing 1909.
- Version 2004, announced as the Windows 10 May 2020 Update, codenamed 20H1, was released on May 27, 2020. It introduces several new features such as renaming virtual desktops, GPU temperature control and type of disk on task manager, chat-based interface and window appearance for Cortana, and cloud reinstalling and quick searches (depends from region) for search home.
- Version 20H2, announced as the Windows 10 October 2020 Update, codenamed 20H2, was released on October 20, 2020. It introduces resizing the start menu panels, a graphing mode for Calculator, process architecture view on task manager's Details pane, and optional drivers delivery from Windows Update and an updated in-use location icon on taskbar.
- Version 21H1, announced as the Windows 10 May 2021 Update, codenamed 21H1, was released on May 18, 2021.
- Version 21H2 was announced on June 28, 2021 along with a long-term service channel release and will be released in the second half of the year. It will introduce improvements to features such as Universal Print, as well as deployment features like Windows Autopilot.
- Dev Channel, it flights new features from the "RS_PRERELEASE" branch and isn't tied to any specific release of Windows 10.
Windows Server 2016
Main article: Windows Server 2016
Windows Server 2016 is a release of the Microsoft Windows Server operating system that was unveiled on September 30, 2014. Windows Server 2016 was officially released at Microsoft's Ignite Conference, September 26–30, 2016. It is based on Windows 10 Anniversary Update codebase.
Windows Server 2019
Main article: Windows Server 2019
Windows Server 2019 is a release of the Microsoft Windows Server operating system that was announced on March 20, 2018. The first Windows Insider preview version was released on the same day. It was released for general availability on October 2, 2018. Windows Server 2019 is based on Windows 10 October 2018 Update codebase.
On October 6, 2018, distribution of Windows version 1809 (build 17763) was paused while Microsoft investigated an issue with user data being deleted during an in-place upgrade. It affected systems where a user profile folder (e.g. Documents, Music or Pictures) had been moved to another location, but data was left in the original location. As Windows Server 2019 is based on the Windows version 1809 codebase, it too was removed from distribution at the time, but was re-released on November 13, 2018. The software product life cycle for Server 2019 was reset in accordance with the new release date.
Windows Server 2022
Main article: Windows Server 2022
Windows Server 2022 is an release of the Microsoft Windows Server operating system, released in August 2021. It is based on a later revision of the Windows core codenamed Iron and does not have a direct client equivalent.
Main article: Windows 11
Windows 11 is the next generation release of Windows NT, and the successor to Windows 10. Codenamed "Sun Valley," it was unveiled on June 24, 2021, and was released on October 4, 2021. It will be distributed for free to all Windows 10 users with compatible PCs via a Windows Update. Microsoft's PC Health Check App lets you check compatibility for your PC. According to Microsoft, Windows 11 will be released for newer PCs first and then the initial release will continue till mid 2022. Windows 11 revamps the GUI and brings modern code, thus making it much faster than Windows 10. It is also noted that Windows 11 updates are significantly compressed, so the updates are downloaded faster. Also, Windows 11 does not show signs of the 'Installing Updates' screen while installing updates during 'Update and Restart' phase, thus finishing updates within 5 minutes.
On July 14, 2021 Microsoft announced Windows 365. Since it is going to run on cloud and be streamed to user's device, it can be used from many devices, even on smartphones and other devices. It will be mainly for business users. Now, it supports Windows 10 and Windows 11 too.
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by Home Fries
Digital Image Design (DID) made its classic games (to which this wiki is dedicated) between 1996 and 1998. During this time, Windows 95/98 was the standard consumer Operating System (OS). Since Windows 95/98 operated with a 16 bit kernel (in order to ensure backwards compatibility with DOS), DID's installers are 16 bit as well. Unfortunately, the latest Windows 64 bit operating systems have dropped 16 bit backward compatibility, and as a result you cannot natively use 16 bit programs or installers in Windows x64. This even applies to EF2000 v2, which uses a 16 bit Windows installer despite being primarily a DOS program.
The purpose of this article is to provide alternatives for installing classic DID sims on a 64 bit operating system. While this article applies equally to EF2000 v2, ADF, and TAW, EF2000 will be used as the primary example.
The DID installers are 16 bit programs, so they are incompatible with a 64 bit OS. However, none of the DID installers write anything important to the registry, so 64 bit users have three options available:
- With a dual boot system, load your 32 bit OS and perform a full install there. If you run EF2000 for Windows 95, you will likely want todo so on your 32 bit OS anyway.
- If your system is not dual boot, but you have a 32 bit OS available (e.g. Windows XP, Windows 7 x86), perform a full install of EF2000 to your 32 bit PC. You may then zip your EF2000 folder (be sure to check the option for recursive subfolders) and unzip the archive to your 64 bit system. Likewise, you could burn the folder to a CD-R and transfer it to your 64 bit system if the two PCs aren't networked.
- If you do not have a 32 bit OS available to you, but you have Windows 7/8 Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise, then you can download Windows XP Mode. This will install a version of Microsoft Virtual PC with a Windows XP partition as the primary drive.
Since options 1 and 2 are system dependent and simple to execute, the focus of this article will be on setting up Windows XP Mode.
Windows XP Mode (Microsoft Virtual PC) for Windows 7/8
MS Virtual PC sets up a virtual hard drive and runs a virtual Windows XP session from within your Windows 7/8 session.
Video by CommanderT
CommanderT submitted an outstanding YouTube video that explains step by step how to install the CD of EF2000 to a 64 bit operating system using Virtual PC. He provides links so that you can do this even if you don't have the Professional Edition of Windows 7/8.
Installing Windows XP Mode
In order to install Windows XP Mode, you must have at least the Professional Edition of Windows 7 or later. As long as you meet eligibility criteria, you can download Windows XP Mode for free from the Microsoft Website. I highly recommend using Internet Explorer to download the file; despite the FAQ on the Microsoft site saying that the validation software will run as an executable with other browsers, I was unsuccessful until I used the ActiveX controls native to Internet Explorer. Once your copy of Windows is validated, you will be prompted to install one of two versions of Windows XP Mode. The version with "N" in the file name (e.g. WindowsXPMode_N_*.exe) does not include Windows Media Player; this is the only difference between the installs. Most people pefer the version that doesn't have "N" in the filename.
Here are Microsoft's instructions on how to install and run Windows XP Mode. Once you follow these, you should have a running virtual session of Windows XP. Windows XP Mode will default to a virtual system drive (C:), and a CD/DVD drive (D:, which will correspond to one of your physical CD/DVD drives). If you need to change these settings prior to installing your DID game, then use the "Settings" option in the "Tools" pulldown menu to make the appropriate changes. I recommend keeping Integration Features enabled (also in the Tools menu). The rest of the article will assume D: as the CD/DVD drive.
Installing your DID Software
You can either put your DID CD-ROM in the physical drive, or you can map the virtual CD drive to an ISO image. You can configure your desired CD-ROM solution selecting "Settings" from the "Tools" pulldown menu. Either way, you will want to navigate to your D: drive.
From there, run SETUP.EXE (the DID icon). You will get the Autorun screen. In this example, we will install EF2000 v2.0 for 3DFX.
Select the EF2000 v2.0 for 3DFX option on the Autorun screen, and the installer will start. When you get to the screen where you choose the Destination Location, you will want to choose a folder on the C drive. This is because while you have "network" access to your Windows 7/8 drives, the installer does not recognize them. Therefore, you must install to the C drive for now.
The default path for EF2000 v2.0 for 3DFX isC:\Program Files\Digital Image Design\EF2000 V2.0 for 3DFX
This is fine for now. In fact, you may wish to install the EF2000 for Windows 95, or F-22 ADF, RSO, and TAW as well. Of course, you won't be running from the virtual folder in Windows 7/8, but this doesn't matter because no meaningful registry entries are made on installation.
When prompted, select Custom install and select everything.
Once install is complete, the easy part begins. Now you will just copy your "Digital Image Design" folder from the C drive to the drive of your choice. You can manually copy folders from your virtual drive to your "network" drives that are actually the physical drives on your PC, just like the following diagram. Just make sure you don't copy to c:\Program Files or c:\Program Files (x86), as these programs will not work properly in these protected folders on Windows Vista and later.
Once your files are here, you can close your Virtual Windows XP session. Click on the Ctrl+Alt+Del button on the top of the Virtual PC window and select Shut Down.
Congratulations. Your DID files are now resident and available on your Windows 7/8 system. You should not need to create shortcuts if you are using DOSBox, but you will want to create a shortcut to superw.exe if you are running EF2000 for Windows 95.
Windows 10 Alternatives
Since Windows 10 does not support Virtual XP mode, alternatives are required. The following alternatives are submitted by others, and not personally tested by the author.
- download Oracle VirtualBox
- install any Unbuntu distro
- install wine
- run the DID installer using wine
- copy the files to a USB stick
- copy the files to your win10 install
For the Super EF2000 win95 version there are a couple of extra steps required:
- copy 'did.dat' from SEF2000 into 'Program'
- create a shortcut to _SUPERW.EXE with the 'target' set to :
This resolve issues with 'No data found, check CD is inserted' messages.
Game windows 64
How to run old games on Windows 10
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing games older than ten years is getting them to work on modern PCs. Unlike film, books or other mediums, games can't be as easily updated to work with current technology, but that doesn't mean these games are lost to videogame history. There are emulators and compatibility modes in operating systems to help us revisit the games of our childhood.
Like a few previous iterations of Windows, Windows 10 still has both the 'run as administrator' and 'troubleshoot compatibility' options. If you right click on the game icon, there is an option at the bottom called Properties. If you click on that, a pop-up box will appear with a few tabs. Navigate to the Compatibility tab and check the compatibility mode box to un-gray the dropdown menu beneath and choose what previous version of windows you want to run your game in.
Windows should automatically detect how old your game is. So if you are trying to install something like 3-D Ultra Minigolf from 1997, it will let you choose a compatibility mode as far back as Windows 95. However, this isn't always a fool-proof method; DOS games from way-back-when, for example, may be a particular challenge, but there are a few things you can do to get older games working on a modern machine, whether it's tweaking some settings or installing other software.
What is compatibility mode?
Compatibility mode is a software mechanism inside of Windows that allows the operation system to emulate older versions of itself.
While Microsoft tries to make programs and file formats backwards compatible, it does't always work with older games because the gap between when each one was released is too large. It depends on the program and how it's optimized and designed, if it's inherently backwards compatible, etc. There's a few specific reasons why older games won't run automatically on Windows 10, even in compatibility mode:
- 64-bit Windows 10 no longer supports 16-bit applications.
- Some older software depends on old Windows libraries that are no longer included with Windows 10.
- Since Windows XP, all versions of Windows no longer run on top of DOS.
- Older games rely on non-existent DRM (digital rights management) solutions that stop programs from booting.
But what if compatibility mode doesn't work?
There are several third-party software solutions that are great workarounds, and a few Windows settings that you can turn off (although I would not necessarily recommend).
First, check Steam to see if it happens to have the game you want to play. Some developers will release remastered versions of older games to be compatible with modern operations systems. Duke Nukem 3D and Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines are two such games that have been re-released on the digital store front over the last several years. Sure, you're technically purchasing a second copy of the game if you previously owned (or still own) it on CD, but you're paying for the convenience of not downloading extra software or messing with Windows settings at that point.
GOG has also made it its mission to track down older games and make them available for purchase again, too. A few games they have made compatible with newer operating systems are Eye of the Beholder and Beneath a Steel Sky.
There are also abandonware sites where you can search for and download older games for free that have already been modified to be compatible with Windows 10. However (and this is a big however), you do use these sites at your own risk; while abandonware games are no longer supported by either the developer or publisher, many are still technically under copyright, since copyrighted works that have been abandoned by their creators do not automatically become public property. (In the USA, copyright usually expires after 70 years from the date of publication.) It is up to the developer/publisher whether or not they want to pursue a copyright violation.
But what if I want to install from a CD?
If you still have your old game discs lying around—and an optical drive—and want to install your games the old-fashioned way, take a look at something called DOSBox. DOSBox is a stand-alone DOS emulator that supports hundreds of older games. You can find instructions on how to play a game via DOSBox here. There's no legal gray area around emulation.
You can also try something like VirtualBox, a program that lets you build a virtual machine on your computer to run 16-bit applications in a window on your desktop—another emulator, in essence. Unlike Windows 7, Windows 10 does not have a "Windows XP mode," which was a virtual machine with an XP license. You can basically create the same thing with VirtualBox, but you'll need a Windows XP license. That alone doesn't make this an ideal option, but it's still an option.
Another option is to disable driver signature enforcement if it's older drivers that are preventing your game from installing and/or running. This is not ideal either, as driver signing helps keep malicious or unstable drivers off your OS. But if you want to risk it so you can try to get through all 120 Lemmings levels again, here's how to disable driver signature enforcement:
- Open the advanced boot menu by pressing Shift while you click Restart.
- Select Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > Startup Settings.
- Press Restart.
- Select 7, disable driver signature enforcement.
- Press Enter to boot your system.
64-bit programming for Game Developers
Processor manufacturers are exclusively shipping 64-bit processors in their desktop computers, and even the chipsets of most laptop computers support x64 technology. It is important for game developers to take advantage of the improvements that 64-bit processors offer with their new applications and to ensure that their earlier applications run correctly on the new processors and the 64-bit editions of Windows Vista and Windows 7. This article addresses compatibility and porting issues and helps developers ease their transition to 64-bit platforms.
Microsoft currently has the following 64-bit operating systems:
- Windows 10
- Windows 11
- Windows Server 2019 or later
Past 64-bit operating systems:
- Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1
- Windows XP Professional x64 Edition (available to OEMs and to developers through MSDN)
- Windows Vista
- Windows 7
- Windows 8.0
- Windows 8.1
- Windows Server 2008 - 2016
Windows Server 2008 R2 or later is only available as a 64-bit edition. Windows 11 is only available as a 64-bit or ARM64 edition.
Differences in Addressable Memory
The first thing most developers notice is that 64-bit processors provide a huge leap in the amount of physical and virtual memory that can be addressed.
32-bit applications on 32-bit platforms can address up to 2 GB.
32-bit applications built with the /LARGEADDRESSAWARE:YES linker flag on 32-bit Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 with the special /3gb boot option can address up to 3 GB. This constrains the kernel to only 1 GB which may cause some drivers and/or services to fail.
32-bit applications built with the /LARGEADDRESSAWARE:YES linker flag on the 32-bit editions of Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, and Windows 7 can address memory up to the number specified by the boot configuration data (BCD) element IncreaseUserVa. IncreaseUserVa can have a value ranging from 2048, the default, to 3072 (which matches the amount of memory configured by the /3gb boot option on Windows XP). The remainder of 4 GB is allocated to the kernel and can result in failing driver and service configurations.
For more information about BCD, see Boot Configuration Data.
32-bit applications on 64-bit platforms can address up to 2 GB, or up to 4 GB with the /LARGEADDRESSAWARE:YES linker flag.
64-bit applications use 43 bits for addressing, which provides 8 TB of virtual address for applications and 8 TB reserved for the kernel.
Beyond just memory, 64-bit applications that use memory-mapped file I/O benefit greatly from the increased virtual address space. The 64-bit architecture also has improved floating-point performance and faster passing of parameters. Sixty-four-bit processors have double the number of registers, of both general purpose and streaming SIMD extensions (SSE) types, as well as support for SSE and SSE2 instruction sets; many 64-bit processors even support SSE3 instruction sets.
Specifying Large-Address-Aware When Building
It is a good practice to specify large-address-aware when building 32-bit applications, by using the linker flag /LARGEADDRESSAWARE, even if the application is not intended for a 64-bit platform, because of the advantages that are gained at no cost. As explained earlier, enabling this flag for a build allows a 32-bit program to access more memory with special boot options on a 32-bit OS or on a 64-bit OS. However, developers must be careful that pointer assumptions are not made, such as assuming that the high-bit is never set in a 32-bit pointer. In general, enabling the /LARGEADDRESSAWARE flag is a good practice.
Thirty-two-bit applications that are large-address-aware can determine at run time how much total virtual address space is available to them with the current OS configuration by calling GlobalMemoryStatusEx. The ullTotalVirtual result will range from 2147352576 bytes (2 GB) to 4294836224 bytes (4 GB). Values that are larger than 3221094400 (3 GB) can only be obtained on 64-bit editions of Windows. For example, if IncreaseUserVa has a value of 2560, the result is ullTotalVirtual with a value of 2684223488 bytes.
Compatibility of 32-Bit Applications on 64-Bit Platforms
Sixty-four-bit Windows operating systems are binary compatible with the IA32 architecture, and the majority of APIs that 32-bit applications use are available through the Windows 32-bit on Windows 64-bit Emulator, WOW64. WOW64 helps ensure that these APIs will work as intended.
WOW64 has an execution layer that handles the marshalling of 32-bit data. WOW64 redirects DLL file requests, redirects some registry branches for 32-bit applications, and reflects some registry branches for 32- and 64-bit applications.
More information on WOW64 can be found at WOW64 Implementation Details.
Potential Compatibility Pitfalls
Most applications developed for a 32-bit platform will run without problems on a 64-bit platform. A few applications could have issues, which might include the following:
- All drivers for by 64-bit editions of Windows operating systems must be 64-bit versions. Requiring new 64-bit drivers has implications for copy-protection schemes that rely on old drivers. Note that kernel-mode drivers must be Authenticode-signed to be loaded by 64-bit editions of Windows.
- 64-bit processes cannot load 32-bit DLLs, and 32-bit processes cannot load 64-bit DLLs. Developers must ensure that 64-bit versions of third-party DLLs are available before proceeding with development. If you must use a 32-bit DLL in a 64-bit process, then Windows inter-process communication (IPC) can be used. COM components can also make use of out-of-process servers and marshalling to communicate between boundaries, but doing so may introduce a performance penalty.
- Many x64 processors are also multi-core processors, and developers need to test to how this affects their legacy applications. More information on multi-core processors and the implications for gaming applications can be found in Game Timing and Multicore Processors.
- Applications should also call SHGetFolderPath to discover file paths, as some folder names have changed in certain cases. For example, CSIDL_PROGRAM_FILES would return "C:\Program Files(x86)" for a 32-bit application running on a 64-bit platform instead of "C:\Program Files". Developers must be mindful of how the WOW64 emulator's redirection and reflection capabilities work.
In addition, developers need to be wary of 16-bit programs that they might still be using. WOW64 cannot handle 16-bit applications; this includes old installers and all MS-DOS programs.
The most common compatibility issues are installers that execute 16-bit code and not having 64-bit drivers for copy protection schemes.
The next section discusses issues related to porting code to 64-bit native for developers that want to ensure their legacy programs work on 64-bit platforms. It is also for developers who are unfamiliar with 64-bit programming.
Porting Applications to 64-Bit Platforms
Having the right tools and libraries will help to ease the transition from 32-bit to 64-bit development. The DirectX 9 SDK has libraries to support both x86- and x64-based projects. Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 and Visual Studio 2008 support code generation for both x86 and x64, and they comes with libraries optimized for generating x64 code. However, it will also be necessary for developers to distribute the Visual C runtimes with their applications. Note that the Express Editions of Visual Studio 2005 and Visual Studio 2008 do not include the x64 compiler, but that the Standard, Professional, and Team System editions all do.
Developers who are targeting 32-bit platforms can prepare for 64-bit development to make their transition easier later on. When compiling 32-bit projects, developers should use the /Wp64 flag, which will cause the generation of warnings about issues that affect portability. Switching to 64-bit tools and libraries will probably generate a lot of new build errors initially; so, it is advisable to switch bit-neutral tools and libraries and correct any warnings before switching to a 64-bit build.
Changing tools, changing libraries, and using certain compiler flags will not be enough, though. Assumptions in coding standards must be reevaluated to ensure that current coding standards don't allow portability issues. Portability issues can include pointer truncation, size and alignment of data types, reliance on 32-bit DLLs, use of legacy APIs, assembly code, and old binary files.
Visual C++ 2010 or later includes the stdint.h and cstdint C99 headers which define the standard portability types int32_t, uint32_t, int64_t, uint64_t, intptr_t, and uintptr_t. Using these along with the standard ptrdiff_t and size_t data types may be preferrable to the Windows portabilty types used below for improving portability of code.
Major porting issues include the following:
Pointers are 64-bits on a 64-bit OS, so casting pointers to other data types can result in truncation, and pointer arithmetic can result in corruption. Using the /Wp64 flag will usually provide a warning about this kind of issue, but using polymorphic types (INT_PTR, DWORD_PTR, SIZE_T, UINT_PTR, and so on) when casting pointer types is a good practice to help avoid this issue altogether. Since pointers are 64-bit on new platforms, developers should check the ordering of pointers, and the data types in classes and structures, to reduce or eliminate padding.
Data Types and Binary Files
While pointers increase from 32 bits to 64 on a 64-bit platform, other data types don't. Fixed-precision data types (DWORD32, DWORD64, INT32, INT64, LONG32, LONG64, UINT32, UINT64) can be used in places where the size of the data type must be known; for example, in a binary file structure. The changes in pointer size and data alignment require special handling to ensure 32-bit-to-64-bit compatibility. More information can be found in New Data Types.
Older Win32 APIs and Data Alignment
Some Win32 APIs have been deprecated and replaced with more neutral API calls such as SetWindowLongPtr in place of SetWindowLong.
The performance penalty for non-aligned accesses is greater on x64 platform than on an x86 platform. The TYPE_ALIGNMENT(t) and the FIELD_OFFSET(t, member) macros can be used to determine alignment information that can used directly by code. Correct use of these aforementioned macros should eliminate potential non-aligned access penalties.
More information on the TYPE_ALIGNMENT macro, the FIELD_OFFSET macro, and general 64-bit programming information can be found at 64-bit Windows Programming: Migration Tips: Additional Considerations and Rules for Using Pointers.
Inline assembly code is not supported on 64-bit platforms and needs to be replaced. Changes in the architecture may have changed application bottlenecks, and C/C++ or intrinsics can achieve similar results with code that is easier to read. The most advisable practice is to switch all assembly code to C or C++. Intrinsics can be used in place of assembly code, but should only be used after full profiling and analysis has been performed.
The x87, MMX, and 3DNow! instruction sets are deprecated in 64-bit modes. The instructions sets are still present for backward compatibility for 32-bit mode; however, to avoid compatibility issues in the future, their use in current and future projects is discouraged.
Some older DirectX APIs have been dropped for 64-bit native applications: DirectPlay 4 and earlier, DirectDraw 6 and earlier, Direct3D 8 and earlier, and DirectInput 7 and earlier. Also, the core API of DirectMusic is available to native 64-bit applications, but the performance layer and DirectMusic Producer are deprecated.
Visual Studio issues deprecation warnings, and these changes are not an issue for developers who use the latest APIs.
Profiling and Optimization of Ported Applications
All developers need to re-profile any applications that are being ported to new architectures. Many applications being ported to 64-bit platforms will have different performance profiles from their 32-bit versions. Developers need to run 64-bit performance tests before assessing what needs to be optimized. The good news about this is that many traditional optimizations work on 64-bit platforms. In addition, 64-bit compilers can also perform many optimizations with the correct use of compiler flags and coding hints.
Some structures may have their internal data types reordered to conserve memory space and improve caching. Array indices can be used instead of a full 64-bit pointer in some cases. The /fp:fast flag can improve floating-point optimizing and vectorization. Using __restrict, declspec(restrict), and declspec(noalias) can help the compiler resolve aliasing and improve use of the register file.
More information on /fp:fast can be found at /fp (Specify Floating-Point Behavior).
More information on __restrict can be found at Microsoft-Specific Modifiers.
More information on declspec(restrict) can be found at Optimization Best Practices.
More information on declspec(noalias) can be found at __declspec(noalias).
Managed Code on a 64-bit Operating System
Managed code is used by many game developers in their tool chain, so an understanding of how it behaves on a 64-bit OS can be helpful. Managed code is instruction-set neutral, so when you run a managed application on a 64-bit OS, the Common Language Runtime (CLR) can run it as either a 32-bit or 64-bit process. By default, the CLR runs managed applications as 64-bit, and they should work fine with no problems. However, if your application depends on a DLL that is native 32-bit, then your application will fail when it tries to call this DLL. A 64-bit process needs completely 64-bit code, and a 32-bit DLL cannot be called from a 64-bit process. The best long-term solution is to compile your native code as 64-bit also, but a perfectly reasonable short-term solution is to simply mark your managed application as being for x86 only by using the /platform:x86 build flag.
Performance Implications of Running a 64-bit Operating System
Because processors with AMD64 and Intel 64 architecture can execute 32-bit instructions natively, they can run 32-bit applications at full speed, even on a 64-bit OS. There is a modest cost for converting parameters between 32-bit and 64-bit when calling operating system functions, but this cost is generally negligible. This means that you should see no slowdown when running 32-bit applications on a 64-bit OS.
When you compile applications as 64-bit, the calculations get more complicated. A 64-bit program uses 64-bit pointers, and its instructions are slightly larger, so the memory requirement is slightly increased. This can cause a slight drop in performance. On the other hand, having twice as many registers and having the ability to do 64-bit integer calculations in a single instruction will often more than compensate. The net result is that a 64-bit application might run slightly slower than the same application compiled as 32-bit, but it will often run slightly faster.
Sixty-four-bit architectures allow developers to push the limitations on how games look, sound, and play. Transitioning from 32-bit programming to 64-bit programming is not trivial, however. By understanding the differences between the two, and by using the newest tools, the transition to 64-bit platforms can be easier and faster.
More information on 64-bit programming can be found at Visual C++ Developer Center: 64-Bit Programming.
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