Happy Birthday Windows Server (the artist previously known as Windows NT) !

On July 27th 1993, Microsoft released Windows NT, the forerunner to the versions of Windows we use today, particularly the server versions.

If you're old enough, one thing you'd remember about this event is how signficant it was. At the time, if you wanted a server-based operating system on a PC, you didn't have that many choices. We were predominantly using variants of Unix, most commonly Xenix.

Importantly, most other server systems were largely text-based. With Windows NT, Microsoft brought the power of a graphical interface to mass market server operating systems.

But that wasn't all that Windows NT offered. The team that Dave Cutler led produced a processor-independent,  multi-user and multiprocessing operating system.

The NT moniker was a challenge over time. At release, people said it stood for New Technology.  We presumed that was to separate it from OS/2 that their partnership with IBM had offered. The project that become Windows NT was initially going to release OS/2 version 3.0.


Windows NT included a hardware abstraction layer (HAL) that allowed it to run on processors from different processor families. As well as the Intel x86 architecture that we all know today, it could run on DEC Alpha, and on MIPS processors. It was also later ported to other operating systems. Curiously, the project initially targeted the i860 (aka N10) processor but no commercial release for that processor ended up shipping. Even the DEC Alpha version wasn't quite ready at release.

Environment Subsystems

One interesting aspect of the operating system was that it supported multiple execution environments. The intent was to make the kernel separate from the APIs used for programming. At release, Windows NT supported not only the Windows APIs (Win16 and Win32), it supported OS/2 apps and POSIX apps. I'm sure the last option was there so that it couldn't be automatically rejected in tender processes for people like the US government, because POSIX-compliance had become part of many procurement rules.

Microsoft wasn't the only company to produce these subsystems. As an example, Softway Systems (who Microsoft later acquired) created a more complete Unix variant called OpenNT that was built on top of the POSIX layer.

I was involved in a project that was creating a more secure execution subsystem that would only execute code produced by a specific secure compiler, and signed by that compiler. Not everyone wanted a general purpose operating system that would run anything (including viruses) that you threw at it.

Happy Birthday Windows Server !

From the server direction, we currently have variants of Windows Server that have a fairly direct lineage to Windows NT. Given it's release was 30 years ago today, it's time to say Happy Birthday !

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