Windows NT was born 29 years ago

As befits the present Komsomol member As a young specialist, after graduating from the institute, I went to the factory as a “system engineer for computer maintenance”, and in a modern way – as a system administrator. The zoo of technology there was represented by a wide variety of little animals: there were “EC-1840”, and “kopeck pieces” with MS-DOS, and several servers on which Novell NetWare was spinning. On a couple of workstations, an OS was discovered, which at first I mistook for Windows 3.11 already familiar to me, but in fact it turned out that this is a completely different, “wrong Windows”. This is how I was introduced to Windows NT 3.1, an operating system that is 29 years old today.

On July 27, 1993, Microsoft introduced to the public a fundamentally new system platform for servers and workstations – Windows NT 3.1. There were quite a lot of interesting things in it. First of all, despite the fact that this was the first release of this OS in history, versions of Windows NT 1 and 2 did not exist in nature. The developers took an example from George Lucas: he launched his legendary cinematic universe right from the 4th episode, Microsoft – from the 3rd, so that the version number echoes the “desktop” version of Windows popular with users. Although the interface of the two operating systems was very similar, Windows 3.1 was a conservative 16-bit system based on the MS-DOS platform, while NT was originally based on a 32-bit architecture.

In fact, Windows NT 3.1 was by no means a new development. Back in the 80s, Microsoft and IBM worked together to create the OS / 2 operating system, and even achieved significant success in this field. However, IBM – too large and cumbersome corporation – was distinguished by bureaucracy, different departments promoted their own components and add-ons for inclusion in the distribution, which is why it was overgrown with a large number of all kinds of not always relevant modules, discussing work issues and making decisions took too much time. Developers from IBM primarily sought to support their own hardware, while Microsoft tried to ensure that the OS was compatible with the maximum range of various hardware. The difference in approaches is clearly illustrated by the following example: at IBM, the efficiency of programmers was assessed by the number of lines of code they wrote, which led to unjustified “bloat” of the volume of programs, while at Microsoft, on the contrary, they tried to optimize the size of source codes, for which they often threw out even comments. In addition, there was a conflict between the creators of these platforms over how to position the newly appeared Windows 3.0 in relation to OS / 2. IBM wanted a partner to dedicate as much resources as possible to the development of their joint operating system, but the unexpected market success of Windows 3.0 opened the way for Microsoft to build a business around the platform. As a result, a younger and more dynamic company under the leadership of Bill Gates left the OS / 2 project in 1992, taking with them some developments. They formed the basis of Windows NT.

Versions of Windows NT were released not only for the Intel x86, but also for the DEC Alpha and MIPS R4000 architectures. Although Windows NT 3.1 was originally a 32-bit operating system, its distribution was limited by the fact that at the time of the release of the OS there were not yet a sufficient number of 32-bit applications compatible with it. In addition, unlike Windows 3.1, NT made higher demands on hardware – to run this system, more powerful and, of course, expensive machines were needed: while the average amount of memory on a PC of that time did not exceed 4 MB, for a normal Windows NT required 8 to run, and the recommendations included a fantastic 16 MB of RAM.

Microsoft released NT 3.1 in two versions: base for workstations and Advanced Server for servers. Since the OS was developed with an eye on the corporate market, it was originally designed not only as a multi-tasking system, but also as a multi-user system with the ability to audit security-related events. It was in Windows NT 3.1 that support for the fundamentally new at that time NTFS file system first appeared, although FAT was still considered “native” for it. Here, for the first time, a boot manager called NTLDR appeared. For compatibility with “desktop” versions of Windows, the new platform supported an extended 32-bit modification of the Windows API, called Win32, although there was no talk of full compatibility then due to significant differences in the architecture of the “desktop” and “corporate” versions. It wasn’t until the release of Windows 95 that the distance between the two narrowed significantly. Windows NT was designed for multiprocessor systems, and it supported preemptive multitasking. Despite the fact that the interface of Windows 3.1 and Windows NT was almost completely identical in appearance, it was rewritten for NT.

250 programmers worked on the development of Windows NT 3.1, the source codes of the OS consisted of 5.6 million lines of code, and in the last year before the release, the team identified and eliminated more than 30,000 bugs. The cost of developing the system was estimated at $150 million. To simplify the portability of the OS to different hardware platforms, most components, including the NT kernel, were written in C. The graphics subsystem and components responsible for networking were written in C ++ using Assembler (for modules that require direct access to equipment). In October 1991, the developers held the first public demonstration of Windows NT at COMDEX, and on July 27, 1993, the release took place – at first only the x86 and MIPS versions, the DEC version was released in September.

The workstation license was $495, the Advanced Server version was $1,495. Initially it was supposed that the final cost of the server version would be $ 2995, and the initial amount would be a kind of “promotion” during the first 6 months of sales, but in the end Microsoft did not raise the price. In addition to English, Windows NT was available in Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Swedish, and the workstation version was also localized in Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, and Portuguese. There was no support for the Russian language in this version of NT. Until 1994, when Windows NT 3.5 was released, Microsoft sold over 300,000 copies of the first version of Windows NT.

Windows NT 3.1 is a long-lived system: its support was completely discontinued only on December 31, 2000, and individual components of this OS can still be found in other versions of Windows based on the NT platform, including modern Windows 10 and 11.

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