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August 24, 2015 10:30 AM   Subscribe

20 years ago: August 24, 1995 was the release date of Microsoft Windows 95. Its legacy was vast....

Hailed at the time as a revolutionary product, for a change the reality seemed to match the hype. It heralded (if not quite the arrival) of the extrication of PC computing from the legacy of DOS, and the introduction of more new features and (for the most part) positive changes to a Microsoft product than ever before, or since. For the most part, us Windows users are still living in the computing world that Windows 95 established for us.

Here is a look at many of those features, and where they are now....

DriveSpace (formerly DoubleSpace)
The first of Microsoft's many attempts to provide transparent disk compression actually began in MS-DOS 6.22, but its Windows 95 version had a actual graphic interface. Plus! for Windows 95 had an updated version, but not many people used it anyway. It was last seen as legacy support in Windows ME, the last version of Windows that used FAT as its primary filesystem.
Wikipedia
MSDN: "What is DoubleSpace and How Does It Work?"
Current status: Windows XP defaulted to the NTFS filesystem, which provided its own mechanisms for file compression.

Long file names
The FAT (File Allocation Table) filesystem was the filesystem used from the start in MS-DOS, but was severely crippled compared to competitors due to the fact it only offered filenames of up to eight letters plus a three letter extension, a limitation that even my old Commodore 64 overcame. Windows 95 used a hack to offer longer filename aliases for files as well as the older 8.3 names. (The FAT32 filesystem would debut with Windows 98, and offer more solid support for long filenames.) Windows 95 would present older programs with aliases that supported the old format, and indeed on disk the files were stored as the 8.3 name but with an extra bit that pointed to the rest of the name. The shortened version was often the first six letters of the name with "~1" added to the end. Older disk utilities that worked on the file were prone to losing the long part of the filename, causing unexpected errors.
Wikipedia on 8.3 filenames
pcguide.com on long filenames
Current status: When Windows XP brought consumer Windows in line with Windows NT and took to using NTFS as its main filesystem these fell into disuse. But FAT is still used as a filesystem to this day, and FAT-based filesystems still have old 8.3 filenames as part of their fire records. In related news, Windows still has a limit of 260 total characters in a path. NTFS itself has ways around it but Windows itself often balks at them, which sometimes produces problems like Android phones creating files with filenames so long that Windows cannot operate on them, even to delete them!

System control panel
In Control Panel as "System," and also available by right-clicking "My Computer" and selecting Properties, an access method that still works on Windows 7. Control Panel got expanded greatly on the changeover from Windows 3.1 to 95.
Current status: While Microsoft is trying to deprecate Control Panel, providing the ostensibly better "Settings" starting with Windows 8, many of the primary panels debuting with Win95 are still in Windows 10 in some form, including parts of Display, the Fonts folder, and System. Often when poking around the Control Panel, it doesn't take many clicks to dig down to the old-school, gray-tabbed collections of property settings. Microsoft's continued efforts to escape them seem doomed to always have to provide access on some level.

Device Manager
One of the foremost innovations of Windows 95 is one of the least directly visible to the user: its formidable hardware support. Windows, in all its many versions, is probably the single computer program that supports the most different attached devices, in large part thanks to the magic of USB and Plug-and-Play. Amazingly, USB support wasn't even available in consumer versions of Windows 95; you had to have an OEM version to get it. Microsoft didn't ship an installable consumer version of Windows with USB support until Windows 98! But there were many more devices back then that had to be plugged either into some other oddly-shaped port or even inside the computer's case, and Device Manager was the place to look after doing so, probably to discover the device's icon with a yellow warning sign on it. Time to install the drivers... fortunately, Device Manager could frequently help even with that!
Wikipedia: Plug and Play
7 Ways To Open The Device Manager In Windows 10
Current status: It's more of its own thing now than just a special mode of the System control panel, and it's got some more nodes these days, but in Windows 10 Device Manager still looks and acts much like it did on Windows 95. If it ain't broke don't fix it.

Start Button and Start Menu
If the Device Manager is the quietest great innovation of Windows 95, then the Start Button and accompanying Start Menu are the loudest. A single place to go to for nearly everything you can do with your computer, despite jokes by some about having to click "Start" in order to get to Shutdown.
The Start Menu on Microsoft's website
The Old New Thing on why the word START is on the button
MeFi post I made about a Windows 8 Start Menu replacement
Current status: The signature feature of Windows 95, possibly its most successful, and its most enduring legacy, to the extent that Microsoft's attempts to leave them out of Windows 8 were soundly rebuffed by irate users. Well never let it be said that Microsoft has recognized when it has a good thing going.

The Taskbar
Start proclaims that you should click it to do things. The taskbar beside it, though, just sits there and does its job, showing you running programs. By the way, the Taskbar is provided as part of Windows Explorer, so if Explorer crashes for some reason the taskbar will disappear until it restarts. If for some reason the Taskbar is gone, I have noticed that even fairly recent versions of Windows will put little rectangular items at the bottom of the screen to represent running programs, that function in a way analogous to how the running program icons worked back in Windows 3.1....
Wikipedia
Microsoft's website on the Taskbar
Current status: This is arguably Windows 95's most successful UI element — even Linux window managers provide taskbars, and Mac OSX's Dock is largely the taskbar, but showing icons and with things able to be pinned to it even when they're not directly running. And, as if Microsoft wanted to steal something else from Apple, starting with Windows 7 programs started showing as icons by default, were grouped together if there are duplicates, and could be pinned to it OSX-style. But the first two features can be switched back in settings, and you can just remove all the pinned things if you want to maintain righteous taskbar purity.

The Notification Area, aka the "System Tray"
A small (ideally), visibly-recessed collection of icons on the taskbar that also contains the clock. Used to represent running programs that don't show as tasks and run "in the background," but still need some kind of visual representation for interacting with the user. Notably, when taskbar programs run they register with Explorer to display in this area. If Explorer crashes, when it restarts it won't know of those programs and the tray will be empty.
The Old New Thing: Why do some people call the taskbar the "tray?"
Current status: The tray abides, gaining an improvement under Windows XP to hide icons that are interacted with less often, in order to reduce tray clutter. It no longer looks like a tray, but the notification area still exists in Windows 10.

Windows Explorer
Under Windows 3.1 users used a program called the File Manager to move and copy files around. While its two-pane design had its uses, it didn't even support showing custom icons for files. Windows 95 retired File Manager and replaced it with Windows Explorer. Pretty obviously inspired by the Mac Finder, Explorer can do a lot more than just display folder contents. It also displays the desktop, handles the taskbar, the Open and Save dialogs are really customized Explorer views (which is why you can do many things of the things from dialogs you can do from Explorer windows), and it even handles displaying Control Panel icons and other collections of settings. Most of what users perceived as Windows turns out to be just another view of Explorer. By the way, Explorer.exe is defined since Windows 95 as the "system shell," which among other things is why the OS restarts it when it crashes. Technically if you know what you're doing the system shell can be changed though, a popular tactic for malware looking to visibly mess things up, in the hopes that you'll pay it to unmess them. There also exist programs that offer alternative Windows shells; they can make Windows look and act remarkably different. Here's a few of them. Here's a few more, and Wikipedia has a list, although it should be said that, generally, replacing Explorer as your shell can cause you unexpected problems if a program expects it to be around when it's not.
Microsoft: Using Windows Explorer
Steven Sinofsky on MSDN Blogs, on the history of Windows Explorer
Current status: Explorer's directory browsing windows are now called File Explorer (to distinguish it from Internet Explorer) but it's still there. At various times it's suffered from a bit of mission creep. Remember Windows 98's "Active Desktop," which put web pages on your desktop at the cost of having Internet Explorer always running? Or when Explorer folders allowed you to give them custom wallpaper? (While we're walking through memory junkyard, remember Microsoft's Active Channels?)

Internet Explorer 1.0
Back in the day it was pretty slick. Actually built out of technology licensed from Spyglass Mosaic (more on that from the New York Times), IE eventually vastly outgrew its roots and became the major web browser for the vast majority of people. The development and history of Internet Explorer could fill its own post. It should be mentioned that it wasn't actually part of Windows 95 base, but first released as part of "Plus!," a pack of add-ons Microsoft sold to supplement Windows 95 (and wring some extra dollars out of their userbase).
Wikipedia
MSKB: Internet Explorer version history
Neowin.net looks at old versions
Another history from them, looking at Wikipedia with each version from 1 to 9
A YouTube video showing off versions 1 through 10
Current Status: Microsoft Internet Explorer survived, thrived, drove competitor Netscape out of business, became bloated and an embarrassment that held back the web, then was itself superseded by competitors Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. While IE11 still exists in Windows 10, Microsoft themselves undertook a rewrite and suggest instead using their new Microsoft Edge.

Built-in internet support
While IE didn't debut without the Plus! Pack, an important aspect of Windows 95 was that the system had a built-in "winsock," that is, API for making use of internet functions. Web browsing on Windows 3.1 was held back by the need to install a third-party handler for dial-up internet access, most commonly the shareware product Trumpet Winsock, written by Peter Tattam. (BTW, there's a page where one can donate if they used unlicensed copies of Trumpet Winsock back in the day.)
Current status: It's still there, and was updated in Windows 8, but no one much talks about it anymore.

Quick View
A utility that could be used to provide a quick glimpse into the content of many file types. Most often used for images, its functions are largely handled these days by web browsers and Windows Photo Viewer.
Wikipedia
MSKB: "How to Enable or Disable Quick View"
Current status: While it didn't even make it into Windows 98, as noted above, Windows comes equipped with ways to see many of QuickView's file types, and a few that didn't even exist yet, like PDF. But as a standalone product, a greatly expanded version is still kicking as Avantstar Corporation's "Quick View Plus."

Install Windows Features dialog box
One of the least remarked-upon aspects of Windows 95 was that you could selectively install different parts of it using a certain dialog box.
Microsoft: "Turn Windows Features On or Off"
Current status: Although its contents have changed over the years, the same dialog box, although reskinned a bit, remains 20 years later in Windows 10! Right-click the Start Button, select Control Panel, click Programs, then the link that says Turn Windows features on or off. Extras you can install on Windows 10 include things like a web and FTP server, and an option for searching through TIFF image files using OCR. As late as Windows 7, the Windows built-in games were on this list. Speaking of which....

FreeCell
Even 20 years ago, the version of Solitaire that came with previous versions of Windows had become legendary. Microsoft upped the ante with FreeCell, a Solitaire variant that came with Windows 95. Unlike Solitaire, there were no hidden cards in FreeCell, and additionally nearly every game was winnable, making it more of a logic puzzle in the guise of a card game. It rapidly became your thinking gamer's alternative to Solitaire... well, at least if no other games were installed on the system.
Wikipedia
Microsoft: How to play FreeCell
FreeCell FAQ
FreeCell Solutions
Current status: FreeCell and Solitaire persisted through the different versions of Windows, up to Windows 7, to be abandoned in Windows 8 and the Windows Store, which introduced the hateful Microsoft Solitaire Collection, which decided to make "ad supported" what had originally been free and unobtrusive.

The Registry
One of the more controversial aspects of Windows 95 was the introduction of the registry, a large database of system configuration settings that touches upon nearly every aspect of system operation. Before the registry came along all of Windows configuration was done by editing (either automatically or by hand) one of many text files, most commonly with an extension of INI. While clunky, they had the advantage (or disadvantage depending on your point of view — one could make his system unbootable by editing them) of being immediately user accessible. The registry could contain more than just text configuration data, and provided a centralized location for it to be kept, and thus easily backed-up all at once (and also, its detractors would say, be corrupted). Along with the registry came regedit32.exe, the registry editor, and near the top of the list of ways a clueless user can bork his machine with a single act.
Wikipedia
Current status: The registry remains in current Windows and is bigger than ever. Regedit is still around too, just called "regedit.exe" these days, and it's still got the same ugly, nonsensical icon of a crumbling cube, depicted with the Windows 95 icon palette.

Win32
This is basically what Windows 95 is, the platform itself, the extension of Windows into 32-bit computing. Previous versions of Windows (up to 3.11, Windows for Workgroups) were "Win16."
Wikipedia: Windows API#Win32
MSDN: Win32 Programming Overview
Current status: Most Windows software produced now is 32-bit, and Win32-native versions of Windows continue to this day, but most computers now are sold with 64-bit versions of Windows.

Powertoys & Kerneltoys
Sets of small, free utilities released on Microsoft's website without technical support. Additional toys were added over time. They ranged in usefulness from purely whimsical (a round version of the Clock accessory) to the incredibly useful (Command Prompt Here, TweakUI).
Wikipedia
The Old New Thing: The histoory of the Windows PowerToys
Current status: Some of them, like Send To X, would eventually become supported features of Windows. The Powertoys were very popular with power users and Microsoft released more with prominent product releases up to Windows XP, but eventually Microsoft instituted a policy of not offering unsupported downloads, resulting in the popular series' termination.

WinHelp
Wikipedia
Windows 95's RTF-based help system was quickly adopted by most Windows software. It was supplanted by HTML Help, but you still sometimes run into a program that uses it.
Current status: Phased out with Windows Vista. HTML Help, however, which used CHM files, is a popular format for computer reference works.

Buddy Holly
A little extra provided on CD-ROM install disks of Windows 95 was an MPG file of a music video of Weezer's song "Buddy Holly," notable particularly for its use of "Forrest Gump" technology to seamlessly insert the band into an episode of Happy Days. For many explorers of the CD, it was their first taste of computer-based multimedia.
The video on YouTube
YouTube demonstration of the video playing off the CD
Current status: The video was only included with the original release of Windows 95, and even then only on CD. But if you can find a readable copy, it will still play. It's in the "Fun Stuff" folder.

Hover!
A 3D game included with CD-ROM versions Windows 95. Up until that point many were worried that Windows 95, which didn't allow software unfettered access to the hardware, would not allow for the fast-paced games MS-DOS allowed. Microsoft developed Hover! to disprove them. That and a well-received Windows 95 port of Doom did a lot to establish Windows as a capable gaming platform.
Wikipedia
Current status: Hover didn't make it into later versions of Windows. The word is that the game is still available on Microsoft's public FTP server, (they have one?) but I couldn't get it to load. Hover!'s legacy survives in the form of an official web port. (Site will try to sell you on Microsoft Edge, but I think other browsers can play it too.)

Windows Pinball, aka Space Cadet
A pinball game distributed with Plus! For Windows 95 and several succeeding Windows versions. It was actually a version of the Space Cadet table sold in the collection Full Tilt!, produced by SimCity makers Maxis.
The Old New Thing on Windows Pinball
Current status: It was included with 32-bit versions of Windows XP, but it ran into insoluble problems when compiled as a 64-bit program and, as Raymond Chen notes in the above link, Windows XP setup had no provision for including only a 32-bit version of a feature.

The Microsoft Windows 95 Product Team! Easter Egg
An oft-traded hidden showing, with music, of the people who made Windows 95.
YouTube video
Current status: It wouldn't make sense for later versions of Windows to provide this. Note, corporate customers complained about the inclusion of such frivolities, and so current-day Microsoft products generally do not contain easter eggs, or at least well-known ones.

For reference, this history of Windows consumer releases (ignoring the NT and mobile lines until they merge in):
  • Windows 1.0 - November 1985: Original release, Microsoft Paint, mostly ignored
  • Windows 2.0 - December 1987: Overlapping windows, VGA graphics
  • Windows 2.1 - May 1988: Supports 286 & 386, requires a hard drive
  • Windows 3.0 - May 1990: Better UI, Program Manager, File Manager, Notepad, Protected Mode, Media Player, Solitaire
  • Windows 3.1 - April 1992: The end of Real Mode, TrueType, 32-Bit disk access, Minesweeper, Windows hits it big
  • Windows 3.1 for Workgroups (Winball/Sparta) - October 1992: Networking
  • Windows 3.11 for Workgroups (Snowball) - August 1993: 32-bit file access
  • Windows 95 (Chicago) - August 1995: New UI, Start Button & Menu, Taskbar, Win32, multimedia, WinHelp, TCP/IP, Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer 1.0, long filenames, Windows Update, FreeCell, many other things (see above)
  • Windows 98 (Memphis) - June 1998: IE4, Outlook Express, Active Desktop, Disk Cleanup, USB, DirectX
  • Windows 98 Second Edition - May 1999: IE5, Web Folders
  • Windows ME - September 2000: IE5.5, Windows Movie Maker, System Restore, Spider Solitaire, the end of DOS-based Windows
  • Windows XP (Whistler) - October 2001: Based on Windows NT, Themes, IE6, Multiple Users, Product Activation, 64-bit Windows
  • Windows Vista (Longhorn) - January 2007: Aero, IE7, Windows Sidebar & Desktop Gadgets, Windows Defender, UAC, Backup and Restore, Windows Search
  • Windows 7 (Vienna) - October 2009: Snap, Peek, revamped Taskbar, Jump Lists, Libraries, IE8, Windows Recovery Environment
  • Windows 8 - October 2012: Start Screen, Start Button removed, Charms, Metro/Modern apps, Windows Store, tablet support, IE10, UEFI, Ribbon in Explorer, Redesigned Task Manager, OneDrive/SkyDrive, File History, Settings, Windows games ditched
  • Windows 8.1 (Blue) - October 2013: Start Button's back, UI rollbacks, 3D Printing
  • Windows 10 (Threshold) - July 2015: Charms are gone & Start Menu is back, Task View, multiple desktops, IE11, Microsoft Edge, Cortana, mandatory updates, Microsoft Software Collection (with ads)
posted by JHarris (115 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
 
Its legacy was vast....
I'd say it was closer to half-vast...
posted by Cookiebastard at 10:38 AM on August 24, 2015 [15 favorites]


That's a lot of information--wouldn't you rather hear it from Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry?
posted by box at 10:39 AM on August 24, 2015 [11 favorites]


Vast. Even the hardest Linux devotee would have to concede that.

I still remember installing it for the first time from a stack of floppies.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 10:40 AM on August 24, 2015 [7 favorites]




Windows 2000 should maybe be on that list too? It was kinda sorta not on the consumer side, but a lot of consumers used it. TBH, though, other than the horrid new GUI in XP the differences between the two are pretty minute.

Glorious post, thanks.
posted by selfnoise at 10:42 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh lord the nostalgia bug. Great post, thanks for this.
posted by General Malaise at 10:44 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Am I totally misremembering but didn't the Windows CD also include the video for "Lucas With the Lid Off"?
posted by griphus at 10:44 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Windows 2000 was borderline for inclusion in the list. Really I should have just included the NT line, but I was a little iffy on the history of NT and it would have taken more time to clear that up, so decided to reduce the list's scope in the name of getting it out on time.

In its way, it's a perfectly fitting way to compile a list of Windows versions.
posted by JHarris at 10:44 AM on August 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


wouldn't you rather hear it from Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry?

Yeah, no.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:45 AM on August 24, 2015


I had just started work two months earlier, straight out of college. My laptop ran Windows 3.1 and it was awful. As soon as 95 was released I went out, bought it out of my own pocket, and upgraded the OS without asking anyone's permission.

It had its flaws, but it was a *huge* improvement over 3.1,
posted by Chrysostom at 10:46 AM on August 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


If it was griphus, I don't remember seeing it there.
posted by JHarris at 10:46 AM on August 24, 2015


Man, I am reminiscing about the CD-ROM Multimedia era. Good ol' Microsoft Encarta. Good ol' FMV games. There's so much software from this era that is just useless and gone forever. So much shovelware mouldering in a dump somewhere...
posted by selfnoise at 10:46 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


wouldn't you rather hear it from Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry?

Could I *BE* any less interested?!
posted by entropicamericana at 10:47 AM on August 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


a limitation that even my old Commodore 64 overcame

I spent so much time drawing stuff in the paint program of GEOS, a graphic OS released for the C-64 in 1986.
posted by exogenous at 10:47 AM on August 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


No love for Edie Brickell - Good Times which was also on the CD?
posted by Space Coyote at 10:48 AM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


There was an Edie Brickell video that was also in the “Fun Stuff” folder, presumably to offset the coolness of the Weezer video.
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:48 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


> OPEN GREATFPP.TXT _
A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer. 
The problem seems to be caused by the following file: GREATFPP.TXT 
> > > PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA
If this is the first time you've seen this stop error screen, restart your computer. 
If this screen appears again, follow these steps:
Check to make sure any new hardware or software is properly installed.
If this is a new installation, ask your hardware or software manufacturer 
for any Windows updates you might need.
If problems continue, disable or remove any newly installed hardware 
or software. Disable BIOS memory options such as caching or shadowing.
If you need to use Safe Mode to remove or disable components, restart 
your computer, press F8 to select Advanced Startup Options, and then
select Safe Mode.echo.
Technical information:
 *** STOP: 0x00000050 (0xFD3094C2,0x00000001,0xFBFE7617,0x00000000) ***  
GREATFPP.TXT - Address FBFE7617 base at FBFE5000, DateStamp 3d6dd67cpause >nulcls
Dammit.
posted by zarq at 10:49 AM on August 24, 2015 [20 favorites]


Since logicpunk helpfully linked to Windows 95 Tips, I might as well add a somewhat obfuscatory yet still awesome link myself, Windows 93.
posted by JHarris at 10:49 AM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Good ol' Microsoft Encarta.

THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER
posted by griphus at 10:51 AM on August 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


exogenous, I used quite a bit of C64 GEOS back in the day myself!
posted by JHarris at 10:51 AM on August 24, 2015


> Vast. Even the hardest Linux devotee would have to concede that.

But not the hardest OS/2 devotee! Better Windows than Windows forevah!
posted by Poldo at 10:56 AM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Reading about Windows 95 on a blue screen. How fitting.
posted by pibeandres at 10:56 AM on August 24, 2015 [14 favorites]


Terrific post, about something I was very involved with at the time. So yes, memories. The London launch was at the Empire in Leicester Square, with the full-on Hollywood première red-carpet-and-paps treatment and Jonathan Woss in a fabulous velvet suit.

Something that wasn't in Windows 95 but that had been in the works was a networked space empire game with input from Brian Aldiss and one of the London gaming houses. I didn't know much about it at the time, except that it was intended (like the Weezer video) to promote a particular aspect of the OS, and I don't know what happened to it. Can't find any references online; I should ask around...
posted by Devonian at 10:58 AM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I had just started work two months earlier, straight out of college. My laptop ran Windows 3.1 and it was awful. As soon as 95 was released I went out, bought it out of my own pocket, and upgraded the OS without asking anyone's permission.

It had its flaws, but it was a *huge* improvement over 3.1,


For me, frankly, Windows 95 was a downgrade from a primarily-DOS based system that never really good better until the transition to the NT codebase. Primarily just because the DOS-based systems I had always seemed fairly simple; the OS was what it was, I could control everything with autoexec.bat and config.sys, my computer basically worked identically for years. When Windows 95 came along it introduced a huge level of complexity and overhead, and in my experience after installing it the OS would just kind of "rot" over a period until it was an unusable mess and I had to reinstall. Once I was at college and tired of this, I figured screw it and went to Linux for a couple of years. By the time I was back it was onto Windows 2000 and things FINALLY seemed a bit less rough.
posted by selfnoise at 10:58 AM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ah, but what about PC GEOS, the GUI of choice for all the Packard Bells at Sears before Windows 95 came out?
posted by wierdo at 10:58 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I spent so much time drawing stuff in the paint program of GEOS, a graphic OS released for the C-64 in 1986.

As a teen, I couldn't afford Windows 95 when it came out, so ended up using PC GEOS for the entirety of high school on an older-then 486 DX4 100, which ended up working faster and better than anybody else's Win95 box that I knew.
posted by General Malaise at 10:59 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


It had its flaws, but it was a *huge* improvement over 3.1,

My first office job started in the spring of '96 but it took them two years to finally roll '95 out to us so I was stuck with 3.1 until '98 or so.
posted by octothorpe at 11:00 AM on August 24, 2015


I think I didn't upgrade from 3.11 to '95 until about 1998 when I started high school and one of my teachers "lent" me his copy.
posted by griphus at 11:01 AM on August 24, 2015


I remember the TV commercials with the Rolling Stone's Start Me Up as the theme for the Windows 95 campaign. It would have been fitting if they let Mick skip to the "you make a grown man cry" part of the song.
posted by dr_dank at 11:02 AM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


To this day, every time I talk to my mother on the phone I can hear the tell-tale sign of a free cell game either being dealt or won. Thanks a lot, Microsoft, for making me feel like a motherless child.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:02 AM on August 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


I still remember the Tshirts that said, "Windows 95 < Mac 89"
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 11:06 AM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Windows 95 included a TCP/IP stack and must be given credit for the rapid growth of the world wide web. Suddenly everyone who was running windows - which was the majority of PC users - had dial-up internet which before was available only to a limited number of people with technical saavy.
posted by three blind mice at 11:06 AM on August 24, 2015 [11 favorites]


Imagine how advanced computing would be today had '95 never happened.
posted by judson at 11:06 AM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


C:\ONGRTLNS.W95
posted by 1970s Antihero at 11:07 AM on August 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


Thank you for reminding me that time really does pass, and that I am now in my mid-forties. Also, great post!
posted by malaprohibita at 11:07 AM on August 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


So this is the 25th anniversary of Notepad then? That might be the oldest software I use on consistent basis.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:09 AM on August 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


I worked support for an ISP at the time, and even though our own IT department didn't upgrade us for months (or even give us a single test 95 workstation on our test bench), getting dialup working on 95 blind was still easier than getting it working on 3.11.

Also, users with 95 knew they had 95, whereas users with 3.X didn't know if they had 3.1 (no TCP/IP) or 3.11 or were maybe on NT instead (though mostly NT users also knew they were NT users).
posted by Lyn Never at 11:09 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Windows 95: older than college freshmen.
posted by malaprohibita at 11:11 AM on August 24, 2015 [15 favorites]


ooh-wee-ooh I was conceived to "Buddy Holly"
posted by griphus at 11:23 AM on August 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


No love for Edie Brickell - Good Times which was also on the CD?

I can't even read "Windows 95" without that song going through my mind.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:24 AM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


This means that it's nearly the 20-year anniversary of when our work IT guy proudly displayed that he'd put 95 on all our machines, including mine, only to see that I'd switched the active shell back to Program Manager just to see the look on his face.

I think I broke him.
posted by delfin at 11:26 AM on August 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


Windows 95 was great, but I am shuddering in horror to relive some of these things. Mainly winsock before I had any idea what I was doing with computers.
posted by yerfatma at 11:27 AM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Unless you were a devotee of things like QEMM (and some were), Windows 95 had the great benefit of finally breaking away from the 640k limits of DOS programs, which, at that point, really, really sucked. The days of managing EMS and XMS were finally coming to an end. It was great as a programmer and it was great as a user.

There were a host of other benefits too: no TSRs to make your system hacky and unstable, a task switcher that really worked (mostly), and fucking hallelujah, standard print drivers.

Most of these didn't really play out until W98 came along, but you could see where MS were going with all the problems of DOS.

There weren't a huge number of other options. Macs were stuck in development hell ("Pray" was '97). OS X wouldn't come until 2002? W2000 was server side (and expensive). The free Unix likes weren't really viable yet and paid ones started at $10k or more. OS/2 was probably the best bet (and had a much, much better DOS emulation than W95), but there were no drivers at all for it.
posted by bonehead at 11:33 AM on August 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


This whole big, nice post and not a single mention of Brian Eno's startup sound for Windows 95. Dang.
posted by sparkletone at 11:34 AM on August 24, 2015 [10 favorites]


I guess that means that 20 years ago tomorrow is when I first started using Linux (and then, eventually, OS X) as my primary desktop OS.
posted by togdon at 11:35 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


this just makes me want to play Glider and Spectre
posted by thelonius at 11:37 AM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


sparkletone, if I had had a little extra time I definitely would have fit The Microsoft Sound in there. It was on the list, but like WinFS, sometimes it's just not ready in time, and has to be left out.
posted by JHarris at 11:43 AM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Windows 2.0 - December 1987: Overlapping windows, VGA graphics
Windows 2.1 - May 1988: Supports 286 & 386, requires a hard drive
Windows 3.0 - May 1990: Better UI, Program Manager, File Manager, Notepad, Protected Mode, Media Player, Solitaire


I realize it was a variant of Windows 2.1, but any list of Windows releases should really mention Windows W-Windows Windows /386, where all your applications are running at once, as its own entry,
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:52 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


To be super clear: my kvetching is intended to be read as good-natured. That sound and the story of its creation's just always been one of the strangest (and yet not?) things to me about Windows95. Can't wait to dig into a bunch of these links when I've got time!
posted by sparkletone at 11:53 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a little disappointed that we've made it this far without talking about the single worst promotional video ever produced.

(Seriously, don't turn this thing off after the first 30 seconds makes you want to kill everyone and then yourself; the same prop comic does 26 different parts! Indiana Jones, cliché Frenchman, hula dancer, Swiss mountain climber, baker, optometrist, surgeon, hillbilly, pianist, janitor, fighter pilot, Satan, flight attendant, beach bum, referee, businessman, Carmen Miranda, James Bond, disco dancer, nerd, nerd's son who is also a nerd, priest, human cannonball, wizard, Ishmael from Moby Dick, fortune teller)
posted by Mayor West at 11:53 AM on August 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


Another epic tale of man vs. machine, starring Charlton Heston: Windows 95.


Windows 95 Tips, Tricks, and Tweaks.

Another one.
posted by fuse theorem at 11:55 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I still think that OS/2 should've won the OS wars. It was so much better in basically every way. So tends to go in tech, I guess: VHS vs Beta, X Window System vs NeWS, PC vs Mac vs Amiga...

Here's to another 20 years of collecting cruft in order to stay backwards compatible!
posted by Soi-hah at 12:01 PM on August 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


Windows 95 was where I cut my teeth on all matters relating to fucking-around-with-technology. I have mentioned before that the shutdown screen with the famous "It is now safe to turn off your computer" was stored as a freestanding file in C:\Windows\system, which led to hours of fun. It was also here where I learned of the fateful one-line C++ program:

for(int *p=0; ;*(p++)=0);

Wherein I learned much about memory protection, operating systems, inelegant system design, and what happens to you when you knock out every machine in the middle school computer lab at once.
posted by Mayor West at 12:10 PM on August 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Windows 95 included a TCP/IP stack and must be given credit for the rapid growth of the world wide web.

Wasn't that pulled from BSD?
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:19 PM on August 24, 2015


Windows 95 included a TCP/IP stack and must be given credit for the rapid growth of the world wide web. Suddenly everyone who was running windows - which was the majority of PC users - had dial-up internet which before was available only to a limited number of people with technical saavy.
-- three blind mice
Came here to note this and so will repeat it, instead. It's impossible to overstate the importance of that built-in IP stack to the growth of the Internet as something other an a vehicle for the nerd patrol. (I was a Windows for Workgroups 3.11 nerd patrol captain and had spent countless hours integrating winsock IP into WFW installs.)

At the time I thought Microsoft was late to the party. Only in retrospect can I see that the party didn't really get started until Microsoft showed up.
posted by deCadmus at 12:19 PM on August 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


But not the hardest OS/2 devotee! Better Windows than Windows forevah!

Rat own, daddio. OS/2 was already better than Win98 in 1994.

How I miss it. *sniff*
 
posted by Herodios at 12:22 PM on August 24, 2015


Win95 came out not long after I bought the First Computer of My Very Own, and it was included in the purchase price. I remember it coming on a CD in the mail after I'd had the machine for a while. I'd have to concur with everyone who has mentioned the importance of the network stack and so on. In a very real way, I think Win95 was a huge part of the (client-side) substrate on which things like Linux and the web bootstrapped themselves into fully-formed reality. I mean, I found my way into the free *nixes by way of conversations on IRC using mIRC, and built my first web pages in Windows text editors and Windows telnet clients, and so on. It's amazing how many paths it opened up to the networked world, and to running "serious" software on relatively affordable PCs.
posted by brennen at 12:28 PM on August 24, 2015


That party they started, that would have been in September, yes?
posted by fragmede at 12:33 PM on August 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


the OS was what it was, I could control everything with autoexec.bat and config.sys, my computer basically worked identically for years.

"And my perfectly good buggy whip don't work on none'a these newfangled "cars", neither!"
:)
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:36 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think Trumpet Winsock actually made me cry in middle school. So I have to thank Windows 95 for getting rid of that, at least.

"And my perfectly good buggy whip don't work on none'a these newfangled "cars", neither!"
:)


I left out that Wordperfect 5 was the best word processor of all time. So there, I am now at the appropriate curmudgeon level.
posted by selfnoise at 12:40 PM on August 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Funny enough, I was running Slackware before Win95 came out. In the gear leading up to its release, I got my hands on some beta builds I installed just to see what was up. Oh, the fun of fixing my boot loader every time my friend handed off a new CD.

Initially, I only kept Windows around because of the new games that wouldn't run in DOS. Later, I kept it on my computer so I could talk people through fixing their shit over the phone. Much easier to do when you don't have to have everything memorized.

Eventually, XP came around and I ended up booting into Linux less and less simply because Windows was finally stable enough to run without crashing for a few days at a time, and that was good enough for me. Still had a fleet of servers running Linux, of course, but between video drivers and games in general it just became easier to stay in Windows rather than rebooting several times a day, especially since I could keep scrollz or whatever IRC client it was I was using running on the server. If I had somehow been forced to suffer mIRC, I suspect I would have spent much less time in Windows.
posted by wierdo at 12:50 PM on August 24, 2015


When it came out, we said "Windows 95, Mac 85."

FreeCell

And golf, too. I miss the golf solitaire game. :(
posted by Melismata at 12:51 PM on August 24, 2015


I remember the very first time I used a computer with Windows 95. At the time, I thought it was another GUI (I didn't know the term, but that was the idea) on top of the DOS system. I saw that I could launch the DOS prompt, but I wanted to quit Windows and get to the command line. When I realized that I could only get to the command line from within Windows unless I wanted to boot in safe mode it was weird. I no longer had to play with autoexec.bat or config.sys. It would be years until I ever dared poke at the registry, but at the time I felt like I was losing a level of connection to the computer.
posted by Hactar at 12:55 PM on August 24, 2015


Soi-hah: I still think that OS/2 should've won the OS wars. It was so much better in basically every way.

That's what I thought until I saw a BeOS demo around 99-00.

On a modest P2 dual rig (after only taking a few seconds to cold boot), our friend loaded up a dozen movie trailers at once, video playback was smooth, even on some sort of 3D cube that played a different file on each face while it spun. On top of that, he played a bunch of MP3s, also playing back smoothly, all to demonstrate the preemptive multitasking that the BeOS was designed with. He also had the ubiquitous GL teapot flying around the screen, no choppiness in sight.

The piece-de-resistance was a demo of the journaling file system. After all these files are playing at once, he pulls the plug and the machine goes dead. He restarts the machine and after several seconds is right back to where it was, didn't miss a beat.

The room was dead silent and we were sold. Shame that it wound up in the dustbin of history.
posted by dr_dank at 12:58 PM on August 24, 2015 [18 favorites]


If I had somehow been forced to suffer mIRC, I suspect I would have spent much less time in Windows.

Hey now.
posted by brennen at 12:59 PM on August 24, 2015


I had Ami Pro running under Windows 3.11 and my friends thought I was a damned WIZARD. Win95 didn't even need Trumpet Winsock, there was nothing left for me to do as a support guy.

Hahahaha. /wipes tear Thanks Win95 for making me thousands and thousands of dirty dollars in support billing hours.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:03 PM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Eventually, XP came around and I ended up booting into Linux less and less simply because Windows was finally stable enough to run without crashing for a few days at a time, and that was good enough for me.

i was running 95 and then 98 and got totally frustrated with performance issues and crashes when i heard about linux - for awhile, i had a dual boot system and was spending much of my time - almost all of my online tme - in linux

when xp came along i slowly ended up switching that - it was actually usable and by that time, music applications were really starting to take off

i still try dual boot systems from time to time but have pretty much sworn off of them as GRUB is not my friend - although the USB flash system of puppy linux i have works well - unfortunately, i can't seem to find anything compelling i can install on the system as they have their own special way of installing stuff and none of the programs i want seem to have been adapted for this

vista is kind of bad, but one gets used to it

win 7 is good

win 8.1, which came with the laptop i just bought is annoying me
posted by pyramid termite at 1:11 PM on August 24, 2015


pyramid termite - Just pop into Windows 10—you'll like it.
posted by General Malaise at 1:16 PM on August 24, 2015


Win8.1 came on one of my laptops, and I found the "Classic Shell" start-menu replacement utility that made it so I never see the Metro UI on my (non-touch) screen. Now it's like Windows 7 Plus and I like it.

I've messed around slightly with Win10 and it seems like it might be ok once I get used to it, but I'm not even going to bother switching until SP1 at least.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:20 PM on August 24, 2015


deCadmus: It's impossible to overstate the importance of that built-in IP stack to the growth of the Internet as something other an a vehicle for the nerd patrol.

I bought -- via mail order! -- a copy of the TCP/IP stack for [Apple] System 7, barely even understanding what it was. Once I installed it on my roommate's IIvx and signed up for an account at The Word (Software Tool & Die in Brookline, Mass.), we were off to the races, baby! Well, after we figured out SLIP. And PPP. But still!
posted by wenestvedt at 1:26 PM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Say what you will, but no one can argue that Windows 95 didn't kill Trumpet Winsock stone dead.
posted by phooky at 1:28 PM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


pyramid termite - Just pop into Windows 10—you'll like it.

If you're using your laptop for work, i recommend against it until they get the kinks out. I installed the day it became available and it's been a pain in the ass to deal with. Updates are automatic, and not opt out. The most you can do it delay them. An update MS recently released put my computer into a restart loop that took a 'boot into recovery and revert to last image' to fix. And then, since they were slow to release the update, I wound up doing that twice more after my computer auto-updated.

Also worth mentioning that the built in "Edge" browser does not yet accept plugins. So you can't run it with adblock. Which can cause terrible lag on older systems.

The new OS is an improvement. But right now I'm really thankful I don't rely on the computer it's on for business.
posted by zarq at 1:31 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seems like Win10 is yet another case of YMMV.

Been rock-solid for me. Then again, I am running it on a Surface Pro 3, so. It's also solid for me on a home-built desktop, so.
posted by qcubed at 1:39 PM on August 24, 2015


Windows 10 + Classic Start Menu is working well for me. Print to PDF built-in at last!
posted by alasdair at 1:44 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Awww. Win95. We still run that to support one legacy program. Just this year we switched from it being a standalone box to emulating it on a machine running XP.
posted by mollymayhem at 1:46 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I had just started work two months earlier, straight out of college. My laptop ran Windows 3.1 and it was awful

3.1 just made sense to me though, dammit. Also Windows 8 should go away. I have no idea what is going on with 8 or why people thought it would be a good idea. It's hard to navigate and it doesn't even look particularly good. I really don't like having to click on something just to get to the desktop. Just upgraded to 10 on my new laptop and so far I like it better than 8.
posted by Hoopo at 1:58 PM on August 24, 2015


I started with DOS, briefly used Windows 3.1, then moved to OS/2, which was a painful experience. I'm a tinkerer, and Os/2 was fragile; I reinstalled from floppies several times before my father, an electrical engineer, told me about Linux. That was in 1995, and I've used Linux exclusively ever since.

I've installed Linux for many friends during the past twenty years, but only two have stuck with it.
posted by Agave at 2:01 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


dr_dank
BeOS demo around 99-00.

Oh man yes, Be had some seriously cool tech. Too bad the consumer OS wars were pretty much over when they finally got BeOS running on Intel archs and Windows had won. If it only had ran on standard PC archs from the start. Then again, who knew that PowerPC would just fail so miserably.

Its a real shame though that manufacturers like Sun and SGI really honestly thought that they would have the high-end workstation market on lock for ever and ever. If they had been forward-thinking at all (especially Sun), maybe consumer Unix would have gone somewhere much earlier and we wouldn't have had to wait until Apple got their shit together.

Speaking of Apple and also-rans, its fun to think what the world would look like if NeXT had taken off (or the Be/Apple deal had gone through).
posted by Soi-hah at 2:07 PM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


its fun to think what the world would look like if NeXT had taken off

It would look like OS X.

NeXT makes up a large chunk of the OS X DNA: objective-C, Appkit, postscript compositing and all.
posted by bonehead at 2:30 PM on August 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


I know. My point kind of was that if we'd had a proper operating system ten or so years earlier the world would look a lot different.
posted by Soi-hah at 2:43 PM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I also worked at an ISP at the time and when WIN95 came out we exploded with signups. We provisioned a large chunk of Kentucky with POPs all over the place and as the head of Customer Support, it was one of the hardest working periods of my life. 14 hour days during the week and half days on Saturday. Yes, Trumpet Winsock was killed off, but configuring WIN95 for the net was a time-consuming process in the days before auto-installs and we were taking on hundreds of new customers every week--a large number of whom had little to no computer experience and the difference between 3.1/3.11 was sufficient enough that we ended up answering tons of Win95 questions, too.

Son of a gun, did I earn my pay. (But I also held the title of "The Table King" as I was the first in our crew to figure out how to elaborately nest tables in HTML. So there's that, fuckers.)
posted by CincyBlues at 2:48 PM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I remember that this was when the world went Windows, and within a few years I was worried Mac might go the way of Amiga.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:06 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


sparkletone, if I had had a little extra time I definitely would have fit The Microsoft Sound in there. It was on the list, but like WinFS, sometimes it's just not ready in time, and has to be left out.

It's OK, I don't think there's a single comment discussing the links anyway.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:23 PM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Microsoft is responsible for computer tech being a minimum two decades behind what it should be. Windows has been absolutely crippling to progress.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:36 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


That seems a rather bold claim to me.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:43 PM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


My first paying IT job was rolling out '95 to a bunch of bank employees over a spread out network that my boss had inherited/cobbled/maintained on the cheap, and had to maintain a functional network with a horrible melange of totally disparate systems.

It used to fail all the time. They had old ass resold/shared frame relay coupled with POTS coupled with some sort of whacko 1970's crap that I was forbidden to walk close to, let alone touch. I used to drive out to the sticks and troubleshoot/reboot garbage terminals/old 3.1 or DOS machines all the time.

Windows '95 drops*, and all of a sudden a truck full of Compaq P100's backs up, and I'm hip deep in Windows 95! Start me up! Yeah! Well, it sure looks nice.

Oh, wait. Nobody knows how to use it, at all. So, we had to put up the Program Manager shell on several of the machines, and take some quick classes. DHCP alone bought me a ton of free golf with the boss**. We looked like magicians.

It was a wonderful time to be in IT.

*This is so you can tell that I'm old.
**He was a scratch golfer, I think it was more of a punishment than a reward.

posted by Sphinx at 4:21 PM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


pyramid termite - Just pop into Windows 10—you'll like it.

i have too much legacy musical equipment to be certain that it will work in 10 - in fact, i've yet to establish that it will all work in 8.1 - (although i have xp, vista and win 7 computers at hand, so it's not a disaster if something doesn't work)

i'll let other people go on the bleeding edge and get themselves cut - i prefer to work with older, more proven tech
posted by pyramid termite at 4:22 PM on August 24, 2015


> paid ones started at $10k or more.

It wasn't quite that bad if you used cheap hardware instead of a PDP-11 or something like that. When the 386 arrived and brought real 32-bit-hood to PCs there soon was a very good 32-bit port of AT&T System V Unix to x86 architecture, from Interactive Systems. (Good enough so that Interactive was gobbled up by Sun, and ISC's System V became the AT&T side of Solaris--which could be made to look more SysV-ish or more BSD-ish depending on how you chose to set some soft switches.) I had a 486 that ran ISC SysV and I got past the checkout for almost exactly $1200, not including the PC itself. That was for the command line only stuff, though, the rest I couldn't afford. No X, no TeX, no Publisher's Workbench, none of that. Just ls and grep and awk and sed and them. That was when I started telling myself that GUIs were for wusses.

Of course if you felt you couldn't live another minute without licensed AT&T Unix source code that was another matter entirely. That was where the thou$ands and thou$ands came in, together with enough nondisclosure agreements to cause carpal tunnel for whoever had to sign them. If you wanted to hack the OS code you got BSD, which was a perfectly good and complete 32-bit Unix with full source that you could have just for the trouble of asking. But not for x86, not then.

Then Linus tossed his cherry bomb in amongst the pigeons and the game changed somewhat.
posted by jfuller at 4:41 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, speaking of NeXT it's always been weird to me that given the hoo-hah over Win 3.1 stealing from the Mac OS, I've never seen anyone recording the blatant rip of the Win 95 GUI from NextStep. The titlebars alone (large pic!) are too similar to be coincidence.

Was Gates just rubbing it in the then-floundering Jobs's nose?
posted by bonaldi at 5:19 PM on August 24, 2015


Ah, does anyone remember IRIX 6 from back around then?
posted by nickzoic at 5:53 PM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Starting in 1989 I was wrangling DOS PCs on a Novell Network for a law firm in Seattle and getting really good at using QEMM to find room for both network drivers and application software. When Windows 95 came out I spent a couple of months testing it. What impressed me most at the time was the almost seamless support for NetWare. That's when I started really respecting Microsoft. It would be years before NT became the network OS of choice. They knew to conquer the world Windows 95 had to support NetWare better than it supported anything else out there. It worked.
posted by lhauser at 7:43 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Windows 95 was the first and only midnight release of a product I've ever attended. It was at a CompUSA.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 8:31 PM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


As a consequence, I now know exactly where I was at this time 20 years ago.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 8:35 PM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mayor West: "Indiana Jones, cliché Frenchman, hula dancer, Swiss mountain climber, baker, optometrist, surgeon, hillbilly, pianist, janitor, fighter pilot, Satan, flight attendant, beach bum, referee, businessman, Carmen Miranda, James Bond, disco dancer, nerd, nerd's son who is also a nerd, priest, human cannonball, wizard, Ishmael from Moby Dick, fortune teller"

This reads like a list of new MeFi usernames.
posted by gingerest at 9:10 PM on August 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


i'll celebrate in a few months (my first copy was Win95b... Brother got his computer a week or so before mine, ended up with 95a on floppy(!!) and was pissed he missed out on some of the updates)
posted by caution live frogs at 9:31 PM on August 24, 2015


> Ah, does anyone remember IRIX 6 from back around then?

Not from then, but later (mid-2000s) and in an unexpected place, namely in the department of radiology at the hospital where I worked, controlling a GE MRI machine of all things. Perched on a shelf under the console where the MRI operator sat was an SGI box running IRIX. When you minimized GE's MRI software the desktop indeed looked just like this.

GE for some reason really loved *nix. That department had two MRIs when I started working there, the one with the SGI controller and a Toshiba which I didnt overlap with long enough to do much snooping. Both were pretty near end-of-life and were soon replaced by next generation GEs. Both of these ran something they called GEMS (for GE Medical Systems) Linux which, if you dug down a bit, turned out to be Redhat 8 with GE logos pasted all over it.
posted by jfuller at 4:48 AM on August 25, 2015


That seems a rather bold claim to me.

It's based on experience with OS/2, BeOS, QNX, and a few others, knowledge of the hoops Intel has jumped through to accommodate Windows' idiotic design flaws in silicon and microcode, and familiarity with awesome alternative CPU designs. Windows has impeded progress throughout the entire computer technology stack.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:48 AM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've had some experience with a lot of different OSs (including some real oddities) and have had encounters of varying depth with different CPU architectures. I used to be in the "Wintel poisoned the well" club too - not hard when you hang around with SPARC-heads, have an Amiga at home and an ARM-based project on the go at work, even if you don't have anything other than a glancing acquaintance with real big iron and experimental architectures. Especially not hard if you're spending most of your work not on the ARM design (it would have been lovely had it happened) but on x86 system-level programming where the goddam segmented memory and the goddam clunking monstrosity of DOS throws up ten problems for every solution.

But I don't think in retrospect that it's true. The big problem in computers isn't one of CPU architecture or of system software. It's critical mass, of having a big enough pond to swim in, of having enough tools and expert people, of having enough market, so you can be sure that you can work there and make things happen that matter. Wintel did that, and while it sure was ugly - and did slow down the adoption of some really good, important ideas for a while - it created an affordable universal platform. That's what gets the work done. That lets other really good, important ideas flourish.

As has been noted, the inclusion of a standard IP stack in Win95 kicked off the mass-market Internet: that it was on Windows and on a mildly mutant CPU architecture may be unfortunate, but if the PC market in 1995 had been split between five or ten competing, incompatible platforms then we'd be a lot further behind than we are now. And if the PC market in 1995 had been dominated by some glistening tower of crystalline goodness, I don't think that we'd be much further ahead. There was a ton of work to be done and a ton of experience to be had, and I don't think a great deal of that was being held back primarily by Windows. There is a good argument to be had that this isn't true, especially in matters of security, but I don't think the alternatives would have panned out significantly differently. A lot of poor bloody infantry in the trenches certainly had a lot of pain inflicted on them because Windows was buggy and inconsistent and pointlessly complex and prone to bad design decisions: having watched friends go through a lot of pain in their X/Solaris life, I think this tends to be a constant, even if it's not always evenly distributed across the stack.

If there were areas where Wintel really wasn't up to the task, then there are plenty of alternatives which can demonstrate their superiority - which, indeed, turned out to be the case in mobile - but actually, those areas aren't numerous. The 386-based architecture is not horrible (it has horrible bits, but it also has perfectly good stuff where it matters), and even in places where the market is accessible to superior designs (such as HPC) it dominates. And we've had the 386 for thirty years, in various guises. It does the job.

I know that Wintel is offensive to those who love efficiency, purity and beauty. It is offensive to me on those fronts too. But, like the mechanisms of biology or the reality of human language, it seems that these things are not nearly as important as we'd like to think.
posted by Devonian at 7:16 AM on August 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


(I should have been clearer at the end there - I'm not implying that Windows has any importance in HPC per se, but that it hasn't been a factor in holding it back. Inasmuch as it created a mass market for a standard CPU architecture, it can be seen as having done some good.)
posted by Devonian at 7:28 AM on August 25, 2015


> So much shovelware mouldering in a dump somewhere...

I want your goddamn AOL CDs
posted by Monochrome at 7:51 AM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


My point kind of was that if we'd had a proper operating system ten or so years earlier the world would look a lot different.

VMS and unix both predate W95 by a more than a decade.

Don't discount how important hardware was to all of this. A visual operating system shell just wasn't practical on EGA/VGA level hardware. It was still pretty crappy on the un-accelerated systems we mostly had in 1994 or 95. Until the 80386, context switching on consumer hardware had to be a hack. Threading (used in the BeOS) wasn't possible until POWER, an IBM workstation technology, made it down to the PowerPC and/or the 486 (and not really until the Pentiums), both a year old or so in 1995. Heck in 1995, 1GB was a laughably large amount of system memory, getting up into the realm of computers cooled by water fountains; 8MB was much more typical then. Compiler tech, APIs and language support were similarly developing over this time period.

Sure, we could wave a magic wand and take a mac book developer environment back to 1990, but the world still wouldn't be able to manufacture it or support it. There was still a heck of a lot of work to do on hardware and software research. It's not like it was all there just waiting to be used. There was research to be done and real-world testing be done before anything like that slim little laptop sitting on your desk and the enormous resource requirements of modern operation systems that it supports were possible.
posted by bonehead at 8:13 AM on August 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Windows" does not have a 260 char path limit. The Win32 layer does, but not the underlying NT layer. You can bypass that limit simply by avoiding the Win32 layer, as the link in your post explains. That means that any program that uses the NT layer for file access (e.g. Cygwin) has no such limitation.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:00 AM on August 25, 2015


bonehead: "The free Unix likes weren't really viable yet"

Wikipedia backs up my memory of running linux in college in the early 1990s. But to be honest I don't remember doing much more than playing around with the OS, so I can't really argue your point.

I had a 386SX (we joked that SX stood for "sucks" but it would run almost like a real 386) and fancy monitor with 1024x800 resolution. Loved cranking the fonts down to tiny sizes to get more text on the screen.
posted by exogenous at 10:58 AM on August 25, 2015


Raymond Chen on the Win95 release: The ship date predictor.
What's so amazing about this chart is that the linear approximation predicts the actual ship date with very high accuracy. The slope of the line is 0.43%, which means that if you took the predicted "days remaining before we ship" and multiplied it by around 2.3, you'd be pretty close to the actual ship date.
(I suspect that 2x multiplier would be reasonably true of many projects, not just Win95.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:12 AM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


As much as Windows sucks, this is kind of awesome:

Upgrading from Windows 1.0 to (I believe) Vista. There are other videos doing the same upgrade chain to 8.1 now, but this older version has decent narration.

That's a lot of backward compatibility, for an incredible world of applications and hardware and ecosystem.
posted by loquacious at 11:29 AM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Windows 95 used a hack to offer longer filename aliases for files as well as the older 8.3 names. (The FAT32 filesystem would debut with Windows 98, and offer more solid support for long filenames.)

I think the long-file-name support is somewhat orthogonal to FAT32, which is more about supporting bigger volumes. FAT12 and FAT16 have the same directory entry structure and so can support LFNs by the same method.

The LFN hack is both clever and horrible: it packs the long filename in invalid-looking directory entries after the file's principal 8.3 directory entry. So old code that doesn't know about long names continues to see just the 8.3 names; new code sees both the 8.3 names and the long names. (The downside, as JHarris notes, is that old disk utilities didn't know that those invalid-looking entries should not be messed with or deleted: for example, defraggers might helpfully sort the directory entries by filename, destroying the association between the 8.3 and long names.)

(I used to maintain my employer's FAT implementation; a nightmare. The spec itself is reasonably simple and clear; implementations, not so much. And there were a surprising number of almost-but-not-quite-correct implementations out there -- cameras, media players etc -- that produced not-quite-correct-but-works-in-Windows filesystems. To interoperate with those you end up with lots of "not correct per the spec, but have seen in the field" hacks.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:35 AM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Wikipedia backs up my memory of running linux in college in the early 1990s.

Sure, I remember struggling to get a 386BSD, later FreeDSB, system to run LaTex in 92-93, myself. Linux dropped in what, 91? I do recall that after a few months of banging my head against not having this driver or that one being too alpha, the switch to OS/2 was like bathing in a cool ocean. Everything just worked.
posted by bonehead at 11:58 AM on August 25, 2015


Windows has impeded progress throughout the entire computer technology stack.
In the words of the late great Douglas Adams, the original angry mac zealot: "The idea that Bill Gates has appeared like a knight in shining armour to lead all customers out of a mire of technological chaos neatly ignores the fact that it was he, by peddling second-rate technology, who led them into it in the first place."
posted by Poldo at 12:07 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Windows" does not have a 260 char path limit. The Win32 layer does, but not the underlying NT layer. You can bypass that limit simply by avoiding the Win32 layer, as the link in your post explains. That means that any program that uses the NT layer for file access (e.g. Cygwin) has no such limitation.

Aaah, I assume this is a good explanation. My research did not turn up a distinction. If "Windows" is taken to mean the system visible to the user, though, then as the sum of the limitations that the execution path accretes in ordinary use one could well say that "Windows" does has that limit. I knew to include it mostly because I've run into that limit multiple times before (it's resulted in incomplete backups when the deepest items in nested folders hit the path limit and so weren't copied). I suspect this is also part of why Windows 8 is slower moving files than previous Windows systems, because it checks each pathname against the limit. That is interesting about Cygwin, though. The title of one page turned up in my research claimed the 260-character limit will "never" be fixed, but this is only going to become a bigger problem in the future, as larger hard drives encourage ever-deeper directory nesting.

Windows has impeded progress throughout the entire computer technology stack.

Seriously, so has Apple. Remember, when Windows 95 came along, Macs were still running Mac OS Classic. Apple was far behind in the technology race at that time. It wasn't until OSX that Apple successfully caught up, and even then, and even now, it's not obvious one is better than the other.
posted by JHarris at 2:14 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Windows Pinball, aka Space Cadet
A pinball game distributed with Plus! For Windows 95 and several succeeding Windows versions. It was actually a version of the Space Cadet table sold in the collection Full Tilt!, produced by SimCity makers Maxis.


A brilliant pinball game. Didn't know it was produced by Maxis, but they also used to be brilliant.
posted by ersatz at 3:22 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


> "Windows" does not have a 260 char path limit. The Win32 layer does, but not the underlying NT layer.

I run into this constantly because of saving complete web pages (Photoshop tutorials, hardware howtos, etc. etc.) offline so I don't have to either print them out or go find them again later. Saved web pages tend to have immensely long paths consisting of sequences of immensely long machine-generated alphanumeric gobbledegook file and directory names. I no longer copy or back up stuff using Explorer, which is definitely subject to the short-path limit. Any competently written backup or directory-syncing program will have no problem with long paths.

My present favorite is FreeFileSync. Free as in beer but not, I think, open source. The last ten or so times I've thought of a feature I wished it had I've gone to R the FM and found that the program author was way ahead of me and the feature I wanted was already part of the program, I just didn't know where it was. Impressed, I was.

For anyone else who might be curious about FreeFileSync, be aware -- the installer offers to give you a locally installed version or a portable version but recommends the locally installed version "for the extra features" among which is, or was as of v1.4, opencandy adware. In my version 7zip would open the installer .exe right up and explore it. Inside was a directory called $PLUGINSDIR containing the file OCSetupHlp.dll. While the .exe archive was open in 7zip I just deleted the entire suspect $PLUGINSDIR. The installer would still run OK without it, and I have seen no ads. BTW, another thankyou to Stavros for his recent opencandy warning about Magical Jelly Bean.

> claimed the 260-character limit will "never" be fixed

It will be fixed when they get around to rewriting Explorer, which will be never.
posted by jfuller at 4:14 PM on August 25, 2015


Full Till was published by Maxis originally, but the developers were Cinematronics. It's an okay game I've thought, but suffers from the fault that all video pinball has, being, it's not real pinball.

The 260 character limit is one of those things that people knew about it beforehand like to take the pose of, "of course Windows has a 260 character path limit," thus trying to put people who didn't know of it into the position of feeling foolish. They shouldn't, and they shouldn't be. It is a terrible limitation in the world's most popular operating system that most people, if they're doing intensive work or downloading media with highly specific filenames, will run into sooner or later. Its presence makes doing backups rife with peril, as you cannot just throw the contents of your User directories into a folder because the deepest directories might cross the poisonous line. Nuts to that.
posted by JHarris at 7:35 PM on August 25, 2015


A visual operating system shell just wasn't practical on EGA/VGA level hardware. It was still pretty crappy on the un-accelerated systems we mostly had in 1994 or 95.

I dunno, Amiga's Workbench v2 was by no means crappy, and it was running on 68000s in 1990. It was limited by having to support the risible specs of the A500 -- if they could have solely targeted the sort of specs Win 95 required I think they could have gone much further.
posted by bonaldi at 4:21 AM on August 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Seriously, so has Apple. Remember, when Windows 95 came along, Macs were still running Mac OS Classic.

Yeah, Windows 95 had its issues but MacOS was a steaming pile of crap by that time. Jobs had the right idea to throw the whole thing out and move to a new OS. I'm not really that a big fan of OSX as a user interface but its Next-based architecture is 100x better than previous MacOS versions.
posted by octothorpe at 4:38 AM on August 26, 2015




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