Why Windows 95 is AWESOME (History and Features)

Why Windows 95 is AWESOME (History and Features)
10 min read
24 August 2020

Happy birthday Windows 95. You introduced the world to the Start menu and so much more. Man, they grow up so fast. So today to celebrate this amazing occasion, we're going to time travel and take a look at the history and some of the features of one of the greatest OS releases in history.

Microsoft spent over $300 million on the marketing for Windows 95. It clearly paid off, so good for them. Part of this marketing effort was a commercial featuring the Rolling Stones "Start Me Up" song omitted for copyright reasons and lighting up the Empire State Building in the Windows' flag colors.

Then on August 24th, 1995, Microsoft held a launch party with Jay Leno, 500 journalists, 2,000 guests and 9,000 Microsoft employees. And of course Bill Gates himself. So with the marketing efforts and the hype building up when the launch officially happened, Microsoft sold 4 million copies slash licenses of Windows 95 in one day and in the first year 40 million. So now that we know that stuff, let's go back in time, even further, back to the beta days of Windows 95 with code name Chicago.Why Windows 95 is AWESOME (History and Features)

One of the earliest builds of Windows 95 to leak was Windows Chicago build 58s. Why Windows 95 is AWESOME (History and Features)And as you can see the task bar and the start menu were present, they were just very primitive. The file cabinet program was the replacement for the file manager we had in Windows 3 and in later builds the file cabinet became Windows Explorer, which we'll take a look at later. It's also worth noting that the minimize and maximize button started to take shape with the icons we're familiar with today, but the close button has not been implemented quite yet. To close a window, you could still use the menu in the upper left.

Next to the start menu, which wasn't officially labeled the start menu yet, there was a search feature and a help feature, which were eventually unified into the start menu in later builds. And the rest of the task bar wasn't fully fleshed out yet in this particular build. Today we're used to seeing running applications show up in the task bar, so we could easily switch between them. And while that feature was introduced in Windows 95, this particular build did not support that. And when you minimized windows, they wouldn't shrink into the task bar like we're used to, instead, they would transform into blocks that you could actually drag around the desktop. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Dr. Watson program was the debugger for this particular beta system.

In a later build, running programs would appear in the task bar. Why Windows 95 is AWESOME (History and Features)And later the start menu was actually labeled start. And the three buttons we saw earlier were combined into one simple menu. Why Windows 95 is AWESOME (History and Features)And if you wanted to drag the task bar around, go nuts, put it wherever you want.

Build 189 was the first leaked build to be branded as Windows 95.Why Windows 95 is AWESOME (History and Features) Other Windows 95 branded builds likely existed, maybe even out in the public somewhere, but to the general public build 189 was the first well known beta version of Windows to actually call itself Windows 95. And by this time the visual details of the system are nearly complete, but the start menu still looked a bit different than in the retail release.

Keep in mind that this particular build was compiled on September 21st, 1994 and Windows 95 didn't come out until August 24th, 1995. So we still had 11 months to go. And over that time, there were plenty of other beta builds and test releases compiled.

Let's hop into the 95 retail release and talk about some of its features. And my favorite thing about the Windows 95 release is so many of the features in it were kind of like the origin stories of features we still use today in Windows 10, let's take a look.

The biggest feature was the introduction of the start menu. Why Windows 95 is AWESOME (History and Features)Documents and programs could be easily accessed from a simple menu instead of having to deal with the file manager and the program manager in the previous systems. The task bar was another new feature, something we'll use today all the time in Windows. And it allowed you to easily switch between open programs. And nowadays we use the stuff without even thinking about it. So we might take it for granted, but this was a pretty big deal back then.

Windows Explorer was also first introduced in Windows 95. Why Windows 95 is AWESOME (History and Features)And this file browser replaced the File Manager from previous systems, the Windows Explorer featured some new right-click shortcuts for power users, which included a Quick View feature, which will let you preview contents of a file without opening that file in a program. Also introduced for the first time was the, My Computer shortcut, which allowed users to see connected devices and information about their computer. For example, they could look at their printers and although the My Computer shortcut stuck around for a long time in Windows, we don't really use it or see it much more today, but I'll tell you what we do see still... the Recycle Bin.

This feature was also introduced in Windows 95. If a user deletes a file, it would simply move to the Recycle Bin just in case they wanted to undelete the file later. And here's another big change something we probably still take for granted today, long file names. Previous to Windows 95, unless you were using certain Windows NT releases in the Windows' world you could only have file names with eight characters before the file extension. So you had to find creative ways to abbreviate your documents and everything. But with Windows 95, the character limit expanded to 255 characters. So good. That was pretty convenient.

And even though you didn't need to use DOS to start up Windows 95 anymore, like you had to with the previous Windows systems, you could still run DOS programs inside of Windows, either in full screen mode or in a window. So kudos to Microsoft for keeping that compatibility. I think that's something they do really well in the PC space. They seem to pay attention a lot to backward compatibility. But in addition to that Windows 95 also paved the way for 32-bit applications on Windows. In addition to Windows NT, which already had that. But in the more consumer space, Windows 95 helped push 32-bit apps out to users, which would potentially run much faster than their 16-bit counterparts.

And you probably already saw this, but the close minimize and maximize buttons are now present in the upper right of the windows, laid out in a very similar fashion to what we're used to today. And even though Internet Explorer wasn't initially bundled with Windows 95. It was available in Windows 95 with Microsoft Plus and in some other bundles, depending on where you bought your computer from. So this marked at the beginning of the Internet Explorer era, which lasted quite a long time, I mean, it's still used today, not a ton. It's starting to get phased out more, and we have a Microsoft Edge to replace it too. But man, still, kudos to you Internet Explorer, you lasted a very long time, maybe a little longer than you should have, but that's none of my business.

And I know I haven't covered all of the new features in Windows 95, but if I missed any that you really liked, feel free to let me know about those in the comments.

Some could argue that these Windows 95 features weren't anything new because other operating systems were already doing this stuff. Heck even the Macintosh had a trash feature in version one that was back in 1984, but most of the time that doesn't really matter. And Apple would even defend that. On the iPhone, they weren't the first with cut, copy, paste or with multitasking, but they still took their time to make it right. They did it well and people loved it, but they weren't the first and that's okay.

So even though some of these features did come into Windows a little bit later compared to other operating systems, it didn't matter because Microsoft was making their way into the homes of millions of people. And they were spreading around like wildfire. And with Windows 95, they just helped push the ease of use into the personal computing space even further.

Windows 95 wasn't perfect, no operating system is of course, but I think it should still be remembered as an imperative piece of personal computing history.

Alex 10K
Joined: 4 years ago
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