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.
Now we have Windows 10 being downloaded 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.
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
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 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
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.
The Premiere of The Start Menu
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, 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, albeit with a much improved and sleeker design. It is also optimized for tablets, with the tile designs.
Minimize, Maximize, & Close Window Buttons
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.
Before Windows 95, there was no right-click menu 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)
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. 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, and how to use VMware Player. Joel offers a more updated perspective on virtual machines, and don’t forget our user guide to VirtualBox 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? Let us know your stories in the comments.
Image Credits:Birthday Cake by NatashaPhoto via Shutterstock