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It’s hard to believe, but it was 20 years ago today – August 24th, 1995 – when the Rolling Stones cranked up “Start Me Up“, and Windows 95 was born. It was also a time when the Internet was coming of age, people were starting to figure out what “email” and “floppy disks” were, and Bill Gates’ voice was still to break.

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Now we have Windows 10 being downloaded How to Upgrade to Windows 10 Now & Why You Should Wait How to Upgrade to Windows 10 Now & Why You Should Wait Have you been waiting patiently since July 29 for your Windows 10 upgrade? You should probably wait until you receive an official notification, but if you are determined, you can force the Windows 10 upgrade. Read More and used by 14 million people (according to Microsoft, and that was back in July). It’s stunning to see the huge rise of the Windows operating system. It’s in a fierce war with Apple and Linux, but despite hand-to-hand combat, it’s still standing tall.

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As Windows 95 blows out 20 candles on its virtual birthday cake, we decided to take a look back at Windows 95, and see the features it introduced to the unsuspecting world.

The Birth Of Windows 95

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According to this newspaper article, it was New Zealanders who first got their hands on Windows 95, due to the time difference, and the shops were mobbed. Those who were lucky enough to get Windows 95 on the opening night went home with 13 floppy disks! Those who had better computers were able to get the operating system on a CD-ROM.  This was much more beneficial as you have to bear in mind that in those days, the modems on computers came with 14.4K Dial-Up – remember this sound?

When the time came to start selling the program in the US, the Microsoft publicity machine kicked into full gear with Mick Jagger leading the charge. It cost $3 million (nearly $5 million in today’s money) to secure the rights to use the song, but it was a brilliant marketing coup, as it made Windows 95 look seriously cool. TV commercials playing “Start Me Up” showed the new Start Menu button being clicked.

The press release began with 2 simple words – It’s Here. Redmond sold 7 million copies of the software in the first 5 weeks. It was, and still is, the biggest advertising campaign Microsoft has ever taken on. The presentation was headlined by Jay Leno, who said that NBC (his employer) now stood for “Now Bill Compatible”. Leno also quipped that Gates was so successful that “his chauffeur was Ross Perot” (for those too young to remember, Perot was a third-party US Presidential candidate in 1992, as well as a very successful businessman).

In its time, Windows 95 was an evolutionary step, similar to Windows 10 today. It crushed the struggling Apple (momentarily of course), it made Microsoft a hot financial commodity for the next five years, and it turned Microsoft into a mainstream company with mass-market name recognition.

With Windows 10 being downloaded over the Internet Get Windows 10: It's Not a Virus! Get Windows 10: It's Not a Virus! The Get Windows 10 icon in your system tray is not a virus. It's Microsoft's official upgrade note prior to the official release of Windows 10 on July 29th, 2015. Read More to users’ computers at the click of a button, it is really antiquated to think that you had to go out and buy Windows 95 on 13 disks or a CD-ROM, after standing in a long line around the block for it. These days, standing in long lines is something Apple fanatics do (an ironic twist of fate – who’s crushing whom now?). Plus, despite the positive buzz it is getting, I think Microsoft would be struggling to generate the kind of excitement for Windows 10, that Windows 95 had.

With regards to sounds, we will be covering that in a future article, but one thing I wanted to mention is Windows 95’s “theme music”. It was created by Brian Eno, who also wrote music for U2, David Bowie, and Talking Heads.

So what new features did Windows 95 bestow to the world? What rocked our computing world in 1995? Although Windows 95 came with many new toys, let’s take a look at what I believe to be the biggest features of them all.

The Transformation of MS-DOS Into a Full Operating System

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Before Windows 95 4 Classic Operating Systems You Can Access In Your Browser 4 Classic Operating Systems You Can Access In Your Browser Ever wonder what the operating systems of the past were like? Find out now, online, without the need to install anything. You can try Windows 1.0, Mac System 7, Amiga OS, and DOS – along... Read More , the Windows system was merely a graphical user interface running on top of MS-DOS Windows 3.Fun: Getting Really Old Software Running On A 64-Bit PC Windows 3.Fun: Getting Really Old Software Running On A 64-Bit PC Bit by bit, Windows' reverse compatibility is fading. Here’s how to fight that – and get incredibly old 16-bit software and games like Chip’s Challenge running. Read More . Windows 95 changed all of that into a complete operating system – easier to use, and a rather more easier learning curve to get the hang of.

The Premiere of The Start Menu

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These days, we take the Windows Start Menu for granted. So much so that when Windows 8 initially dropped the Start Menu, there was such a public outcry that Microsoft was forced to bring it back. But back in 1995, it was completely new and unknown.

Brad recently wrote a brilliant article on the history of the Start Menu The History of the Windows Start Menu The History of the Windows Start Menu For all the pomp and ceremony surrounding the release of Windows 10, one of the most well-received features of the operating system is the return of an old friend—the Start Menu. Read More , so it would be silly to rehash it all here again. I recommend reading Brad’s article instead on the subject, who has said it better than I ever could.

The Start Menu is still in Windows A Guide to the Windows 10 Start Menu A Guide to the Windows 10 Start Menu Windows 10 fixes the Start Menu dilemma! Getting to grips with the new Start Menu will supercharge your Windows 10 experience. With this handy guide, you'll be an expert in no time. Read More , albeit with a much improved and sleeker design. It is also optimized for tablets, with the tile designs.

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Minimize, Maximize, & Close Window Buttons

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Would you believe that before Windows 1995, there was no close button? Now there is. Enough said.

Integrated Video Playback

These days, we think nothing about playing video on our PCs. In fact, as I write this, I have Star Trek playing on my other monitor. But back in 1995, the idea of playing video on your PC was quite novel. Windows 95 came with integrated video playback for the first time (remember how crappy Real Player was back then?).

To show off how fantastic the video playback was, Windows included two videos, one of which was “Buddy Holly” by Weezer.

Right-Click Menu

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Before Windows 95, there was no right-click menu 10 Best Shortcuts to Add to Your Right-Click Menu 10 Best Shortcuts to Add to Your Right-Click Menu The context menu that pops up whenever you perform a right-click can help you become more productive. With the right tool, customizing the shortcuts within it is a breeze. Read More either! How many times today have you right-clicked on a file in Windows Explorer? How many times in the past week? The past month? The right-click menu is also something else we take for granted, when using the computer.

The Microsoft Network (MSN)

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The MSN Network tried to position itself as something similar to AOL, in that it offered access to the Internet, it gave you your news, your email, product support, and much more. People feared that MSN would become an Internet killer. However, Microsoft had left it too late, and by the time MSN came out, it had missed the boat in terms of becoming a dominant force. Bill Gates then refocused the company’s efforts on the Internet, and MSN began to move in that direction instead.

You Can Still Live The Windows 95 Experience!

If you have a functional copy of Windows 95, you can still run it, by first installing virtualware software on your PC How To Install Windows 7 on a Virtual Machine with VirtualBox How To Install Windows 7 on a Virtual Machine with VirtualBox Read More . Then install Windows 95 inside that.

Someone did just that last year, and documented the entire process for all to see on YouTube.

Chris explains what a virtual machine is What Is a Virtual Machine? What Is a Virtual Machine? Virtual machines allow you to run other operating systems within your current operating system, but why does that matter? What are the pros and cons? Read More , and how to use VMware Player Run Multiple Operating Systems At Once With VMware Player Run Multiple Operating Systems At Once With VMware Player We’ve lavished attention on VirtualBox here at MakeUseOf, and for good reason. However, VirtualBox isn’t your only option for creating and using free virtual machines. VMware Player, VMware’s free product, is every bit as good... Read More . Joel offers a more updated perspective on virtual machines Testing A New Operating System? Stay Secure With A Virtual Machine Testing A New Operating System? Stay Secure With A Virtual Machine Read More , and don’t forget our user guide to VirtualBox How To Use VirtualBox: User's Guide How To Use VirtualBox: User's Guide Learn to use VirtualBox. Get virtual computers up and running inside your computer, without having to buy any new hardware. Read More which Lachlan wrote back in 2011.

The Windows 95 Video Guide

If that wasn’t enough, you can watch the Windows 95 Video Guide on YouTube. You may be excited to hear that this video extravaganza stars Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston from “Friends”, who arrive at Bill Gates’ office, and who are escorted to the Holy One’s sacred chair, by Bill’s special assistant. Cue much hilarity – and very bad acting.

So What Are Your Memories Of Windows 1995?

So what do you remember of Windows 1995’s launch? Were you one of the ones waiting in line on opening night for your 13 disks or CD-ROM? Was Windows 1995 your first introduction to computing 7 Signs You Are a Seasoned Windows User 7 Signs You Are a Seasoned Windows User Windows has been around for longer than a lot of you have been alive. Do you know the trivia to prove you're a long time Windows user? Let's see what you remember. Read More ? Let us know your stories in the comments.

Image Credits:Birthday Cake by NatashaPhoto via Shutterstock

  1. Jdorsey314
    December 27, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    I was younger than 3 years when I last used windows 95. and that was in the early 2000's.
    I remember that playing games from CD's was as simple as putting them in the tray.
    and I remember the grey interface. It's been a while.

  2. Butch
    November 18, 2015 at 2:29 am

    Being a computer nerd, I am using Windows 95 right now. I have a 3 monitor 2 computer setup. The center monitor and right hand-side monitor are set up with Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows 10 on one computer. And the left hand-side monitor is set up with Windows 95, Windows 98se and Windows Me on the second computer. I do have a couple driver issues on the Windows 95 and Windows 98se operating systems, but all the other operating systems are up to date and working good. Each operating system has it's own hard drive. I like using Windows 7 the most with Windows XP coming in a close second choice. I only use the internet with Windows 7 and Windows 10 for security reasons.

  3. Georgian Stanescu
    November 4, 2015 at 4:01 am

    Awww what fond memories of WIndows 95. heeheh. I remember trying to PArtition the HDD, something like that in FDISK Command. However I messed it up, and was forced to upgrade to Windows 98.

  4. Alex “KingOGreen2.0” Downs
    August 28, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    In my life, all this things I've ever remembered or even the important things I've forgotten, somehow I have never forgotten that dial-up tone whenever I would login into AOL.

  5. Slashee the Cow
    August 26, 2015 at 4:52 am

    "Before Windows 95, the Windows system was merely a graphical user interface running on top of MS-DOS. Windows 95 changed all of that into a complete operating system"

    Not true. Windows 95 still ran on top of DOS (as did 98 and ME). It was just better at not shoving it in your face (98 stayed about the same, and ME was so determined to have you believe that it didn't run on top of DOS - even though it did - that it broke several things in the process).

  6. Rotor Masters
    August 26, 2015 at 12:38 am

    windows 95-98se still legend..missing sound of dial-up..

    • Georgian Stanescu
      November 4, 2015 at 4:02 am

      Totally agree Rotor. DOesn't it bring great memories. eheheh

  7. A41202813GMAIL ..
    August 25, 2015 at 5:30 am

    The Launch Of W95 Coincided With My Very First Plane Voyage.

    I Was In MADRID, The Next Morning, In My Hotel Room, Eating Breakfast And Watching SKYNEWES On TV, Before Going To The Mother Office.

    JAY LENO And bg Were In The News, Having Introduced W95 The Night Before.

    XPOCALYPSE FOREVER !

    • Mark O'Neill
      August 25, 2015 at 5:35 am

      And did you join the rampaging hordes stomping their way into the shops for their 13 disks? :-) Or did you sit back and wait for the fuss to die down first?

      • A41202813GMAIL ..
        August 25, 2015 at 6:01 am

        If You Look At My Last Paragraph, You Will Understand That I Am Never In A Rush To Waste Money - If I Am Satisfied With What I Have.

        Back When, I Was A Happy DOS User.

        I Usually Let My Company Be My Guinea Pig, For A While, Before Committing To Any Novelty.

        Sorry For Your Condition.

        Thank You For Responding.

        • Mark O'Neill
          August 25, 2015 at 10:49 am

          Sorry for my condition?

        • A41202813GMAIL ..
          August 26, 2015 at 1:44 am

          Sorry, You Said You Are Disabled ?

  8. Mark O'Neill
    August 25, 2015 at 5:28 am

    Before the Internet went mainstream and everyone started to use it? Yes, well, life was a lot simpler, depending on which aspect you're thinking of. But look at how much more simple the Internet has made life now - instant communication in the form of email and chat programs, working from home if you are disabled (like I am), keeping in close touch with your friends all over the world via social media....I could make a huge list. In fact, I may just write on this very topic.... ;-)

  9. unknown2070270179
    August 24, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    94, pre internet?!? pfft....

    I know someone who downloaded Windows 95 over the Internet before the official release. Sure beat putting in all those floppies like OS/2. :)

    • Mark O'Neill
      August 25, 2015 at 5:19 am

      On a 14.4K modem?!! How long did it take them to download something like Windows 95?

      • unknown2070270179
        August 25, 2015 at 10:20 am

        Even if i did know, that'd be too long ago to remember. :) I did see the result though. The NT 3.51 experimental interface in all its glory.

  10. Howard Blair
    August 24, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    "Before Windows 95, the Windows system was merely a graphical user interface running on top of MS-DOS. Windows 95 changed all of that into a complete operating system – easier to use, and a rather more easier learning curve to get the hang of."

    Actually, Windows 95 & 98 still ran on top of DOS; you could boot into DOS by pressing F8 on bootup and select it. It wasn't until Windows ME that booting into DOS was removed (and it could still be done with a few tweaks); you can still boot into the Command Prompt for troubleshooting in Windows 7!

    "Would you believe that before Windows 1995, there was no close button? Now there is. Enough said."

    Yes, there was a Close button in Windows 3.x; you either click the window's Application Button or press ALT+SPACE to show it, as part of the window's Command Menu. You can quickly close an app with the ALT+SPACE, C(lose) combo. This still exists in Windows today.

  11. Read and Share
    August 24, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Reading Nicky's post above... 1995 certainly wasn't pre internet. I used Netcomm's NetCruiser "browser" to surf the web. But there were many other options, like AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy, etc. ISP's were fighting each other to give away free CD-ROM installation discs!

    And no, things weren't simple. Win 3.1 (predecessor of Win 95) crashed regularly and so did Win 95. Win 95 was prettier. But it still crashed regularly. And internet setup (dial up's for most of us) was a manual process.

    • Mark O'Neill
      August 25, 2015 at 5:23 am

      I do seem to vaguely recall Windows 1995 crashing, yes. It makes it all the more remarkable when you think of how much more stable Windows 7/8 was / is. When I was using them, they didn't crash one single time for me. And so far (fingers crossed), Windows 10 is looking promising.

  12. Nicky K.D Chaleunphone
    August 24, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    I graduated High school in 1994 when Windows 95 came out. Back in the pre internet days, things were simple.

    • Mark O'Neill
      August 25, 2015 at 5:28 am

      Before the Internet went mainstream and everyone started to use it? Yes, well, life was a lot simpler, depending on which aspect you’re thinking of. But look at how much more simple the Internet has made life now – instant communication in the form of email and chat programs, working from home if you are disabled (like I am), keeping in close touch with your friends all over the world via social media….I could make a huge list. In fact, I may just write on this very topic…. ;-)

      • Read and Share
        August 25, 2015 at 2:26 pm

        Mark,

        I think this would be an excellent topic! Oh, the stuff we now take for granted...

        I went to an international high school in Taiwan. Our assignment was to write a term paper. Well, back then ('70s) -- whatever topics we picked, we had to first make sure that our little school library carried sufficient materials! As the only English-instruction high school, if our school library didn't carry the info, then it's tough out of luck.

        And even as a college senior (USC) -- looking for background info. for companies that I was interviewing for -- I was pretty much limited to annual reports and such that my business school library carried!

        I don't think kids today really appreciate how much our access to info. was limited to libraries and bookstores -- and their opening hours! Or watch the news/weather reports attentively if you want to know the weather...

        • Mark O'Neill
          August 25, 2015 at 6:42 pm

          Back in the 80's, when you watched the British news reports on TV, the weather forecaster would stick rainclouds and suns on the map with velcro!! Now we have interactive weather apps for our phones. Crazy.

          This is making me realize how old I am!!!

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