Over the past 37 years, Microsoft has used a variety of logo designs to represent its flagship product, Microsoft Windows. We’ll take a look at each major release as the design has evolved through the ages.
Before we begin our journey through the past, it’s important to note that while researching, we discovered dozens of subtle differences to the Windows logo used in print, advertising, software, retail boxes, and more — too many to cover in detail here. We’ll compile some of the key shapes and attributes Microsoft has used to brand the Windows logo over time.
Tiled window: 1985-1989
At first, Windows didn’t have many logos. Box art, splash screens, and ads for Windows 1.0 (1985) and 2.0 (1987) usually use the “Microsoft Windows” text tag with a special font without a special icon next to it. But in recent years, Microsoft has unveiled a rarely used Windows 1.x and 2.x logo with an asymmetric four-panel design (shown above, above) that evokes different sizes of tiled windows in Windows 1.0, which fill the screen but don’t. overlap.
In a blog post from 2012, Microsoft’s Sam Moreau cited this design as the “original Windows logo,” but in practice, it was rarely used at the time. After research, we found that it was only used with the Microsoft Windows Development Seminar event hosted in 1986 and 1987 – and a rare copy of Windows distributed at that event. But it still paves the way for things to come.
Stark window: 1990-1991
Like Windows 1.x and 2.x, Windows 3.0 (1990) mostly uses a word-based logo—as shown above on the Windows 3.0 splash screen to the right. “With Windows 3.0, there was no standard Windows logo,” says Brad Silverberg, Microsoft’s vice president in charge of Windows at the time. “Every marketing group, sales group or sales event did their own thing. Sometimes one of them was reused, but there was no standard.”
Some retail boxes of Windows applications also used an early illustration of a window with dense gradients on some products to indicate compatibility with Windows 3.0 (shown above left.) This is the first appearance of an obvious home window metaphor, with four panes placed in a border thick. It’s a design idea that stuck with Windows in various forms to this day.
Related: Windows 3.0 is 30 years old: Here’s what made it special
Windows Flag: 1990-1993
Windows 3.1 refreshed things for Microsoft in 1992 by introducing a vibrant new logo that borrowed the idea of the window but turned it into a flag looming behind it. Four colors (red, green, blue and yellow) fill the parts of this flag window, while the waving path is divided into separate blocks, which may indicate separate digital units of information.
Former Microsoft Vice President Brad Silverberg has linked the origins of the famous flag logo to How-To Geek: “I felt [the lack of a standard Windows logo in the 3.0 era] It was a huge missed opportunity, that we needed to create a new logo and mandate it to be used everywhere. I directed the Systems Marketing group to develop a new group. They used some third-party designers, gave me the finalists, and I chose the now popular Windows flag. Still my favourite. It established the colours, the overall design, it has movement/dynamism, and it has lasted for decades. I wanted to build some fairness into the logo and it worked! “
Microsoft also used this flag logo with Windows NT 3.1 (first version of NT) the following year.
Related: Windows 3.1 turns 30: Here’s how to make Windows basic
Flying Flag: 1994-2000
In 1994, Microsoft designers put a new twist on the waving flag logo of the Windows 3.1 era by tilting it clockwise at a slight angle, indicating movement and action. This new logo first appeared with Windows NT 3.5 in 1994, but quickly made its way to Windows 95, Windows NT 4.0 (1996), Windows CE (1996), Windows 98, Windows Me (2000), and Windows 2000 in various forms.
In particular, with the Me and 2000 logos, Microsoft added some additional square window elements around the flying flag for a more modern look.
Related: Windows 95 turns 25: When Windows went mainstream
Simple Flag: 2001-2011
With Windows XP in 2001, Microsoft stripped the idea of a flying flag into four simple color panels that waved in the wind. Similar colors remained in the paintings, but the black border disappeared. With Windows Vista (2006), Microsoft gave the simple flag a new gradient of bloom in the center and often placed it in a shaded bubble.
Windows 7 (2009) continued the Vista tradition with differences, and Windows Phone 7 (2010) used a pure white version of the simple mark placed in the form of bubbles or squares.
Related: Green Hills Forever: Windows XP is 20 years old
Angled window: 2012-2020
With Windows 8 (2012), Microsoft returned to the drawing board with the Windows logo, ditching the waving flag-like design used in the past and making the four panes look more like a house window again, but placed at an angle. The new logo’s stark design also mirrored Windows 8’s “Metro” interface, which featured app panels (squares) instead of icons.
The new corner window logo has also appeared in Windows RT (2012), Windows Phone 8 (2012), some versions of Windows Embedded Compact, Windows 8.1 (2013), and Windows 10 (2015). However, there are some differences in the exact angles and portion sizes between the different versions.
Related: The 10 greatest versions of Windows, ranked
Grid window: 2021 to date
Now we get to the present day with Windows 11, which Microsoft launched in 2021. For the Windows 11 logo, Microsoft got rid of the corner and decided to make a simple grid of four blue squares. In fact, it’s inspired by the Microsoft logo (first introduced in 2012), and is currently the same shape but in the four traditional Windows colors (red, green, blue, and yellow).
In a Microsoft promotional video, Windows Brand Manager Vincent Juris said, “We looked at the Microsoft logo and turned it blue, which is the color people often associate with Windows.”
The new logo reflects the clean new design of Windows 11 while retaining the popular four-panel home window style that has been in use for at least 22 years. We’re guessing that as long as there’s a Windows operating system, there’s likely to be a window somewhere in the logo.
Related: Windows 11: What’s New in Microsoft’s New Operating System