Start Me Up: What Has The Windows 95 Desktop Given Us 25 Years Later?

We’ve had something of an anniversary of late, and it’s one that will no doubt elicit a variety of reactions from our community. It’s now 25 years ago that Windows 95 was launched, the operating system that gave the majority of 1990s PC users their first taste of a desktop-based GUI and a 32-bit operating system.

To the strains of the Rolling Stones’ Start me up, Microsoft execs including Bill Gates himself jubilantly danced on stage at the launch of what was probably to become the company’s defining product, perhaps oblivious to the line “You make a grown man cry” which maybe unwittingly strayed close to the user experience when faced with some of the software’s shortcomings.

Its security may seem laughable by the standards of today and the uneasy marriage of 16-bit DOS underpinning a 32-bit Windows operating system was clunky even in its heyday, but perhaps now is the best time to evaluate it unclouded by technical prejudice. What can we see of Windows 95 in the operating systems we use today, and thus from that can we ask the question: What did Windows 95 get right?

For Most People, This Was Where It All Started

Windows 95's desktop
A test of the legacy of Windows 95’s desktop comes in how intuitive it still is for users of a 2020-era GUI OS.

Windows 95 was by no means the first operating system to use a desktop based GUI. While earlier Windows GUIs had been more akin to graphical launchers there had been a succession of other GUI-based computers since their Xerox PARC ancestor, so Macintosh and Amiga owners among others could have been forgiven for wondering why it took Redmond so long to catch up. But for all the clamour from the 68k-based fans, the indulgent smiles from X window users on UNIX workstations in industry and universities, and the as yet unfulfilled desktop fantasies of 1995’s hardy band of GNU/Linux users, the fact remains that for the majority of the world’s desktop computer users back then it would be the Microsoft Sound that heralded their first experience of a modern GUI operating system.

We’re lucky here in 2020, to have such computing power at our fingertips that we can run in-browser simulations or even outright emulations running real code of most of the 1990s desktops. Windows 95 can be directly compared with its predecessor, and then with its contemporaries such as Macintosh System 7 and Amiga Workbench 3.1. Few people would have had the necessary four machines side-by-side to do this back then, so paging between tabs their differences and relative shortcomings become rapidly obvious. In particular the menu and windowing systems of the Mac and Amiga desktops which seemed so advanced when we had them in front of us start to feel cumbersome and long-winded in a way the Windows 95 interface for all its mid-90s Microsoft aesthetic, just doesn’t.

Using Amiga Workbench again after 25 years provides an instant reminder that an essential add-on to the Workbench disk back in the day was a little utility that gave window focus to mouse position, brought right-click menus up at the mouse pointer position, and brought focused windows to the front. Good GUIs don’t need to have their shortcomings fixed with a utility to stop them being annoying, they — to borrow a phrase from Apple themselves — just work. Right-click context menus at the mouse pointer position, the Start menu bringing access to everything into one place, and the taskbar providing an easy overview of multitasking, they were none of them earth-shattering, but together they set the Windows GUI as the one that became a natural environment for users.

Finding the Very Long Shadow of ’95 today

If you miss '95, ReactOS is probably the closest you can get here in 2020.
If you miss ’95, ReactOS is probably the closest you can get here in 2020.

Returning to the present and Windows 10, the spiritual if not codebase descendant of Windows 95, has a Start menu and a task bar that will be visibly familiar to a user from 25 years before. They were so popular with users that when Windows 8 attempted to remove them there was something of a revolt, and Microsoft returned them to later versions. The same features appear in plenty of desktop environments in other operating systems including GNU/Linux distributions, indeed it can be found on my laptop running an up-to-date Linux Mint. Arguments will probably proceed at length whether it or the dock-style interface found on NeXT, MacOS, and plenty of other GNU/Linux distros are better, but this legacy of Windows 95 has proved popular enough that it is likely to remain with us for the foreseeable future.

It’s odd, sitting down for this article at a Windows 95 desktop for the first time in over two decades. It’s so familiar that despite my having not possessed a Windows desktop for around a decade I could dive straight into it without the missteps that I had when revisiting Amiga Workbench. It’s almost a shock then to realize that it’s now a retrocomputing platform, and there’s little in my day-to-day work that I could still do on a Windows 95 machine. Perhaps it’s best to put it down before I’m reminded about Blue Screens Of Death, about driver incompatibilities, or Plug and Pray, and instead look at its echoes in my modern desktop. Maybe it did get one or two things right after all.

It's now safe to turn off your computer, the Windows 95 end screen.

Header image: Erkaha / CC BY-SA 4.0

104 thoughts on “Start Me Up: What Has The Windows 95 Desktop Given Us 25 Years Later?

  1. Fond memories of my public “Beta” copy of Windows 95.
    Microsoft shipped a full set of floppies, AND a CD to install and test.
    Checking the specs, I was forced to purchase an extra computer so the testing could proceed,
    (A Re-Occurring Theme It Seems)
    As I recall, the DOS “Boot Disk” supplied didn’t have a “Path Command” that refereed to the CD Drive.
    This confused me for a short while, but Eureka, I found it..
    So, yes, I’m classed a an “Early Adopter”.
    Still awaiting a call from the Smithsonian re: my CD and Floppies.

    1. Skipped from DOS to win98 then to BeOS. Win95 was horrible I was always fixing peoples computers with win95 issues. There was a project that used some components of win95 and win98 that was ok and ran fine. But not as well as BeOS.

      1. Oh, heck, you missed the joys of configuring Trumpet (or worse, some other) Winsock, after setting up your modem or Ethernet card (only NE2000 clones pretty much worked out of the box.) I scammed a Beta copy of Win95 from a friend – may still have the illicit CD somewhere…

        Ahh, the days of Mosaic (the first graphical browser with inline image support) and O’Reilly’s Global Network Navigator! Oh, and don’t forget PointCast, which I was never a big fan of, but which became so popular after Win95/Trumpet took off that it was consuming a fair fraction of the *entire* Internet’s bandwidth, and most corporate Internet links!)

        People forget that Win98 was the first version of Windows to include a TCP/IP stack (and a browser, the execrable IE4). Other than IE4, Win98 was really pretty solid (for a pre W2K Windows) and a huge improvement on Win95.

    2. I was one part of the beta test program. My girlfriend at the time worked for Video Professor, and she’d been tasked with coming up with the script for their Windows 95 training tape. Her computer was used for her work, while mine was mostly for email and usenet at the time, so …

      I may still have the “bug busters” t-shirt stashed away in my closet. I disposed of all of the CDs for installing all of the language variants a number of years ago.

      My main memory of the beta is having to do scratch reinstalls every couple of weeks because it just died. After the main release, it was much more stable.

      I also remember the problems with some hardware not being supported. Specifically, I had a sound card/CD interface that suffered a hardware failure, possibly a limit switch. At powerup, the CD tray motor would start running, then reverse itself and eject the tray completely. Cue several half-hour-plus calls to their support number (website and email support was uncommon back then):

      “It’s a hardware issue.”
      “We don’t support Windows 95. You’ll have to reinstall Windows 3.1 on your hard drive.”
      “But it’s obviously a hardware issue.”

      Lather, rinse, repeat, until eventually:

      “I have removed the hard drive completely from the system, and booted Windows 3.1 from floppy. It behaves the same way.”
      “Ok, we can work with that.”
      “First, put the hard drive back in, then reinstall Windows 3.1 on it.”

  2. I was at Microsoft when Win95 was released. It was all hands on deck for support, and I volunteered to get spooled up on the nitty gritty of install, just to help out. That was a lot of fun.

  3. grpconv.exe, the program to migrate Windows 3.1 Program Manager groups to Start menu groups, *still* ships with Windows to this day.

    … even on ARM Windows RT devices that are incapable of running it.

    1. As I said. But you had to know what you were doing to do find said utility and run it. Without the Internet to help you.

      Possible for the likes of us. Not so for less technically-minded people.

  4. Personally I think the peak of the 9x experience for me was Windows 2000, the stability of the nt kernel with the simplicity of the 9x gui. I still look for that experience in my gui today.

    1. i too was a huge fan of win2k. i reluctantly switched to xp and eventually realized you could turn off all the bells and whistles and make it look and behave like win2k. on win10 i have to install 3rd party software just to make it usable.

      1. Suggesting that Windows 10 is unusable when compared to Windows 2000 is just a show of your own handicap to adopt. And any biologist would tell you – adapt or go extinct. Win 10 is hugely ahead Win2k, so much a small book could be written about it.

        1. Windows 10 is complete gimp mode, IE: a phone OS, its woeful usability directly shows the lack of skill of those that coded it. Used MS products since DOS 2.x one constant… the worst operating system in existence at any time you compare it to anything else. Monopoly is absolutely the only reason they are still in business. Microsoft was the king of the acquire and cram methodology of business, they couldn’t keep skilled engineers so they had to buy code.

      2. I use Win10 in a 6-core i5 with 8GB, and I often (mostly when Word or Acrobat freezes for several seconds) get myself thinking about how did MS get to f*up its OS so much, that even in a “modern” computer it performs so badly.

    2. 2k was great. Though it suffered from becoming unstable after a while, or at least if you fiddled with it too long. The last year of my 2k machine, it wouldn’t run the shell (oddly named “explorer” IIRC), I had to use an alternate shell.

      1. That name might have something to do with OS/2. You see, OS/2 was the reason for Windows 95 so since IBM had this new fangled thing called the Internet built into OS/2 Warp(1994) and a way to browser it with an application called Web Explorer…. As usual, Microsoft marketing used similar names to leverage any press the existing and superior technology had. So they created the File Explore and they spent tons of development trying to outdo the file browsing capabilities of OS/2 Warp. OS/2 had a very nice kernel and amazing multi-tasking capabilities and those really showed off in super responsive UI on OS/2. One beta of File Explorer tried to match the performance but the new Chicago OS was very poor at multi-tasking and that version of File Explore brought the system to a crawl. A follow-up release ripped out most of the multi-threading and the Microsoft Windows hourglass during file system usage in File Explorer became legendary. After Microsoft licensed NCSA(?) Spyglass web browser source code they provided a web browser for Windows 95 called, you guessed it, Internet Explorer.

    3. Yep. That was the peak of windows. XP had a horrible green and blue start menu that had to be reset to old style before being usable. I stayed with 2000 until sometime mid 2000’s, used XP until 2009, and then I switched to linux. Definately not going back.

  5. “…earlier Windows GUIs had been more akin to graphical launchers…”

    I would strongly argue that this statement is quite untrue. Windows 3.x had tons of “Windows native” software to accomplish essentially anything a knowledge worker needed to do. (EG: There were 3 very well known word processors, 3 very well known spreadsheet programs, and database programs galore.) During the years where Windows 3.x there was an overwhelming number of companies that migrated their internal systems from DOS to Windows. Windows 95 was an explosion in user demand for fully GUI systems, but it certainly was not the beginning.

    Perhaps the statement would be a fair assessment of WIndows 1.0 – I won’t debate that point. :-)

      1. yea the GUI was already in use to a degree by zerox alto, macintosh, gem, and many others. granted 95 was the first to use a start button, but millions of people today still use the apple menu and finder which predate 95 by over a decade.

    1. I think the same. People seem to forget quickly. Perhaps it’s just the brainwash/marketing, though. Win95 was a heavily hacked Windows 3.x, essentially, with the Virtual Machine Manager at it’s core. In some way or another, the design of Windows/386 was similar, which was a VM manager with EMS support that multi-tasked mulitple DOS VMs, and ran a copy of Windows 2.x in another VM.

      Also, I think that old “it started it all” meme is just dated.
      So many people claimed that their beloved platform started it all.
      So we have, simplified, these groups:
      – The 1960s people who worked on mainframes with FastRand HDDs and punch cards
      – The 1970s people who built their own micros from scratch, coded in assembler and used CP/M or Apple 2
      – The loud 1980s people with their “mighty” C64, which they claim was the best computer evaarrr
      – The fancy 1980s “artists” type of people with their Macintosh/Atari/Amiga (MC68000 fanatics in short)
      – The 1980s people who used IBM PCs or MS-DOS compatibles for work (Tandy 1000 also had GUI)
      – The 1980s people that went the Unix or graphics workstation route (also: Minix 1.x)
      – The silent 1980s people with Japanese computers that no one remembers (Sharp MZ, MSX, Sharp X1, etc)
      – The 1980s people with niche computers (ZX81, Spectrum, Amstrad CPC/Joyce, Colour Genie, TO7-70, TI99/4 etc)
      – The 1990s people who used PCs with PC/GEOS or Windows 3.0
      – The 1990s PC people who used DesqView, OS/2 etc. to run their own BBS
      – ..

      Anyway, I heard the same statement of Win95 with Windows 3.0 already.
      Strictly, speaking, Windows 3.x was more than just a GUI.
      It was a graphical environment, a graphical extension.
      – It’s own executable format (NE, New Executable)
      – Printer Spooler
      – Multi-Tasker
      – Memory Managment (Note: Himem.sys is only used to ACCESS memory)
      – Virtual Memory

      Windows 3.1 added:
      – Native harddisk driver (Protected-Mode driver, Fastdisk)

      Windows for Workgroups 3.11 added:
      – Network stack
      – Hard disk cache
      – Virtual FAT filesystem

      Together with 32-bit Disk Access (Fastdisk) and 32-bit File Access enabled,
      WfW 3.11 was able to run fully independant of MS-DOS and BIOS.
      Furthermore, it emulated parts of int21h (DOS ABI) and the HDD interface (int13h).
      So at least the term “Network OS” should fit to WfW 3.x, I think.

      Last, but not least, Wabi could run the Protected-Mode kernal of Windows 3.1x
      completely without DOS. So it’s more than just a “GUI”.
      So to be fair, at least “Graphical Environment” or “graphical extension” should be used. :)

      Also, there’s Calmira project, which offers a Win95 Explorer clone to Windows 3.1x..

      “Windows 3.0 is the first version of Windows to perform well both critically and commercially. Critics and users considered its GUI to be a challenger to those of Apple Macintosh and Unix. Other praised features were the improved multitasking, customizability, and especially the utilitarian management of computer memory that troubled the users of Windows 3.0’s predecessors.”

      I have to admit that Microsoft’s marketing of Win95 was spectacular, though.

      1. “I have to admit that Microsoft’s marketing of Win95 was spectacular, though.”

        There were stories of people who were incredibly excited to buy Windows 95 that ended with “Wait, I need a computer to use it?” You can take that several ways, but it definitely shows how effective the marketing campaign was.

      2. “Windows 3.0 is the first version of Windows to perform well”
        Windows 3.1 surely? I remember 3.0 and 3.1 being chalk and cheese for reliability. The General Protection Faults were so frequent in 3.0 as to make it unusable.

          1. I second that. :) Windows 3.1 was heavily optimized, also. Whereas v3 was coded more or less entirely in C, v3.1 got assembly optimizations. I have rarely seen GPFs in 3.1 anymore, especially in Standard-Mode. What’s good in v3: Its real-mode kernal can use EMS and make it available to all Windows programs. This made Windows usable on venerable XT computers first time. Win/386 did very little for Windows programs in this respect.. They all had to live within a single ~500KB block.

          2. And that was a big problem for Microsoft. They were losing control as OOP frameworks were abstracting out the Win16 API with Borland, IBM, Watcom and many others creating excellent development systems. Top it off with computer hardware vendors fixing flaws in the UI with products like HP New Wave and the Comaq rolodex metaphor and most importantly IBM had legal rights to the Win16 API and literally made a better Windows within OS/2. And many DOS applications ran better and faster on OS/2 because IBM again fixed Microsoft flaws and also each DOS applications environment could be tuned with a few clicks of settings in the OS/2 desktop icon for that DOS app.

            Microsoft NEEDED to stop that and when Windows NT failed to give them the platform to replace DOS/Window16 they created Project Chicago, aka Windows 95.

            Side note: When IBM software engineers were able to get Chicago also running within OS/2 and Microsoft found out, they hacked their SDK to purposefully load a small portion of the Win32 resources into the upper address space of the virtual memory allocated to each application. Microsoft was able to allocate a full 2GB of virtual memory space to Win32 applications while IBM OS/2 restricted all applications to 1GB of virtual memory for backwards compatibility with 16bit OS/2 applications. BAM, Microsoft eliminated the ability of OS/2 running Windows 95 applications.

            Windows 95 was a rushed product designed to gain back control of the development community and the hardware developers. Licensing of Windows 95 eliminated all resellers from putting anything on the desktop on initial bootup which Microsoft had no approved. It is the reason why hardware vendors created keyboard button to launch their own applications instead of forcing users to traverse a tree of menus to start getting online, or setting hardware configuration screens and remote management or diagnostics. Developers developers developers, control control control.

      3. 1980’s people with Archimedes running ARM.
        1970’s/80’s people with Ohio Scientific and AIM-65 (6502) running Forth as the OS.
        1980’s people with Apple II running KIX, a UNIX-like OS from Kyan. Or running ProDOS.

      4. You obviously have had a lot of detailed experience and exposure to IT in that period.

        My experience also included WAN, LAN management and I saw some other aspects.

        In the time of Windows for workgroups (3.11) was mostly used by small business and even the the network layer was often third party like NetWare or *nix. Small businesses often didn’t have a dedicated server and the network layer provided file sharing.

        By the time of Win 95 in the corporate environment similarly Win NT was loosing to third party server platforms and this didn’t change much until Win Server 2000.

        However Win 95 (version C) made an excellent workstation platform. The hardware plug and play drivers very considerably reduced network maintainence costs. And obviously there is much more workstation software to be sold than server platforms.

        Also, most of the domestic environment went straight from DOS to Win 95.

        Software applications soon followed.

  6. My linux boxes have a small icon in the lower left, clicking on that gives me a menu of programs to access.
    I thank MicroSoft for that (and little else).
    When Win [8? 10?] tried to do away with that little icon, a lot of their customer base got upset.

    1. And there is a very good reason for that. Even in the DOS days lots of users had a menu program. When faced with the C: prompt a new user did not know what to do. If you got them set up with a menu then they were good to go. I always said that the “Start Menu” was the best feature of Win95.

      I also use Linux and I love my MATE menu.

      1. I think the gui freedom was one of win95’s greatest strengths. You could easily have 20 folders and 10 text files open at once, resizing them all to fit as separate windows. I’m on linux mint mate now and for some reason every single gui based text editor forces other files onto tabs and if i want to view more than one text file simultaneously then i need to install another text editor to run concurrently.

      2. All menus with text are arse unless driving them with arrow keys or hotkeys. Menu items are so short in Y because they display text but the mouse is less precice in Y than in X! Radial menus don’t seem popular. Grid menus like the app drawer on phones are better. TBH, I use the command line unless I’m using CAD.

        1. To be fair, Win 8/8.1 flirted with radial menus, but the knuckle-dragging troglodytes revolted. I still think the OneNote radial menu interface on Win8.1 and the touch browsing experience of IE(10? 11?) on 8.1 are two of the best-designed touch user interfaces ever in the mainstream. Better than the iPad today, and definitely better than Win10 on Surface. I keep hoping they’ll one day bring OneNote Back To The Future.

    2. If you could not remember a half dozen commands then you should not have owned and managed your own computer. Even today, kids are taught to click menu sequences to start a program and to change features within the program. Case and point, so many complained and fought changing to another GUI application because they couldn’t find feature X even though it was there.

      This worked great for Microsoft since they illegally tied their OS sales to PC sales and with those licensing lock-ins they were able to force their applications to be pre-installed.

      There was even a university study back then which compared creativity and capability of those who chose a school computer with a GUI or a command prompt. Those who chose the computer with the command prompts overwhelmingly received a better grade.

      And countless times I was told computers HAD to run Microsoft Windows because that’s what people know and that’s what businesses will expect. Same was said about PDA’s and WinCE/PocketPC. But you know, Apple iPod and then the iPhone changed all that. Or better yet, it proved them all wrong. An elegant and easy to use UI is way better than a clunky, inconsistent and poorly designed UI even if that’s what you know. So many times had to help people with Windows computer issues and only to find out there was a dialog box which popped up telling them there was a problem but they blindly cancelled it and didn’t even recall doing it.

      No fan of Microsoft software or developers.

      1. “If you could not remember a half dozen commands then you should not have owned and managed your own computer.”

        I humbly bow to your superiority, oh Great One!
        (that was sarcasm, in case you have trouble realizing that)
        I like using CLI too!
        But I recognize a better paradigm when it is presented.

        1. but

          stabbing at the screen with a mouse is your only skill?

          I’ve been doing this since 13 sector Apple DOS and whatever TRS 80’s did

          then we had 16 sector Apple DOS

          sometimes a GUI just gets in the way

          the argument that early operating systems were just program loaders got old a while ago

          I’m here typing with my Dell T3500 (you think that “name” is a coincidence?)

          sometimes these enormous operating systems just get in the way

          I look a top, wtf are all those processes doing?

          I kinda miss the days of turning on the machine, hearing the beep

          just being able to work

          how many languages do we need to be fluent in these days?

          I never was part of the “spaghetti BASIC” crowd, writing software for business

          I was always an assembler guy

          try that these days

          sure EDLIN and DEBUG still work

          Have you tried writing “Hello World” lately?

          all the PC BIOS calls still work

          but I would not want to pull the BIOS ROMS, burn my own code for a turnkey application these days

    1. Wow – GEM – Forgot about that. We had an entire advanced development group using GEM as its standard productivity suite at LTV in the late 80’s. It was nearly a decade ahead of the Microsoft and Lotus competitors of the day. (Sun, SGI, and CIMLINC workstations did the heavy lifting.) Seeing the gorgeous (if monochrome) Compaq and Grid flatscreens, we all thought affordable color HDTV monitors were imminent, not 20-25 years in the future…

    1. Yeah, I started down the Linux path with Slackware’s stack of floppies hoping all would ‘load’ without a disk error too…. Never looked back. Today I deal with Windows and work because I have to, but Windows free at home… almost … I do have a Windows 7 VM because my wife uses ‘Print Shop’ occasionally…. Last Windows version I ever bought. Showing my age, but my first PC was a Dec Rainbow. Connected to the college network at 300 baud (I think I got up to 2400 baud before I got out of college) CPM/86, then DOS. Thank goodness for Turbo Pascal and a Word processor which allowed me to do a lot of school work ‘off line’ and just upload programs for recompiling on the VAX. Went through all the Windows iterations and really did like working with Windows 7 (I still think it was the best of all Windows UIs) and programming in Delphi and Borland C++…. I By that time though Linux was finally maturing enough that I could start phasing out home usage of Windows. Open Office, then LibreOffice got us off Word Perfect. Linux finally had all activities we do at home covered (except for good o’ PrintShop). Home Linux Server, Linux Laptops, Linux Desktops and of course the Linux Beagle Bones, RPI platforms…. All working very well…. Just loaded a few weeks ago 64bit PI OS on a couple RPI4s for fun. No problems there! Windows no longer has any ‘draw’ for me. Nice to think about though as I did enjoy the Windows ride for a time. Remember being excited about 95, then 98…. Not anymore ….

    1. I worked on a lot of computers in the 90’s and used the music videos on the 95 CDs as a performance test. It was pretty nice to finally get ones powerful enough to play them full screen without any stuttering.

    1. “The thing from the agency said, “We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah-blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional,” this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom it said “and it must be ​3 1⁄4 seconds long.”
      I always wandered how they evaluated this time? It’s so precise! Not 3 or 4 seconds. Not even “3.5 more less 0.2 seconds” – here is your 3.25 (3 1/4 actually – they are Americans) and don’t you dare to be “not quite our tempo”.

    2. “Ironically, Eno used a Mac to create the piece, admitting to BBC Radio 4 in 2009 that “I’ve never used a PC in my life; I don’t like them.””
      Just to add a cherry on top of this cake.

    1. I’ve settled on Ubuntu LTS for most of my systems now. KDE desktops for those systems I use a GUI. Windows Free, except for a Windows 7 VM I created, so my wife can run Print Shop occasionally. Imagine that…

  7. Pff. windows 95 was a huge disappointment for me. ok. its filebrowser was finally up to par with serious guis like Mac OS Solaris and NeXTSTEP, but coming from a mac world, it just felt like one step back..

    I used colored directories a lot as you could sort on them, Liked the column file browser of Nextstep a lot, especially the shelf where you could place several selections of items (files and folders) so you could batch copy them to several floppies. the method that you could drag a Nextstep file to the terminal and be greeted with its full path at the cursor.

    but for windows fans it was a dream come true. mac people just said: “do you finally understand?”

    I’m still searching for a nextstep like gui for my linux box

    oh well…

    1. OpenStep is probably still out there somewhere… BTW, a lot of folks forget that Linux might not have ever really taken off had Sun not open sourced OpenWindows, which finally gave Linux a nice, modern-looking interface. (Most distros were still using Tom’s for its lightness up to that point – may as well be small if you’re gonna be that ugly…)

  8. My favorite feature in Windows 95 is how it will drop hundreds of incoming modem characters on the floor if you try to open a file. Something about MSDOS file access and interrupts, a massive mess. Weeks and weeks of development time were required to work around it.

    1. “Runs in 4 MB of RAM”
      Run is a big word. More like… walk? Walk with few stops to enjoy a particular view;)

      But the point is valid. With all “better compilers, improved programming languages and techniques, faster and better designed CPU plus endless lighting fast RAM” user experience is not much different. I remember running Damn Small Linux on some 512MB RAM machine – every action was instant. My new notebook is nowhere near that experience.

      1. Software used to be lean. I was in charge of software for Dell’s laptop brands when Win98 came out – RAM was an issue, because 98 wanted a minumum 24MB (NOT GB!) of RAM to run, and that was the maxed-out top-end configuration of one of the high-volume Inspiron models….

  9. As an Acorn RISC OS user the center button mouse click for context screen memories was well in place by the time WIN95 came along. Experience with shakey networking in WIN3.x also underpinned WIN95. I skipped WIN95 and went straight to WIN-NT. No amount of MS hype could cover up the fact the underlying WIN95 design was flaky at best to anyone seriously expecting good networking. Most copies were used in isolation on desktops. However early morning queues outside shops to buy WIN95 were a credit to US style marketing that MS began, and Apple perfected.

    1. Windows 95 could run multiple network protocols on up to six interfaces simultaneously. Until OS X a Macintosh required high priced third party software to do more than one protocol on one interface.

      The “price” for that capability was having to restart Windows after making any change in network settings where on a Mac the user could change its one protocol and/or one interface on the fly.

      But that was overshadowed by a “feature” of AppleShare where it was impossible to delete a server entry if the server was unable to be connected to. Had to trash the whole ASIP preferences file and re-enter all the server data minus the ones you wanted to not have in the list. Quite a PITA if you have a dozen servers in the list and one went buh-bye for good before you could delete the entry while connected.

      1. Where I worked, we switched back to Windows 3.11 because the network setup on Windows 95 was so flaky. You’d set it up, and a couple of days later it’d be gone like you’d never done it. Set it up again, reboot, do it again a few days later.

    2. I was lucky enough to use some of the first RiscOS computers, before it was even called RiscOS. But even its most dedicated admirers can’t escape the inevitable conclusion that outside a few 1980s British schools and UK tech circles, it was hardly mainstream.

  10. Just today, I told the young gent from Microsoft to contemplate why he associates himself with such a ludicrous company. While my Windows 10 Pro was running fast, stable and smooth, with seamless updates at that, i couldn’t get my own legit Ms Office 2013 activated. So i made a bootable flashdrive and installed Linuxmint, which is at this moment updated, silky smooth and stable. and everything works while my soul is at peace.

    1. By 2020 you have to visit IT dedicated website talking about 90’s stuff to hear that name again – Mandrake. I tried it, it was great! But I guess general public had different opinion…

  11. Thinking back, I can’t remember anything good or bad with Win95, so must have been acceptable for the time. Windows 7 was the last ‘good’ Windows system and GUI in my mind though. Only thing that keeps me in front of Windows today is work. At home it is back to my normal with all systems using Linux.

  12. I fuzzily recall something from Apple but maybe it is apocryphal. The Apple desktop was based on Quickdraw, and Quickdraw placed pixel coordinates at the corners of pixels – the upper left to be precise. This gave rock solid repeatability in selecting and clicking on things and easy scalability. What I recall is that MS used the center of the pixel and this was the source of frustrating use of the mouse in many cases. Anyone know if this is true?

  13. It sounds like the author might be too young to have been exposed to Win 3.11 (I worked with it and supported, doing memory management and collecting all the DLLs I could). Agree that Win 7 was the last good Windows.

    1. I like you. You think I’m young.

      My first computer was a Sinclair ZX81.
      First GUI: Acorn Archimedes, at school.
      First job: Windows 3.0/3.1

      so yes. Like you, bin there, done that.

  14. With the introduction of Win 95 more than half of my days work as a CME was installing plug and prey drivers that actually worked.

    There were 3 versions of Win 95

    Version A, buggy crashed a lot, many drivers didn’t work

    Version B, same as A but with more drivers , many of which didn’t work

    Version C, more stable,

    Interestingly you could make up install keys in your head with simple math

  15. My memory that stands out the most concerning Windows 95 was the updates to networking. Getting the internet working on Windows 3.1 was a nightmare. Winsock.dll, dialers, and all the nonsense I forgot were a huge pain. Windows 95 gave us simple networking that worked with little tweaking. LAN parties’ existence were essentially thanks to Windows 95’s simple networking capabilities as well as the much improved hardware like 3DFX graphics cards and Pentiums.

      1. Network cards was a good investment (even though we used 10base2 BNC coax), but me and my friends got a lot of use out of daisy chaining 4 computors thru serial ports for Doom before we had it. Sort of spiraled when I was studying and we shared a bigger flat, with easy walk or bus access for our friends and we had a 5 computor network always ready for visiting friends, even though two was just acceptable framerate for Doom2 (one was a laptop LCD framerate). So many rounds on custom map “minty.wad”

        Later version Win95 was nice for the time, but Win98se thats been whipped was better, followed by Win2k and Win2k3. I was kind of happy that I could boot up an old Win95 laptop, plug in PCMCIA card and directly connect enough to my home network and dump a file from a floppy to a server just two years ago.

        I remember a good test when we built two computors, exactly the same hardware, but one with Win95 and one with NT4. The Win95 could play one video window, and the second copy lagged. NT4 could do 5 that flowed smooth and they where streched and different sizes.

      2. Pah! ;-)
        I once played Heretic over a serial null-modem cable between two Toshiba 80486 laptops.

        Oh and on one LAN party the hub was 100MBit/s-only but one PC only had a 10MBit/s NIC -> used a parallel port link cable to another PC to get it kinda working (I think it was two separate networks so only the PC connected to both could be the server).

  16. Why the Start Menu was such a big hit is the user can launch any program with just two clicks. Click start, go through the cascading menu, click the icon.

    For some reason Microsoft has been attempting to ruin that simplicity and ease of use since a Windows Me introduced the stupid single column scrolling menu. Oh, and prior to that, IIRC some version of Internet Explorer did *bad things* to Windows 95’s Start Menu, expanding or some such crap. Fortunately with both there were ways to get the good type back.

    Internet Explorer 4 did bring some good new capabilities to the Start Menu, such as being able to drag and copy shortcuts from it to the Desktop. If only MS had frozen the menu design there instead of attempting any further “improvements”.

    On huge PITA change made in windows 95 was putting the X to close in the upper right corners of windows, where *minimize* was in prior versions. It’s incalculable how much of people’s work got lost due to that before people got used to it. I assume MS was relying on sheer numbers of people for whom 95 was their first computer experience to eventually overcome the ‘old guard’ hatred of the stupid change.

  17. Windows 95 was a hack triggered by the failure of Windows NT 3.1 to come close enough to beating OS/2. So after a number of technical presentations of NT 3.1 Microsoft started the Chicago project. It was a hack and they didn’t have lots of time because they’d bet on NT being a desktop OS so it was a no holds barred marketing, licensing and ISV/developer effort to stunt acceptance of OS/2 while they hacked a partial 32bit programming API( lots from NT ) onto a 16bit OS(DOS).

    I remember an early beta of Chicago where Microsoft tried to multi-thread the Explorer filesystem browser so it could run as smooth as OS/2 and the system came to a crawl. Most system applications could not be and were not multi-threaded and that pathetic programming style bled into Windows NT later. Just as BeOS users learned how welcoming things were when the computer didn’t constantly give you an ‘hour glass’ while it was doing something. OS/2 and BeOS were two such systems an to this day the consistency and feature set of the OS/2 Workplace Shell desktop is unmatched. The filing system/cabinet metaphor could be used throughout the OS/2 system.

    Windows 95 was a hack and set back computer industry at least 10 years and there are still things like a fully OO desktop missing today.

  18. Ah yes, “It’s now safe to turn off your computer.”
    Or to type “mode co80” and continue using your PC in the DOS environment that was still operating in the background :-D
    You could even type “win” to start up windows again, yay.

  19. Sad that virtually no one remember and celebrates Windows NT4.0

    That was the real big step up from DOS.
    Too complex for the masses, too slow for the PC crowd simpletons.
    Boring colors without stupid animations.

    Rock solid. A real operating system created from the first bit and up.
    But no one care.

    Too good for the masses, they needed to think before clicking. Far too much to ask.

    1. …we ran around 120 Win 3.11 computers in the 97 era at an abattoir and feedlot over a 10meg HP Tru64 unix domain. The eleventy network drivers were a pain to setup but worked when done correctly. We being IT didnt like Win95 – had it on maybe two laptops. Was a bit rubbish in a business network enterprise environment. So we hung onto 3.11 for a few more years than most, waited until NT4 was released… skipped 95 and jumped straight to NT4 sp1 across the joint. Was, of course, *way* more stable than 95 ever could be. With the final service pack 6 it always felt to on par with XP stableness. If NT4 had of gained generic USB support, it would have been killer and gained a lot more fame which XP will always will have. Loved NT4 workstation and servers.

      1. What I found most interesting in your comment that there was a place that was an abattoir* AND a feedlot!
        Where was it located (city,country)?
        (not that the rest of your comment was uninteresting)

        *abattoir – it has been decades since I last saw that word!

    2. I trained my students in both 3.1 and 3.11, and then they were set up with the NT4.0 disc and the hardware, Seems so far back. I even had one Netware class for the really old students.( I still have most of the discs we used)
      The college sent all of the instructors to the first Windows 2000 class so we were one page ahead of the students.
      Eventually, I retired, but still dabble. Today, I’m setting up an HP Z820 Workstation, dual 6 core Xeon cpus, (12 cpus, 24 threads) Windows 10 Professional 32 gig ram, one 2 TB hard drive.

  20. Easier DMA programming capabilities? Makes me think of the MCU’s of today that are so cost effective compared to the hardware of that era. I forget if the ease of DMA changed with Win95b or Win98. So much since that era.

  21. Windows 95’s GUI did an excellent job at creating a design language that taught the users on a subconscious level what you could and could not click on. 3D objects indicated the boarders of UI elements, common elements within specific windows were established, and much of the standardized placement of menu functions all came into their own under 95. It’s not a perfect GUI, but it’s a mighty good place to start. Microsoft’s UI dev team on 10 would do well to study what made 95 so wildly successful, and see where the function of the past surpasses the unintuitive form of the present designs.

  22. I switched to Linux thanks to Windows 95. All the software for Burning CDs under WIn95 were doing buffer underuns and wasting blank CDs which were costing 10EUR a piece. It took me 6 months to make a Debian working on my Cyrix 133, without any internet, by going to the computer room at school, and downloading tarballs, and slipping them on floppies with ARJ. My CD burner had only 1MB of RAM, and a recompiled Linux with an OS FIFO of 8MB to supplement the 1MB cache helped me to never miss a CD burning session anymore.

    Thank you Windows95 for helping me to switch to Linux, the last version of Winbrol I used.

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