Why is it called Windows 7?

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.

17 thoughts on “Why is it called Windows 7?

  1. On the version-checking issue, I don’t think there’d necessarily be a problem. I mean, people have been burned by previous releases such as Windows 2000 – but as the financial crisis is showing, we seem to be doomed to repeat past mistakes. However, Windows now has a very robust compatibility mechanism and faking the return value of the version check APIs is very easy.

    As a programmer you should generally target one base version of the OS – for us it’s currently Windows 2000, as we predominantly produce server-side apps, but organizations targeting desktops would probably pick Windows XP as fewer than 2% now still use Windows 2000 (Net Applications Web usage share data) – and opt to use newer APIs by simply attempting to load them dynamically. If not there, don’t use it. That’s typically more robust than checking for a specific version number.

    Because version number checks were so commonly implemented incorrectly, Microsoft added a new API in Windows 2000, VerifyVersionInfo, to check that at least a given OS and service pack was installed. I don’t know how widely it’s used, however.

  2. The other piece of evidence to back up the 6.1 idea is the naming scheme for the server product based on the next OS. http://blogs.technet.com/windowsserver/archive/2008/08/18/windows-server-7-aka-windows-server-2008-r2.aspx Mentions that it will be Windows Server 2008 R2 not Windows Server 2010 (I doubt it will be out in 2009). It really is quite similar to the 2000/XP 5/5.1. Now though if they don’t call it Windows 7 will it cause marketing problems?

  3. I just hope they don’t call it Windows Blista, or anything that rhymes with Vista. XP was a cool name, quite meaningless but cool. Vista (the name) was quite lame.

  4. If what you say in your ZDnet post is correct, that Steven is going back to the old style yearly scheme for naming… it would perhaps make sense…

    Imagine if Windows XP had been called ‘Windows 2001’… I think the perception of the product would be very different to what it is. 2001 ties it to a date, XP doesn’t… put like that… doesn’t 2001 sound so old?

    I’m thinking of some consumers in the computer store being asked if they’d like the Windows 2009… or Windows 2001…

  5. Just recently learn that i can wake up the pc from hibernation using task scheduler and now i want to hibernate pc automatically using task scheduler. Ed any idea how to hibernate or sleep pc using task scheduler?

  6. Do i put shutdown -h in the Program/script box or should i put shutdown in the Program/script box and place -h in the Add Arguments(optional) box

  7. TJ, you’re gonna have to read up on the workings of the Task Scheduler. This comment thread is already sdeverely off topic, and I can’t give you detailed support. I pointed you in the right direction, now go and learn.

  8. Josh makes a great point; as long as Microsoft is upping the versions often enough, a yearly scheme is great for branding, as it encourages upgrades more then names do.

  9. OK, color me officially confused. If NT is Windows 4 (as, according to the above, it adopted the 95 interface), then why are Windows 5 systems (2000 and XP, Server 2003, etc) called “NT” by Microsoft?

  10. The Dean,

    NT is a family. It was first introduced with Windows NT 3.1. The NT (“New Technology”) label was designed to distinguish it from the consumer flavors of Windows. So there was Windows NT 3.x, Windows NT 4, Windows NT 5 (aka Windows 2000 and XP) and Windows NT 6 (Vista).

    Less confused now?

  11. Sort of, Ed, but not really.

    The NT label has been used with Windows versions 3, 4, 5 and 6 (if I understood you correctly).

    But, consumer versions of Windows 2000 and XP (to name two) are considered to be “NT”-based. As NT has existed since Wndows version 3, why isn’t Windows 98 (for example) NT-based?

    That is, what is it about Windows XP that makes it and NT system, but not Windows 98?

    Was that, at all, clear?


  12. One more attempt to make myself clear, Ed. I see software (or hardware) that won’t work with Win 98, but is compatible with NT systems (which I understand to be Windows 2000-XP).

    I don’t think they mean it will work on NT version 3.1. Am I mistaken?

    Somehow the NT moniker got attached to 2000 and XP, even though there are NT versions of every Windows version since 3.1.

    So, hopefully, that helps to further explain my confusion.

    Thanks, again.

  13. The Dean.

    Windows NT was a new product designed from the ground up to be all 32-bit and not based on MS-DOS in any way. Windows 3.x required DOS and was 16-bit, and Windows 95/98/Me still had some legacy 16-bit code in them. They are different because of the kernels on which they’re based.

    Windows 2000 was a member of the NT family, which used the NT kernel. It existed at the same time as Windows Me, which used the 9x kernel. When Windwos XP came out, it completely killed off the old Windows 9x line and was the first product for consumers that was based on the NT kernel.

    So until 2001, there were two parallel Windows product lines, 9x and NT. After 2001, there was only the NT line.

  14. “So until 2001, there were two parallel Windows product lines, 9x and NT. After 2001, there was only the NT line.”

    That did it.


  15. Hey, six-piece speaker systems are called “5.1 surround”, so, why can’t Windows 7 be “6.1”?


  16. im writting an essay about information technology, I choice topic Windows 7. but now I havent known i should write, can you help me? plz.

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