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I was wondering

  1. What distinguishes different families of Windows: Windows 9x, Windows CE and Windows NT? For example, why does Windows 7 belong to the NT family, instead of to a new family?

    Is kernel the criterion, i.e. are kernels the same within a family, and different in some sense between different families?

  2. Does a release of Windows OS have multiple (versions of) kernels so that one can choose any kernel of them to boot the Windows OS, just as Ubuntu 10.10 has several kernels: 2.6.32 and 2.6.35 to boot from?

share|improve this question
Kernel is the discerning factor ( – MaQleod Jun 4 '11 at 4:17
If I'd have to guess, I'd say it's the "does not show any research effort" criterion for a downvote. – Daniel Beck Jun 4 '11 at 5:20
(1) How can one know that I haven't done my research? (2) Different person has different ability in research especially in things with which he/she is nor familiar. Some research simple for one may not be simple for another, and ability to understand the same thing found may be very different. – Tim Jun 4 '11 at 5:25

It is the underlying architecture.

95/98/ME used FAT32 file structure as the default and a less stable kernel, which shared memory for all the processes. Windows 95 allowed you to hit CTRL+ALT+DEL to end a process, but because they shared memory, it often destabilized the computer, and required you to reboot nevertheless. One other great difference is that 95/98/ME allowed virtually any program to interact directly with hardware and other devices. This meant that if a programmer made a bad call to something, it could bring the system crashing down.

NT3.51/NT4/XP/Vista/Windows7 all default to NTFS, which was better at keeping file corruption down, and use a kernel, which keeps processes separate, so when you kill one, you do not destabilize the whole computer. In contrast to 95/98/ME, NT3.51/NT4/XP/Vista/Windows7 all require any calls to hardware and devices to be made by the kernel. A program makes the request to the kernel, and if the kernel deems it safe to execute, it does it on behalf of the program. This makes all the calls to hardware very clean and consistent, and not haphazard based on how some programmer programs.

The answer to question 2 is simply no. Each kernel was a different OS, requiring a different paid license, so they did not put in the functionality to boot different kernels. You could install different versions on different partitions, and boot them, but that is different from what you are describing with Linux.

share|improve this answer
I am with you...why the downvote? I wish they would add the functionality that if you downvote, you have to explain. – KCotreau Jun 4 '11 at 5:12
This answer is true but not complete. The architecture of NTFS is very different from that of 9x, it's not just a matter of filesystem (in fact you can even use FAT32 with WinNT, though it's not the default). The reliability of NT is due to the system architecture, not just the filesystem (and I'm pretty sure every Windows version at least since 3.1 used memory protection, so I'm not sure that 9x's stability problems were due to that - unlike early MacOS versions). – user55325 Jun 4 '11 at 5:14
All versions of Windows (since DOS) use a kernel; 9x used a monolithic kernel. Interestingly, it appears that 9x did not in fact protect the first 1MB of memory, I would assume for DOS compatibility, and this could be a source of stability issues. – user55325 Jun 4 '11 at 5:27
Yes, I did add to my answer. I simply had not remembered since it was so long since I used 95/98. The fact is that all components are important, but the least important is certainly the file system, although FAT32 did corrupt files more easily, which could lead to crashing too. – KCotreau Jun 4 '11 at 5:28
Re "95/98/ME used FAT32 file structure as the default (could be changed to NTFS)": None of these systems supported NTFS. – grawity Jun 4 '11 at 8:58

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