Best and worst versions of Windows

Windows 11 officially launched on 5 October 2021, offering improved performance and a revamped user interface.

Following the launch, MyBroadband asked readers which version of Windows they liked most, dating back to Windows NT and Windows 95.

Based on this feedback, we compiled a list of the best (and worst) versions of Windows — and why people loved or hated them.

Our earlier article summarising Windows 1.0 to Windows 10 provides a more comprehensive history of Microsoft’s popular desktop operating system.

The versions of Windows that were included in our most recent poll are listed below.

Windows NT — less than 1% of votes

Windows New Technology (NT) 3.1 was released on 27 July 1993 and was the first version of Windows that didn’t run on a DOS-based operating system.

Instead, it had a 32-bit OS that combined elements of monolithic and microkernel architecture.

This laid the groundwork for what would eventually become the modern Windows.

The next version in Microsoft’s NT line of operating systems, Windows NT 4.0, was launched on 31 July 1996 and incorporated the new visual elements of Windows 95.

Designed to be primarily business-orientated, this family of operating systems lacked the “plug and play” support introduced in Windows 95 — but promised greater stability.

Windows ME — less than 1% of votes

Microsoft released Windows Millenium Edition (ME) in late 2000 to replace Windows 98.

It promised that Windows ME would improve performance and accessibility, but for many users, it was a disappointment due to frequent crashes and compatibility issues.

Windows Vista — 1% of votes

Windows Vista, released after the much-loved Windows XP, launched on 30 January 2007 and faced heavy criticism from its users.

The User Account Control (UAC) feature constantly took over the entire interface to request permission to run programs — infuriating users.

Vista had several other issues that made it stand out as one of the worst operating systems Microsoft has ever developed, such as slow performance, security issues, and a lack of driver support.

Windows 8 — 2% of votes

Windows 8, also considered to be one of Microsofts biggest failures, was released in October 2012.

Similar to how Vista followed XP, Windows 8 was released after one of Microsoft’s biggest successes — Windows 7.

Launched amid the smartphone revolution, Microsoft gambled on its “Metro” interface that saw the removal of the Start button and an inability to boot directly to the desktop.

Following the failure of Windows 8, Microsoft developed Windows 8.1 to bring back the desktop and Start button and notably offered its first free upgrade — to Windows 10.

Windows 2000 — 2% of votes

Microsoft launched Windows 2000 on 17 February 2000. It was the enterprise counterpart to Windows ME and was built on Windows NT to offer greater stability.

Windows 2000 introduced the NTFS 3.0 file system that enabled filesystem-level encryption. It also added the kernel Plug-and-play Manager and Power Manager subsystems.

Windows 98 — 3% of votes

Microsoft launched Windows 98 on 16 May 1998.

An update to Windows 95, it promised smoother performance and improved plug-and-play functionality, strengthening support for USB-enabled peripherals available at the time.

While more stable than its predecessor, Windows 98 was still susceptible to crashes, and the blue screen of death was not an uncommon sight for users of the OS.

Windows 98 introduced the Windows Driver Model, but this only became more widely adopted under Windows 2000 and Windows XP.

Microsoft released an updated version, called Windows 98 Second Edition, on 23 April 1999.

Windows 95 — 3% of votes

Windows 95 was launched on 24 August 1995, bringing with it the first rendition of the Start button and menu.

It also introduced “plug and play”, where the operating system was able to find the correct drivers for peripheral devices to make them function correctly — or so it was intended.

Windows 95 was relatively unstable, crashing frequently to the dreaded “Blue Screen of Death”.

Windows XP — 25% of votes

In 2001, Microsoft merged the Windows 9x and Windows NT branches and stopped supporting 16-bit backwards compatibility through MS-DOS.

Windows XP also dropped support for Microsoft’s VxD driver model, forcing hardware makers to use the Windows Driver Model.

Consensus in the industry was that this decreased occurrences of the infamous “Blue Screen of Death” due to misbehaving drivers.

Although Windows XP is fondly remembered, Ars Technica notes that it wasn’t universally welcomed among techies when it launched.

Research conducted by Net Applications in 2014 found that at the time, Windows XP was the third most popular OS in the world — impressive considering it had been in use for 13 years at that stage.

Windows 10 — 26% of votes

Microsoft released Windows 10 on 29 July 2015 and offered it as a free update after the disastrous performance of Windows 8.

It brought back a reworked Start Menu that also shows Live Tiles and improved how Modern UI Style apps were handled on desktop PCs.

Windows 10 also introduced several new features, such as virtual desktops, a built-in screen recorder, a new framework for biometric authentication called Windows Hello, and the Cortana voice-assisted intelligent search.

Windows 7 — 36% of votes

Windows 7 was launched on 22 October 2009, right in the middle of two of Microsoft’s worst-ever operating systems, and is considered to be one of its best.

It offered a far better user experience than Vista, thanks to significant improvements to overall performance and the rage-inducing UAC feature.

Windows 7 took the top spot in our poll, unseating Windows XP as the crowd favourite for the best version of Windows ever released.

Now read: Cheapest laptops that support Windows 11 in South Africa

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Best and worst versions of Windows