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Software Versions Explained

Q: It's the Year 2001 but I have Windows 98 and Office 97. My friend has Windows 95 and Excel 8. What do the numbers mean?

A. Many people get confused (and rightly so) by the non-intuitive names of products. Software programs are never really finished. They can always be improved with added features and can always have problems (bugs) removed.

So when a company puts a software product on the market, they include a version number with the name so that customers will know that they have the latest and (hopefully) greatest version.

Many companies use a consecutive naming scheme. So Version 4 would be more recent than Version 3 but less new than Version 5.5. But in the mid-90's, Microsoft changed that and began using the year in their product names.

Their flagship Windows product was moving along at Version 3.0, then 3.1 and finally 3.11 and then all of a sudden, the next version of Windows was called Windows 95. This was launched in August 1995 so it made sense, until the calendar changed. They used a similar scheme with their Office product suite (Word, Excel, etc.). The name changed to Office 95.

As upgrades came out, they needed to give them new names. The next major version of Windows was called Windows 98. Office got an update a little earlier so it's new product was called Office 97.

The two products got back in synch again with the year 2000 as both Windows 2000 and Office 2000 were introduced. However, it is not all squared away yet.

Microsoft launched another version of Windows called Windows ME with the ME standing for Millennium Edition. This product was targeted at the home market.

In the meantime, there was always Windows NT, which was targeted at heavy-duty power users, engineers and network servers. Windows NT went from Version 3.5 to Version 4.0 and then turned into Windows 2000.

This spring, a new Office product was brought out called Office XP where the XP stands for experience. In a few months (Fall 2001), Windows XP will be brought to market.

Confused? You should be.

Answered by Tech Expert Dan Hanson

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