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While everyone loves downloading cool software, Windows has plenty of tools built-in, some of which you might not even have known existed. It can be easy to ignore these features, but they make Windows the operating system (OS) that we know today.
We’ve already looked at underappreciated features in Windows, so let’s mix it up. Today, we’re going to look at some tools that the OS used to feature front and center, but have been phased out by newer programs. Some of these go back to the early years of Windows, so count how many you’ve used!
- First release: August 1995 (Microsoft Internet Explorer), Windows 95
- Discontinued: July 2015 (Internet Explorer 11), launch of Windows 10
- Replaced by: Microsoft Edge
Let’s start with something recent. Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), first available with the Microsoft Plus! enhancement package on Windows 95, has a long history as Windows’ default browser. For the first few years of its life, it enjoy relatively little competition, but versions 5 and 6 were full of security problems, which led to the rise of Mozilla Firefox (released in 2002) and Apple Safari (released in 2003). Microsoft didn’t bother to fix these problems, so people started looking elsewhere.
With better browsers on the market for free, IE 7 (released a whole five years after the atrocious version 6) was too little, too late. Google Chrome’s introduction in late 2008 and subsequent success sealed IE’s fate as the “worst browser” and the butt of many Internet jokes – How-To Geek has explained why geeks hated IE around this time.
Newer versions of IE actually aren’t too bad (11 being the latest), but Microsoft still wanted to cast off its tainted image for Windows 10. The revamped Windows includes Edge, the new default browser built from the ground up for the modern Web. IE 11 is still included in Windows 10 for legacy purposes, such as archaic business intranet websites, and will still be in use on Windows 8.1 and earlier, but its reign as the Windows default browser is no more.
I'm so emotional rn that when Microsoft Edge just crashed I started crying and when Google Chrome opened I cried even harder
— Rachel ? (@rachelzgabay) August 29, 2015
Windows Media Center
- First release: October 2002, with Windows XP Media Center Edition
- Discontinued: July 2015, launch of Windows 10
- Replaced by: Various tools
Windows Media Center, first packaged into a special media-focused edition of Windows XP, was included in most versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7 and available to buy for users of Windows 8/8.1.
Acting as a sort of Swiss Army knife for video content, it allowed you to watch slideshows and local video files, stream video through services like Netflix, and record live TV. Many people utilized it as their media hub, recording their favorite TV shows to stream to their TV later while skipping commercials, but its main function was to play DVDs.
The discontinuation of Windows Media Center was mainly due to the shift to streaming media over physical discs. Microsoft has to pay a fee for the right to play DVDs on every copy of Windows sold, and with fewer devices including optical drives these days, it made sense to phase the functionality out.
Whole reason I run Windows is Windows Media Center. MS takes WMC out of Win 10. Wonders why I won't upgrade. #NotAnUpgrade
— Dr Don Carpenter (@DrDonWYCD) August 20, 2015
When upgrading to Windows 10, anyone whose prior version of Windows included Media Center will receive the new Windows DVD Player modern app for free. This sounds great, as the app is $15 for anyone else, but its 1.8 out of 5 rating suggests that the software is a piece of junk. Thankfully, you have alternatives for a full replacement of Media Center; if you just need to play DVDs, stick with the always-awesome VLC Media Player, which has tons of fancy playback features.
- First release: October 1997, with Internet Explorer 4
- Discontinued: January 2007, launch of Windows Vista
- Replaced by: Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail, Microsoft Outlook
Outlook Express was a basic email/news client that came bundled in with IE versions 4-6, and was integrated with the defunct Windows Messenger on Windows XP. Despite its name, Express is completely different from Outlook, which is a part of the Office suite. Curiously, it was also available for Mac OS 9.
There’s nothing too exciting about Outlook Express; it was a mail application for a younger Internet, and needed to be replaced when standards evolved, especially since it had numerous problems. With the launch of Windows Vista, Windows Mail took over the default mail application duties, which wasn’t hooked into IE as much as Outlook Express had been. The similarly named Windows Live Mail was released for free in late 2007 and served as a replacement for Outlook Express on Windows XP and Windows Mail on Windows Vista. It’s still available for download on Windows 7 and later.
I have no idea why people use Outlook Express.
— W Thomas Leroux (@WTL) September 6, 2015
Outlook is the most modern successor to Outlook Express; it’s available on the Web and shows why older desktop-based email is inferior. If Outlook is your email client of choice, learn to blast through your emails and get in control.
Backup and Restore
- First release: January 2007, launch of Windows Vista
- Discontinued: October 2013, launch of Windows 8.1
- Replaced by: File History, various tools
It’s been said ad nauseam: everyone needs to back up their computer. While previous versions of Windows, such as Windows XP, had a basic Backup feature, it wasn’t a full-featured tool until Backup and Restore launched with Windows Vista. It allowed users to back up individual folders of their choice, or create an exact snapshot of how the system was at one time, called a system image. Though there were many other backup solutions available, this was the Windows default in Windows Vista and Windows 7.
However, Backup and Restore wasn’t an amazing backup program. Instead of recreating your file hierarchy so you could easily grab individual files from a backup, it made a single “container” that had to be restored with the same program. Most people want their backup solution to be simple, so Microsoft hid Backup and Restore in Windows 8 in favor of the new File History – a solution that makes copies of all files every hour, allowing you to “reverse time” and get older versions of files back. With the Windows 8.1 update, Microsoft all but removed the old Backup and Restore.
Oddly, the solution is back as “Backup and Restore (Windows 7)” in Windows 10, but it’s certainly not a headlining feature. If you want to be sure that you have a plan when your hard drive dies, it’s not a bad idea, but there are better automated alternatives for file recovery.
If you do your #writing on a computer, maintain a hard copy of your work as well as a digital copy for backup. Lesson learned the hard way.
— The1Russter (@The1Russter) September 6, 2015
Games Explorer / Windows Games
- First release: January 2007, launch of Windows Vista / April 1992, with Windows 3.1
- Discontinued: October 2012, launch of Windows 8
- Replaced by: Steam, various tools
This one is sort of a collection of features, but they all died out for a similar reason. The Games Explorer was a part of Windows Vista and Windows 7 meant to be a one-stop place to manage all of your games; besides including box art, content ratings, and publisher information, it also congregated quick links to audio/video settings, Windows Firewall, and system performance so you had everything you needed to game in one place.
Because games had to register themselves with Windows to show up here (and most didn’t) nobody really used this, especially with the rise of Steam as the premiere PC gaming platform. Though the feature still remained intact in Windows 8, shortcuts to it were removed, so it was effectively gone.
Another part of the Windows Games lineage that was cut in newer versions are the default games traditionally included with Windows – Hearts, Minesweeper, and Solitaire that have been the bane of our productivity since Windows 3.1. On Windows 8, Microsoft didn’t include these games but instead offered new Metro app versions. If you prefer the classic versions, it is possible to get them back on Windows 8/8.1.
Microsoft really crossed the line with Windows 10. Still offering these games as a Metro app, they also laced them with intrusive video ads and included in-app purchases to remove these annoyances. $10 a year to get what was free for decades understandably ticked a lot of people off, so our friends at the How-To Geek have you covered on how to get Solitaire for free in Windows 10. You can even play Solitaire in your browser; there’s an online version of Minesweeper, too.
Coupled with the Games for Windows brand being discontinued, we see Microsoft following the freemium path and targeting casual gamers with Metro apps. For core gamers, Windows 10 instead works with the Xbox One to provide a unified gaming experience.
Passing the Torch
Windows has passed through many features over the years; other staples such as the Quick Launch bar and the old Program Manager could have been included, as well. Depending on how long you’ve been using Windows, you may remember all five of these or none at all; it’s interesting to observe the tools that were once commonplace. In another ten years, Windows may drop the Taskbar, Office, or Control Panel in favor of new tools; only time will tell!
If you’re looking to dig up more cool features, check out useful features hidden in Mac OS X Yosemite. Stuck on Windows 10 and can’t upgrade? You can still get the coolest features of Windows 10 on earlier versions.
What Windows features that you once used are now gone? If you had to pick one Windows feature that won’t be around in five years, which one would you choose? Weigh in below and let’s get thinking!