Happy 18th Birthday, Windows 95!

On Friday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced his plans to retire from the company. At the same time, the official RTM announcement of Windows 8.1 is expected at any time from Microsoft. It's somewhat ironic that both of these major company events are happening around the same time as the 18th anniversary of the launch of Windows 95. As we look forward to seeing what the future holds for Microsoft, let's take a moment to peek back into the past.

Yes, 18 years ago today, Microsoft released their biggest version of Windows since they first launched the OS. It was a massive redesign compared to previous versions and it incorporated elements that are still being used in Windows 7, like the desktop UI, the taskbar and the Start menu. Even the desktop in Windows 8 is much the same in terms of design compared to Windows 95, although it of course lacks a Start menu.

The plug-and-play system for adding devices to a PC came about with Windows 95. The launch of the OS was also the beginning of the end for the older MS-DOS, which before August 24, 1995 was still being used by quite a few PC applications, mainly games. Within a few years, MS-DOS programs had stopped being made in favor of Windows 95 compatible apps.

The launch was timed perfectly with the rise of personal computers in the home and office, and the fascination with using PCs to connect to online networks like AOL, CompuServe, and something called the "Internet". Some people think that Windows 95 shipped with Internet Explorer 1.0, but in fact, the OS didn't include a web browser.  IE 1.0 was available in the separate Microsoft Plus! Pack for Windows 95, which contained a number of add-on programs, desktop themes and games.

The release of Windows 95 was accompanied by a huge marketing campaign by Microsoft. One of the oddest things about the release of the OS was a VHS video guide to using Windows 95 that starred Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry, right in the middle of their run on the sitcom Friends. The influence of Windows 95 is still being felt today in pop culture. Just a few months ago, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart made the OS the center of one of its skits.

Microsoft officially ended support for Windows 95 on December 31, 2001, or six years and just over four months after it launched--and two months after the launch of Windows XP. Windows XP is still being supported by Microsoft but the company will finally end it on April 8th, 2014, about twice as long as they supported Windows 95.

References via Wikipedia | Image via Microsoft

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"Even the desktop in Windows 8 is much the same in terms of design compared to Windows 95, although it of course lacks a Start menu."

What lacks a "Start Menu"?

Log in and there's a great, big Start Menu covering your entire screen. Getting to the Start Menu is easier than getting to the Desktop- the latter takes an extra 'click'.

Windows XP had (has) such a long run because it was so stable. For me, it was almost as stable as Win7. My laptop has windows 7 for almost 2 years. It is used multiple times during the day, 2 VM versions of other OS's, constant sleep, wake, usb connections, and it had its VERY FIRST BSOD the other day. Rock solid. Still seems like the odd number OS's are better. Dos5, Window 98, Window XP, Windows 7...Windows 9?

Didn't get my first computer until 2 years later.

Still have the 26 floppys, I think that's how many there are, for installing Windows 95 though.

All this, and not a single comment about the Weezer video that came on the CD (or "that other one", whatever it was)...?

Man! I remember getting the IE4 cd from somewhere.
And I installed it and played with Active Desktop.
56k dialup, lol

Win95, the operating system that came with my first PC (that greyish-green Acer Aspire).
Fun times. Happy Birthday.

JHBrown said,
That brought back so many memories. However, the best startup sound for me personally was Windows Millennium. The best install song in the history of mankind was Windows XP. I actually have the song backed up on CD and hard disk. :-)

Strangely enough, I still kept my disc...

First PC in our family was Windows 95 based machine

Remember Encarta was supplied on a CD and this was, at the time, an almost unbelievable amount of knowledge to possess
The first time trying to get online took about 2 hours of fiddling with all sorts of settings to get the 28.8k modem to actually work
Ski Free
Degaussing monitors...just for the laugh
Upgrading to 16MB RAM so that Red Alert could be played in Windows rather than DOS mode
Overclocking like a boss from 120Mhz to 133...and it actually making a noticeable difference to performance.
Using sound recorder to record a few minutes of audio and then realising WAV files don't take long to fill a 1GB hard disk
Father purchasing a 4x CD writer for what you could probably buy an entire computer for these days...and still having about 1/3 of the disc burns fail.
The start of a lifelong love of technology right there.

WOW!!! I read you and it's like you knew a chapter of my life really well as I went through EXACTLY the same - 100%! Younglings don't know squat about any of this. LOL

I was jazzed about Win95 but when Windows 98SE came out.. well, that changed everything for me.

I do remember how many times software gave me the bluescreen of death. what a mess.

Agreed! That OS clearly showed that Microsoft has lost its focus. Will Microsoft get back to its core competencies? We shall have to wait.

When they finally realise that Metro UI was a failure they will magically and quietly forget about Windows 8 & 8.1 and will treat them like unwanted children - almost like Windows ME.

I still remember when public tv in Poland aired series of educational program featuring Windows 95 where young girl was excited along with narrator that you can move unwanted files to the trash...

I was just cleaning out a closet and found an old laptop. It actually powered up and the old Windows 98 screen came up. It had an 8GB hard drive which is the same as the main memory on my current laptop.

JHBrown said,
Happy Birthday.

Windows 7>Windows XP>Windows 2000>Windows 95...............Windows Vista=Windows 8!

I would almost certainly place Windows Vista above Windows 95. I don't understand how an operating system with so many technical improvements over its decade-old predecessor can be considered inferior.

Ian William said,

I would almost certainly place Windows Vista above Windows 95. I don't understand how an operating system with so many technical improvements over its decade-old predecessor can be considered inferior.

Ian your are correct. I just had to through a vintage in the mix with a modern. Some people thought Vista was terrible, I didn't, so I lumped it with Windows 8, the most hated.

wingliston said,
Huh? Windows Vista = Windows 7 = Windows 8
Correct. That order was based on popularity or love from the public. It's really personal though.

The interesting thing is, Jennifer Aniston is a Mac user and she probably was back then too and this infomercial just for the money.

My first Windows! I remember when I first saw a Windows 95 desktop, showing the leopard wallpaper, I was totally blown away! Before that, all I had seen from a computer was black or blue backgrounds and white text. It was a glimpse of the future. Gotta love Windows forever!

Thrackerzod said,
You could get 32-bit color in Windows 3.1 too, and other OS's as mentioned above.

In fact is curious. Indeed high color functionality was already present in Windows 3.1. MS took that way on Windows 95 so you had to pruchase a Plus pack to regain it. Fortunately all was needed is a registry modification to get it back.

Thrackerzod said,
You could get 32-bit color in Windows 3.1 too, and other OS's as mentioned above.

Windows 3.1 couldn't do 32bit color, it could do 32K color, which was 15bit and 64K color which was 16bit, and some video drivers offered 16mil colors which was 24bit.

Even 32bit color is not accurate, as it refers to 24bit color with a 8bit mask. I believe either Win2k or XP introduced 32bit color to support GDI+ and the transparency features.

Beyond 24bit color, there is 30, 36, 48 - however these are only available on Windows 7 and Windows 8 as Linux and OS X does not support these higher color depths.

(Which is why it is misleading for Mac users to buy 30-48bit displays even with an ATI card capable of the higher color depths, as OS X cannot display the additional colors.)

Mobius Enigma said,

Windows 3.1 couldn't do 32bit color, it could do 32K color, which was 15bit and 64K color which was 16bit, and some video drivers offered 16mil colors which was 24bit.

Even 32bit color is not accurate, as it refers to 24bit color with a 8bit mask. I believe either Win2k or XP introduced 32bit color to support GDI+ and the transparency features.

Beyond 24bit color, there is 30, 36, 48 - however these are only available on Windows 7 and Windows 8 as Linux and OS X does not support these higher color depths.

(Which is why it is misleading for Mac users to buy 30-48bit displays even with an ATI card capable of the higher color depths, as OS X cannot display the additional colors.)

Yet all of these advanced PC technologies are struggling to catch up with the amazing 64-bit graphics capabilities of the Nintendo 64. /s

Enron said,

Yet all of these advanced PC technologies are struggling to catch up with the amazing 64-bit graphics capabilities of the Nintendo 64. /s

I sometimes wonder if people actually believed the N64 had 18 quintillion colors.

Mobius Enigma said,

Windows 3.1 couldn't do 32bit color, it could do 32K color, which was 15bit and 64K color which was 16bit, and some video drivers offered 16mil colors which was 24bit.

Even 32bit color is not accurate, as it refers to 24bit color with a 8bit mask. I believe either Win2k or XP introduced 32bit color to support GDI+ and the transparency features.

Beyond 24bit color, there is 30, 36, 48 - however these are only available on Windows 7 and Windows 8 as Linux and OS X does not support these higher color depths.

(Which is why it is misleading for Mac users to buy 30-48bit displays even with an ATI card capable of the higher color depths, as OS X cannot display the additional colors.)

This is true.

Mobius Enigma said,

Windows 3.1 couldn't do 32bit color, it could do 32K color, which was 15bit and 64K color which was 16bit, and some video drivers offered 16mil colors which was 24bit.

Even 32bit color is not accurate, as it refers to 24bit color with a 8bit mask. I believe either Win2k or XP introduced 32bit color to support GDI+ and the transparency features.

Beyond 24bit color, there is 30, 36, 48 - however these are only available on Windows 7 and Windows 8 as Linux and OS X does not support these higher color depths.

(Which is why it is misleading for Mac users to buy 30-48bit displays even with an ATI card capable of the higher color depths, as OS X cannot display the additional colors.)

I meant to say 24-bit I guess, I'm so used to 32-bit now. http://www.navozhdeniye.narod.ru/nt3-2.gif

I think Windows 95 is a very special version of Windows, not just for introducing the Explorer interface. It's sad how Microsoft killed some of its greatness in subsequent products.

Happy Birthday, you lovable, "humble" operating system.

I still miss Windows 95 and 2000 SP4 . Windows Me was damn crazy , fresh installation getting BSODS after a few hours but we all know it had new technologies inside, like System Restore and many others.
I still remember people b***** about Windows 95's interface.

Ahh Windows 95, that brings alot of good memories back. a radical change from Windows 3.1. Win 95 First version didn't unclude ie, but win95b+c did include ie, i believe it was ie 3 or 4 as win 98 included ie4 then win98 se included ie5 or 5.5.

soldier1st said,
Ahh Windows 95, that brings alot of good memories back. a radical change from Windows 3.1. Win 95 First version didn't unclude ie, but win95b+c did include ie, i believe it was ie 3 or 4 as win 98 included ie4 then win98 se included ie5 or 5.5.

Off top of my head, I think it was Win95 SR 2.5 that added IE4.

Mobius Enigma said,

Off top of my head, I think it was Win95 SR 2.5 that added IE4.


It was an optional update, you didn't have to install it.

Raa said,

It was an optional update, you didn't have to install it.

Yes, however IE4 was required for the Windows Desktop Update that offered the new Explorer and installed the core HTML rendering engine that 3rd party applications could use.

Most people installed the complete update, as AOL, MSN, and even software like Quick Books required the Windows Desktop Update (aka IE4) to be installed as it used the HTML rendering engine features.

Strange, I don't recall any of those programs requiring that part of the update, and I was very careful in making sure it never got installed on my customers computers.

Raa said,
Strange, I don't recall any of those programs requiring that part of the update, and I was very careful in making sure it never got installed on my customers computers.

Google/Bing: AOL 4.0
It was tightly integrated with the IE4.0 engine, that it continued to use even after AOL bought Netscape, as Netscape was exclusively just a browser at the time and not a rendering engine technology.

MSN - Specifically look for the software changes from the desktop folder online service to the browser like interface that also used IE4's engine.

Quick Books - look for several versions from the late 90s to the mid 00s that used the IE HTML engine for rendering sites and online parsing/accessing banking information.

As more people moved on to Windows 98 this was less noticed as Win98 included the HTML engine. There were a few people that resisted the move to Windows 98, but since it was faster and added new features like on the fly sound mixing, etc it was a worthy upgrade/successor to Windows 95.

Since neither AOL or MSN were largely available (if at all) in Australia, that's probably why there was little requirement for it.

As for Quickbooks, I think they simply went from requiring Win95 to Win98 fairly quickly.

In general though, no, IE4 wasn't a required update. But Win98(se) pretty much was!

I remember getting quite a collection of AOL "Free 100 hours" discs from PC mags (PC User, Pc Authority) at the time.

Ah! The 90's! Friends & BH 90210 come to my mind, also MS-DOS & Windows 9X.

(I love when Jennifer A. is staring at the screen).

Edited by mjedi7, Aug 24 2013, 6:14pm :

bladerunner82 said,
best os in recorded history

At the time maybe, but nah, the thing was very unstable and had all sorts of problems.. would have to give that title to 7 myself.

sanctified said,
Obviously you never used OS/2 at the time. Rock solid kernel, stable GUI module, modular OS extensions.

You could run Windows 95 in a OS/2 window as well.

I installed that OS so many times as part of the beta testing program (build 437 FTW!) the currently installing file notification became so familiar I knew the entire list...

sanctified said,
Obviously you never used OS/2 at the time. Rock solid kernel, stable GUI module, modular OS extensions.

...and a single input queue that could allow any application to lock up the UI, and a lot of 16bit code and drivers that did not run in protected mode causing further instability and speed reduction.

Mobius Enigma said,

...and a single input queue that could allow any application to lock up the UI, and a lot of 16bit code and drivers that did not run in protected mode causing further instability and speed reduction.

You're talking of something else, not OS/2

sanctified said,
You're talking of something else, not OS/2

Can't comment on the 16 bit stuff, hell if I remember that far back, but yea, SIQ was a big problem with OS/2, if I recall there was (eventually) some sort of workaround for it by specifying a timeout. Very easily find references about it with any search engine.

sanctified said,

You're talking of something else, not OS/2

If you ever used OS/2 you would know that I am truly talking about OS/2, specifically 2.0 to Warp 4 as this is when it was advertised as a 32bit OS, and was not technically fully 32bit.

If you weren't around or never used or developed for OS/2, here are a few Bing/Google searches to get you started and a sample link containing the information I provided specifically.

OS/2 single input queue (OS/2 synchronous input queue)
http://www.databook.bz/?page_id=2747

OS/2 16bit drivers code
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OS/2

runningnak3d said,

So, someone got Windows 95 drunk and it puked up Windows 8.

What's wrong with Windows 8? I use OSX but find Windows 8 pretty good.