Thinking about Windows Build numbers

There’s been an ongoing thread internally speculating about the windows build number that will be chosen for Windows 7 when it finally ships.  What’s interesting is that we’re even having speculation about the builds being chosen. 

The Windows version is actually composed of a bunch of different fields, all packed into an OSVERSIONINFO structure.  The relevant parts of the OSVERSIONINFO are:

  • Major Version (dwMajorVersion)
  • Minor Version (dwMinorVersion)
  • Build # (dwBuildNumber)

The major and minor version numbers are primarily marketing numbers – they’re broad brush fields that the marketing department decides are appropriate for the OS.  For Windows 7, the major and minor versions have been fixed at 6.1 for many months now, but the build numbers change more-or-less daily.


Back to my story… Back in the dark ages when Windows NT was first developed, the rules for build numbers were relatively simple.  Today's build is yesterdays build number + 1.  That’s why Windows NT 3.1 was build number 511, NT3.5 was build 807, NT 3.51 was build 1057, NT 4.0 was build 1381.

But after NT 4.0, things changed.

When Brian Valentine moved from the Exchange team to the Windows team, he brought with him a tradition that the Exchange team used – The Exchange build numbers were rounded up to round numbers for major milestones in the product.  So Exchange 4.0’s RTM version was 4.0.837 but Exchange 5.0 started at build 1000 (maybe it was 900, I honestly don’t remember).  For NT, Brian and his team adopted this scheme but used it to ensure that the OS build number was a round number – so WIndows 2000 (the first version of Windows that was shipped with Brian as the lead) it had a (relatively) round version number of 5.0.2195.

That tradition was continued with Windows XP (5.1.2600) and Vista (6.0.6000).  In the Vista case, it appears that there was some massaging of the numbers to make the build number work out so evenly – this list of build numbers shows that the build numbers jumped from 5825 to 5840 to 5920 to 6000 during the final push – the last few build numbers were incremented by 80 each build with sub-build numbers (QFE number) incrementing by 1 between the builds.

For Windows 7, we’ve also seen a number of jumps in build numbers.  The PDC build was build 6801, the Beta build was 7000 and the RC build was 7100.  It’ll be interesting to see what the final build number will be (whenever that happens).  I honestly have no idea what the number’s going to be.