History of Microsoft Paint 1985 – 2017 [LGR Retrospective]

You’ve probably seen the headlines: news outlets all over the place are claiming the latest update from Microsoft for Windows 10 has killed off the venerable MSPaint for good. Except it hasn’t! Not exactly, not yet! A lot of those knee-jerk headlines were rather deceiving. At the time of this video, Microsoft has simply deprecated the program and shifted development resources to Paint 3D, a successor to Paint with 3D modeling functionality. And seeing as this new program also does the same basic stuff that Paint did, the thinking is that including both apps with future versions of Windows could prove redundant later on. Still, the deprecation of MSPaint is a bit of a bummer! Even if I use stuff like Photoshop 95% of the time, I still find myself going back to Paint for my work here on LGR, strictly due to how dead simple it is for doing very simple things, like cropping screenshots and opening downloaded images with corrupt file headers. And besides, there’s something to be said for the foolproof nature of Paint as the most basic of image-editing programs, and the odd nostalgic connection many people have towards it. So even though Paint will still be available in the Windows store, or your own backups in the future let’s go ahead and take a look back at the history of MS Paint before its development ceased in 2017. That history starts in the early 1980s with a coinciding of two notable events: the introduction of the IBM PC in 1981 and the release of the first PC mouse in 1983. IBM’s release of the PC was a watershed moment for the personal computer industry, inadvertently creating a standard for what defines a PC to this day. But it only came with a keyboard, having a mouse on an IBM PC didn’t become the norm until years later. Not only that, but a mouse wasn’t even the first choice for many folks with Lite-Pens, graphics tablets and analog joysticks, all providing alternative input solutions for use with graphics and imaging programs. Nonetheless, some companies were adamant that the mouse was the future. One of these companies was, rather obviously, Mouse Systems. They kicked things off in 1982 by debuting the first optical mouse, invented by Steven Kirsh, which won a best new product award at the Mini Micro Show that year. By January of 1983 they had released the Mouse Systems PC mouse, beating Microsoft to market by several months to become the first commercially available mouse for the IBM PC. Around this time Mouse Systems hired Doug Wolfgram and John Bridges, developers of a PC application called “Mouse Draw.” It was designed for use with the Microsoft mouse, but Mouse Systems had the duo rework their software into a program to bundle with the PC mouse. They called it PC Paint, releasing in 1984 and bundled with Mouse Systems input devices thereafter. It was very clearly inspired by the look and feel of Apple’s Mac Paint, for the much-hyped Macintosh, but PC Paint had the distinction of being able to take advantage of color instead of just monochrome, when paired with an appropriate graphics adapter. This of course led to further competition in the IBM PC space, most notably with PC Paintbrush from Zsoft Corporation. This debuted in the later part of 1984 and was a pretty blatant clone of PC Paint making it a clone of a clone. But it was enough to get Microsoft’s attention. You see, Microsoft was hard at work on their own arguably Macintosh inspired software, which they called Windows and they were looking for fresh applications to bundle with it. Zsoft reached an agreement with them which resulted in Windows version 1.0, releasing in 1985 with a copy of PC Paintbrush, but here it was known simply as Paint. It was a bit of a downgrade compared to the full PC Paintbrush program, which made sense seeing as Zsoft continued to develop and sell it as a separate product. By the end of the 1980s, Zsoft had made a number of notable improvements to Paintbrush, like an improved interface: 256 Color, SVGA graphics and support for their new image format called PCX. Microsoft continued to license the product from them and proceeded to rename Paint to Paintbrush, both as a separate product and when it was bundled with Windows 3.0 But after this, the two applications went their separate ways, with PC Paintbrush turning into more of a fully featured raster graphics editor and Microsoft’s Paintbrush continuing to serve its purpose as a much simpler image application. It evolved yet again in 1995 with the release of Windows 95, where it reverted to the name Paint. At its core, it still worked a lot like Paintbrush, but the interface was completely redesigned, while adding support for custom color palettes and higher color depths. The Windows XP release was the next big overhaul in 2001, natively supporting the popular JPG and PNG file formats, as well as being able to directly acquire images from digital cameras and scanners. Windows 7’s release marked another overhaul in 2009 to coincide with Microsoft’s Ribbon interface, along with a variety of new brush styles and anti-aliasing capabilities. Finally, in the April of 2017, Paint 3D was released to the public through Windows 10 versions 1703. This was initially thought to be a spin-off of Paint, with a stylus friendly interface and basic 3D modeling capabilities. But it now seems that Microsoft intends this to be the future of Paint. So, my question is, well, Paint 3D end up having the same kind of legacy as Paint did. Time will tell I suppose, but somehow I doubt it. Alongside Solitaire, Paint is probably the one bundled Windows app I’ve wasted the most time with in various study halls and crappy jobs over the years. And, like I said, I still find it useful for very basic image manipulation. And I don’t know about you, but I always enjoy seeing people do ridiculously impressive artwork in Paint. And I don’t just mean stuff that looks realistic, because Paint could do some utterly fantastic pixel art as well. There’s something beautiful to me about doing wildly complex things with arbitrarily limited resources. And Paint is pretty darn memorable for that reason. Then again, sometimes you just want to draw a big dog in the sky and it’s fine for that too. By default, MS Paint was the free image editor of choice for an entire generation of Windows users. And I think it’s worth remembering for that reason. While there are tons of free alternatives now from Paint.net to Gimp or even Paint 3D, I still think there’s something to be said for the awesome simplicity and surprising utility of Paint, and the various programs that preceded it. And if you enjoyed this retrospective on some software here in LGR, then perhaps you’ll like some of my others. I’m always doing these kind of things, so stay tuned if you like. New videos every Monday and Friday. And, as always, thank you for watching.


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