Do you have a favorite version of Windows?

3D Maze, a Windows 95 screensaver
(Image credit: Microsoft)

The preview build of Windows 11 is already available for Windows Insiders, but instead of looking forward let's look back. What's your favorite Microsoft proprietary graphical OS from the past? Are you old enough to remember 3.x introducing PC users to the wonders of a GUI, and Solitaire? Do you stan for Windows 95 thanks to the start menu and taskbar? Windows XP, but only with Service Pack 2? Windows 7 just for rescuing us from the horrors of Vista?

Do you have a favorite version of Windows?

Here are our answers, plus some from our forum.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Phil Savage: Sorry to disappoint, but I'm not sitting on any Windows hot takes. As long as it lets me open programs and look at files, I'm broadly happy. Despite people seeming almost comically angry about Vista when it was released, I thought it was fine—it was quite nice to have something different to look at after years of using XP. Part of my ambivalence is down to the fact that once you turn off each release's most irritating new features, it's broadly the same thing with a minor visual upgrade. I turned off Cortana on the first day of installing Windows 10, and I've already checked to confirm that you can move Windows 11's taskbar icons back to the left. Beyond that, I'll continue to ignore 90% of the new features that go into an OS release, and in doing so find some measure of happiness.

Fraser Brown: Unless it's actively annoying me, I don't think about Windows at all. Windows 8 bugged me the most, so it's the one I like the least. The one I like the most? I guess 10, because it's the one I'm using now and it's fine. I feel like I should probably have stronger opinions on this thing that I interact with more than pretty much anything else, but who has the time? 

Andy Kelly: I'm gonna say Windows 95, purely for the nostalgia. There's something about that combo of grey UI and turquoise default wallpaper that just speaks to me. It reminds me of simpler times. Not a hot take in sight. Just a start menu full of the greatest games ever made. I have a virtual copy installed on my PC for old games that don't play ball with a modern OS, and I like firing it up occasionally to just click around. I also used it to make a very silly music video for a friend's band.

Alan Dexter: I've installed the Insider Preview of Windows 11 on my main machine and so far I've been mightily impressed by it. It could well turn out to be my favourite Windows, although that feels like cheating as it isn't really available yet or in fact, you know, finished. 

For my fave Windows OS, I'm going to wind the clock back to 1996 when all the cool kids could be found using Windows for Workgroups 3.11. I was working tech support in a data conversion company at the time and this version of Windows was vital to getting on the internet and for sending annoying messages around the company. Gaming was still MS-DOS-based, but it was a time of Duke Nukem 3D and grabbing cheeky games on our lunch break when the boss wasn't around. Ah, simpler times of chewing gum and kicking ass. 

Richard Stanton: I wouldn't say it's my 'favourite' Windows but I have that same nostalgia as Andy for Windows 95, purely because I associate it with my first tentative steps into the wide world of the internet and PC gaming: and yeah, that chunky grey aesthetic is the OS equivalent of hot chicken soup. In terms of functionality I honestly don't mind too much but my preference probably would be XP purely because I hate how much stuff the contemporary ones try to install, and how much tweaking you have to do when you first start using them just to get rid of all the crap. I had a genuine battle with my current PC when it went through a phase of constantly re-installing Candy Crush Soda Saga during Windows updates: Bill Gates never did me like that.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Sarah James: I'm with Rich on this one. I can't say I've ever thought about which Windows version is my favourite, but XP is one that stands out simply because it just worked. Also, Vista was so bad, I do remember trying to keep XP on my machine for as long as I possibly could because of that. But I can't say I really have any complaints about Windows 10 either.

Andy Chalk: Somebody has to speak up for Windows 3.1 and I guess it'll be me. I have faint but fond memories of that transition from DOS to Windows (although it was really just a GUI dumped on top of DOS) and the way it felt like such a big step into the future: I was still horsing around with AUTOEXECs and batch files, but this Windows business was new and exciting and very pretty, and just enough of a pain in the ass that it still felt like a certain degree of expertise was required to get anything done. I would never argue that Win3.1 was the "best" Windows (because, I mean, obviously), but I do miss that feeling.

From our forum

Colif: First windows I used was Windows 3.1 for workgroups. I don't have favorite versions of windows, I instead have less favorite versions. The ones that didn't work so well for me because of hardware limitations I had at the time, Windows ME & Windows 8/8.1 are the 2 that come to mind. First was painful and second I just skipped. Unlike others, I didn't find Vista that bad but much of that came from having a PC that came with Vista and was powerful enough to last 8 years. It wasn't good enough for 8 so I just skipped it.

I don't cling to versions after a new one is announced, I just accept the changes (for most part) and go with flow. I don't understand the need to make X version of Windows look like Y, I can remember themes that used to make windows look like Apple and I never understood them either, if you want to use another OS just go do it.

Windows 11 is just windows 10 with a face lift. And finished features. But same could be said about every version of windows since Vista so no real change. They saw Bethesda can keep doing it with Skyrim, why not just put a new layer of paint on. No one will notice if its got rounded corners and a glass look... hmm, glass, wasn't that a Vista thing. Progress or recycling?

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Brian Boru: I started with Win 3.0, but went back to the excellent XTree Gold due to constant Win crashes. 3.1 was a big improvement, and 3.11 too—been on Win ever since. I have 2 favs, Win95 and Win7.

95 introduced a lot of what we still have: Taskbar; Multi-tasking; Start menu; Notification area. It was the real start of Windows as the dominant OS.

Win7 is the only version of Windows I bought in advance of launch—there was a great deal of 3 copies for $150 if I recall correctly, and all the beta testers I knew were saying it was nearly flawless. So it proved, 7 is definitely the best-ever Windows launch.

Win7 highlights were: Rock-solid stability out of the gate; Pinning to Taskbar & Jump Lists; Libraries; Proper SSD support; Problem Steps Recorder; XP Mode.

Honorable mentions to 98SE, XP SP2, Win10—and the unsung hero Win 2000, a better XP than the early versions of XP.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

mainer: I started gaming with PC's back in the 1980s with MS-DOS (don't remember the version numbers), back when you often needed to create boot discs just to run games. Then moved on to Windows 3.1 around 1992, then on to Windows 95, 98, ME, skipped Windows 2000, then upgraded to Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, skipped 8.0/8.1, then finally Windows 10.

Of those versions, Windows 7 gave me the least problems when gaming, and was far less intrusive that Win 10. It would probably still be my favorite, but for 2 glaring issues: 1)It's no longer supported or updated by Microsoft, and 2)There are some games that now require Windows 10 to run. So it's far too limiting to use a PC with Windows 7 as an OS, though I do keep an older PC that I just use for backup storage that still runs Windows 7.

So my current favorite is Windows 10 which is on my current gaming PC. I've been able to get any game I've wanted to play to run, even games that are 10-20 years old (although some of those older games do require some tweaking or community patches to run well). My one major annoyance with Win 10 though, is how it updates without giving you any choice. Updates sometimes install junk in my task bar that I don't want, or at times can cause problems (an update a couple years ago completely borked my audio, took me hours to fix).

So while it's my current "favorite" OS, it comes with a big asterisk*. I wish I had more input as to what was actually installed and/or updated. I'll wait awhile on Windows 11 to see how it affects gaming, even if I miss the free upgrade.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

ZedClampet: Windows was huge for those of us who used PC's before it. To be completely honest, though, I don't remember which version was my first, but I think it was 3.1.

Windows 10 is the only one that I have been sad to see leave, so I'll say 10 is my favorite. Unlike a lot of others, I never get pop-up ads or anything. It almost never crashes and launches quickly on my SSD (never thought I'd see that day). Just don't have any complaints right now. I even use Windows Defender as my anti-virus and have been pleased with its performance.

All that said, I'm fulling expecting Windows 11 to be an abomination.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Pijfanjr: I've been using Windows since 3.11 and used every version except for 8, which I skipped. I don't have a favourite, but I will say that Windows ME was terrible. I'm pretty sure we averaged 5 blue screen of death a day. My brother actually managed to change the registry in such a way that it turned the screen red instead of blue (only took like 10 minutes after changing it to trigger the red screen of death). Of course he didn't really know what he was doing and so Windows wouldn't boot any more after that, but he'd gotten pretty proficient at reinstalling Windows at that point any way.

Windows Vista was also pretty bad. Not so bad that I switched back to Windows XP (though some of my friends did), but upgrading to Windows 7 was a great improvement.

Pr0udCh0sen1: Windows 95, take it back, take it way back!

JCgames: VISTA! It's the OS I ran my favorite game ever on.. SWG. What ever version plays the game I wanna play works for me, but honestly vista just worked so well. I did not get it early, but in the end it worked. Then again everything since win 2k I've never had an issue, but then again I run basically reference systems. My favorite program on the other hand.. file manager rules!

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.