In the comments last week, Mike asks: “Why is the next version of Windows called ‘Windows 7’???”
As Peter Ortner responds in a later comment, “It’s the next version after Windows NT 6 (Vista).”
That’s true. Sort of. But Mike goes on to explain that he asked the question because he knows that Windows 7 is really Windows version 6.1, and what’s up with that? It’s a good question. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the Windows 7 name isn’t going to work in the long run. I take on that topic in a new post over at ZDNet (Will Windows 7 get a new name for its release?)
You can get the full analysis in that post, so I won’t repeat it here. Instead, I thought it might be interesting here to provide a little history about version numbers, and why this one is so unusual.
Every Windows version has a number that identifies its kernel. Software developers can write code that checks the version number to decide whether a program should be allowed to install. You can determine the version number for any Windows release by dropping to a command prompt and running the ver or winver command; the first produces a text string, the second reveals a dialog box, as shown here.
The version history of the various Windows families goes like this:
- Windows 3.0 and 3.1 (and Windows for Workgroups 3.11) from the early 1990s used the version numbers as part of their name. The first releases of Windows NT, also from that era, followed suit, with Windows NT 3.1 and 3.5.
- Windows 95 was technically version 4.0. Windows NT 4.0, which was released exactly a year after Windows 95, adopted the Windows 95 interface. Windows 98 was version 4.10.1998 and Windows 98 Second Edition was 4.10.2222A. The much-maligned Windows Me was 4.90.3000. (History lessons here and here for those who care.)
- Windows 2000 was the first release in the version 5 family. It was followed by Windows XP, which was version 5.1. Service packs are identified by build numbers, but service packs do not affect the version number.
- Windows Vista was Windows 6.0 (Vista Service Pack 1 is build 6001, as the screen shot above shows). Because the next release of Windows is going to be based on the same kernel as Windows Vista, it should have the version number 6.1. Indeed, every copy of Windows 7 that has leaked to public view so far has had a build number of 6.1.xxxx. This numbering is almost certain to remain in the final product. If the major version number changed to 7.0, many applications written for Windows Vista would fail to install or run properly, simply because of version checking.
So if the next release of Windows is version 6.1, why call it Windows 7? I agree, that makes no sense at all. I think, in fact, that Microsoft is much more likely to go back to a safe, boring name for its next release. Hop on over and read my prediction, then add your own vote in my online poll.