Top 5 Windows features that have changed the platform forever

Windows has a long and deep history at Microsoft, but there are a few important features that have defined the OS

Microsoft has a deep heritage in the tech world, and its Windows operating system plays an important part in that. From the very first Windows release in 1985 to modern-day Windows 11, the company has continuously innovated and added new features to Windows that have shaped the way we work, play, and interact with each other when using the best laptops or the best gaming PCs. From the Start Menu to things like Live Tiles, Windows has come a long way, but there are five features in particular that we think sum up its legacy best.



1 The Start menu

The list starts with the Start menu (pun intended). It was first introduced in Windows 95, and it really changed how people used the humble operating system. From Windows 1.0 up to Windows 3.1, you largely had to depend on a program manager to launch apps, which wasn’t the easiest to use since you had to open separate program groups and use shortcuts.

However, thanks to the Start menu in Windows 95, Microsoft delivered a fresh new way for you to use your computer. Click that Start button in the bottom left corner, and you could get to your favorite apps easily. This theme would continue with Windows XP, which expanded the Start Menu to two columns, where you see programs on the left and additional folders like Documents and Music on the right, with more room for customization. Microsoft added a search box, additional menus, and submenus for document navigation and settings in Windows 7 and Vista.

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Thanks to the Start menu in Windows 95, Microsoft delivered a fresh new way for you to use your computer.

Of course, you might remember that Windows 8 killed the Start menu for Live Tiles, which could display information about your favorite apps at a glance but didn’t make it easy to find everything else. Thankfully, Microsoft brought the Start menu back in Windows 8.1 and then incorporated the tiles into the Windows 10 Start Menu, along with the option to pin applications and resize them.

However, Windows 11 pulled the most controversial move of all by moving the Start menu to the middle of the taskbar by default. It also killed off Live Tiles for simpler app icons, recommended content, and a more prominent search box. But regardless of what form it takes, the Start menu is one of the most critical areas of Windows, and it always will be.

2 Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer first launched in 1995, and boy, was it special. The internet was booming, and this new app came bundled into Windows as a way to help people get online. More impactfully, it launched what we came to know as the first browser war, competing with products like Netscape and even causing Microsoft to face claims that it was aiming to be a monopoly and stifle competition by forcing users into Internet Explorer with Windows.

Internet Explorer continued to iterate despite a lot of roadblocks. For example, Version 6 launched with features like pop-up blockers and extensions. However, it faded in popularity thanks to browsers like Google Chrome. While it lasted through 11 versions, it would eventually be replaced with Edge and killed off in a recent Windows 11 update. But it lives on in spirit. Edge even now has an “Internet Explorer” mode for legacy websites.

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3 The bundled games

Windows always came bundled with games, even back during the era when it was mainly command-line based. Windows 1.0 came bundled with a game called Reversi, for example, that helped you get used to using your mouse. But so many classic games have been included with future versions of the operating system — some of which you may have heard of.

Examples include Solitaire, which first launched in Windows 3.0 and made it all the way to all Windows versions until Windows 7. Then, there was Minesweeper and FreeCell, which first shipped with Windows 3.1. And who can’t forget 3D Pinball, which shipped in Windows NT, Windows 2000, ME, and XP?

Microsoft has kept a lot of these games over the years, and while it’s included other games like Mahjong Titans, Chess Titans, and Sudoku,it has kept gaming as a part of its identity, even today. You can still find games in Windows 11 like the Microsoft Solitaire Collection. Of course, we can’t talk about video games without talking about Xbox. You can subscribe to Xbox Game Pass and unlock a whole new level of cloud gaming on your PC.

4 Windows Ink Workspace

Touchscreen devices are now commonplace, and Microsoft kept up with the trend with its Surface devices. It also introduced Windows Ink back in 2016 to give you easier ways to interact with your devices with a digital stylus or pen. This dedicated workspace had links to apps like Sticky Notes and recently used inking applications that might be related to note-taking, like OneNote. Apps like Sketchpad, meanwhile, had drawing tools like rulers and other digital pens.

The dedicated Windows Ink workspace is gone, but many of its elements are still around in Windows 11. Apps like Microsoft Whiteboard are now linked through Windows Ink, allowing you to have a canvas for you and your friends to draw and share ideas on.

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5 Linux and Android apps on Windows 11

We’re ending our list with a mention of two other operating systems. Many years ago, people would have thought that running Linux and Android apps on Windows was unthinkable. After all, Windows was a Microsoft product, and you’d think it’d only be open to Windows developers. But in August 2016, Microsoft released the Windows Subsystem for Linux on Windows 10, which allows developers to code programs on Windows much easier. It gives access to Linux command line tools and apps, right alongside Windows ones, without needing to dual-boot Linux and Windows.

That feature is still in Windows 11 today, but Microsoft one-upped itself and released another developer-friendly and consumer-friendly option: the Windows Subsystem for Android. It’s powered by the Amazon App Store and allows you to run Android apps on Windows. The app selection is limited, of course, since the Google Play Store and Google Play Services aren’t included, but with the right tweaks, you can turn a Windows PC into an Android device of sorts. Who would have ever thought?

What are your favorites?

With Windows’ history being so deep, there’s so much more that we could get into. While these are my favorite Windows features of all time, I am sure you can think of more. Could it be something simple like the Phone Link app? Or something more complex like the Command Prompt? Whatever it is, Microsoft continues to evolve Windows each and every year, so we’re sure there are plenty of options.

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