Why no Windows 9? The surprising reason

Last Updated on June 28, 2020 by Dave Farquhar

After the hugely popular Windows 7, Microsoft followed up with the terrible Windows 8, and the only slightly less terrible Windows 8.1. And then they came out with Windows 10, which, while not as beloved as Windows 7, certainly was better than 8. But they skipped 9. Why no Windows 9?

Believe it or not, the reason Microsoft skipped Windows 9 has nothing to do with Windows 7 or Windows 8. The reason is a decades-old shortcut that was beyond Microsoft’s control.

The inconsistency in Windows naming catches up with Microsoft

Windows 95 vs 98
Why no Windows 9? Because using that name confused some older programs into thinking they were running on Windows 95, and that frequently made them break.

Long ago, in the 80s and 90s, we had these things called version numbers. And Windows followed them. There was Windows 1.0, followed by 2.0, then 3.0, and 3.1. Minor revisions got a point release, and major new versions incremented the number to the left of the decimal point. It made sense.

But after Windows 3.1, Microsoft decided it wanted something with more pizazz. That meant Windows 4.0 didn’t say Windows 4.0 on the box, and in the UI. It said Windows 95, named for the year it was released. And let me tell you, as someone who worked at Best Buy in the summer of 1995, the jump from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 confused no one. And by no one, I mean almost everyone.

Then we had Windows NT 4.0, which was a separate product line, and that was followed by Windows 98. Then Microsoft got cute and decided Windows NT 5.0 needed to be called Windows 2000, so the successor to Windows 98, which also came out in 2000, ended up being called Windows Me, for Millennium Edition, but you weren’t supposed to capitalize the “E.”

Windows Me was terrible, and so was the idea of building Windows on the MS-DOS kernel, so Microsoft got around to releasing a version of Windows NT that was equally at home both at work and at home. And Microsoft named it Windows XP.

XP’s terrible successor was called Vista, so than Microsoft went back to using version numbers with Windows 7. But XP brings up the shortcut that developers came up with.

The shorthand that doomed Windows 9

By the 1990s, there was a pretty hefty alphabet soup of Windows versions, all with their own nuances. Windows 95 was mostly backward compatible with 3.1, but the new features of Windows 95 made developing for both systems tricky. Compatibility between Windows 95 and Windows NT was a different flavor of dicey.

But you couldn’t ignore the huge install base of Windows 95 and 98, even after XP came out. I can’t emphasize how huge Windows 95 was. People stood in line to buy it at the stroke of midnight on August 24, 1995. It was Black Friday in August. Over a Microsoft product. I’m not kidding. It was better than Windows 3.1, but that wasn’t a high bar. It wasn’t great, but it had buzz.

To make software work on Windows 95 or 98 and Windows NT, sometimes developers had to do workarounds. So their programs would check what version Windows reported. If the system reported Windows NT, or Windows XP, it would behave one way. If it reported Windows 9-something, it behaved in ways friendly to Windows 95 and 98. Any other answer caused it to behave like it was running on Windows NT something.

That was great, until 12 years later when a successor to Windows 8 was supposed to come out. Calling it Windows 9 made those programs act like they were running on Windows 95, when they needed to behave like they were running on Windows NT, because XP and everything that came after was NT-based.

People were mad enough about Windows 8 without Microsoft breaking stuff. So Microsoft quickly decided to skip Windows 9 and release Windows 10 right away. That’s why there’s no Windows 9.

Arguably Windows 10 is never going to be as beloved as Windows XP and Windows 7 were, but Windows 10 at least caught on better than 8, 8.1 and Vista.

But Windows 95 was Windows 4.0 internally!

Before you tell me that Windows 95 reported itself as Windows 4-something internally, that’s great. I’m well aware of that. I’ve gotten some comments saying I’m dumb for not knowing how to check the version number. But I’m not the one who wrote that legacy software. Not all software did it, but enough did to cause Microsoft concern about using version number 9.

For Microsoft, the easiest way to deal with this unintended incompatibility was to just skip a version number once they discovered the problem.

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