Windows 95 is when Microsoft got serious. After years of enthusiast and hobbyist operating systems designed only for the computer faithful, Windows 95 was the first OS that could easily be used by ordinary, non-techie folk. The operating system is 26 years old today, and while it’s been discontinued for a very long time, we should remember it as it was: an excellent piece of software that paved the way for the accessible computer revolution to come. Here are 17 things you might not have known about what is arguably Microsoft’s first universal operating system.
1. Windows 95 introduced the Start bar
The Start bar is now indelibly associated with Windows, but it was in Windows 95 when this humble little button got its introduction. Before Windows 95, the operating system was somewhat clunky to navigate, but the Start bar helped a generation of tech converts understand how to begin using their new piece of software. Since 95, the Start button has been integrated into every major Windows release; it even caused a stir when Windows 8 didn’t have it enabled by default.
2. Friends celebs launched Windows 95
Of all the cringeworthy ads created in the 90s, the Windows 95 ad starring Friends alumni Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston has to be one of the most severe cases. With awful jokes and a clear lack of understanding when it comes to tech, the ad nevertheless helped to make Windows 95 feel more “normal” and approachable for those to whom computer-related matters had seemed impossible prior to the OS’ introduction.
3. The Windows sound was created by a music legend
Accompanying Windows 95’s startup process was an iconic, instantly recognisable sound. The “Microsoft Sound”, or “Windows Sound”, was created by industry legend Brian Eno, whose name you’ll recognise from his credits on work by fellow legends like David Bowie, Roxy Music, and U2. Eno says creating the sound was “amazing”, and it helped to embed Microsoft Windows in the minds of many.
4. Windows 95 came on 13 floppy disks
1995 was a time when floppy disks were still in widespread usage. Windows 95 was packaged on 13 floppy disks (or 21 lower-capacity disks) if you weren’t lucky enough to have a CD drive (as many PCs at the time didn’t), and you had to keep swapping them out if you wanted to complete your Windows install. Further Windows updates increased the number of floppies even further, doubling the amount needed to install the OS.
5. Windows 95 required 4MB of RAM
Here’s a little experiment for you. In your Windows search dialogue (if you’re running Windows), type “system information”. There, you’ll be able to see how much RAM you have. The chances are you have 4GB at the absolute minimum; you’re likely to have around 8-16GB. Windows 95 required 4MB of RAM, which is 0.1% of the 4GB needed to run Windows 11. How times have changed!
6. Internet Explorer didn’t come with Windows 95
That little blue E is as synonymous with early versions of Windows as the iconic grey aesthetic, but Internet Explorer wasn’t actually packaged with Windows 95. Fun fact: when Microsoft began bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, an antitrust lawsuit alleged that this was an illegal business practice due to shutting out competition from companies like Netscape.
7. Windows 95 sold like crazy
During a time when computers were still seen as hobbyist endeavours, Windows 95 managed to shift an astonishing one million units within its first four days on sale. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that its predecessor, Windows 3.1, sold around three million copies within its first three months, and if we extrapolate, it’s likely Windows 95 was a great deal more successful.
8. There was a Weezer video on the Windows 95 CD-ROM
Remember CD-ROMs? Probably not, if you’re below a certain age, but most software used to come packaged on CDs. On the Windows 95 CD, there was a particularly fun little secret. The video for Weezer’s song “Buddy Holly” was squirreled away in the file directory of the CD, in a folder appropriately labeled “Fun Stuff”. That video is indeed fun, but we would imagine that today, this would spark a whole host of copyright claims.
9. Microsoft paid The Rolling Stones a whole lot of money
You can’t always get what you want, but in this case, it seems like The Rolling Stones certainly did. Microsoft reportedly paid up around $8 million for the rights to the band’s song “Start Me Up” for their Windows 95 marketing assault, and with good results; the sales numbers for the OS should attest to that. Still, that’s an eye-watering amount of money, so we’re sure that Jagger and Richards are happy with Microsoft’s campaign.
10. Windows 95 broke the file name limit
Prior to the advent of Windows 95, it was impossible to name a Windows file anything that ran longer than eight characters. Windows 95 fixed this, however, allowing you to name files with up to 255 characters, which was more than enough for most people’s needs. That doesn’t include the file extension, either, which is usually three or four characters long and denotes what kind of file you’re dealing with.
11. Windows 95 actually runs on DOS
Many people think of DOS as a primitive, text-based operating system, and of Windows 95 as its more sophisticated graphical cousin. The truth, however, is that Windows 95 is essentially just running on a version of DOS; the bootloader for Windows 95 was a DOS process, and that meant you could run pretty much any DOS program in Windows 95. You could not, however, run Windows 95 apps in DOS.
12. Windows 95 introduced DirectX to the world
If you’re a PC gamer, or you’ve ever dabbled in PC gaming, you’ve likely come across DirectX. It’s a rendering method that served as an alternative to the widely-used OpenGL system, and although it got off to a rocky start, DirectX quickly became the world’s most-used rendering system for gaming. We still use DirectX today, so you have Windows 95 to thank for laying the foundation of modern PC gaming!
13. The Plug and Play system started in Windows 95
On modern PCs, all you need to do if you want to use a new piece of hardware is to plug it in via USB and watch it install itself on your system. Prior to Windows 95, however, this wasn’t the case. Plug and Play made it so you could easily connect devices to your system via a number of ports and watch as drivers would install themselves. Not all devices and peripherals supported this system, but those that did made computing that much easier.
14. It’s possible to run Windows 95 in modern web browsers
Windows 95 is such a basic piece of software by today’s standards that it’s possible to run the operating system entirely from within your web browser. A quick search will reveal that there are lots of ways to create a virtual Windows 95 environment in any modern browser; Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Opera will all run a Windows 95 instance easily. Give it a shot next time you’re feeling nostalgic!
15. Minesweeper and Solitaire were included as games in Windows 95
Windows operating systems often came complete with built-in games back in the day. Minesweeper and Solitaire were the pack-in games for Windows 95, and they were so iconic that they’d also be included in future Windows packages. We remember whiling away many an hour playing both of these games, and even when newer and flashier 3D titles came along, these were still two of the best games of their era.
16. Microsoft Flight Simulator got its start on Windows 95
Today, Microsoft Flight Simulator is an incredibly demanding, beautiful game that runs on modern Windows machines and Xbox consoles. Back then, however, Windows 95 was the first Windows operating system to get a version of Microsoft Flight Simulator. Of course, by today’s standards, it’s a pretty basic game, but back then, Flight Simulator was incredibly advanced. Check out some videos of the game in action if you want to feel nostalgic for retro PC gaming.
17. Windows 95 was discontinued in 2001
Nowadays, Microsoft operating systems usually have life cycles that span around ten years (with some notable exceptions). Back then, though, things moved much more quickly. Windows 95 was discontinued by Microsoft in 2001, and so if you wanted any kind of security support for the system, you wouldn’t easily be able to get it unless you upgraded to Windows 98.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our facts about Windows 95! This is still one of the world’s most beloved operating systems, and we’re sure that somewhere out there, you’ll find government agencies or official departments still using Windows 95. Long may its grey, blocky, unmistakably 1990s aesthetic continue to dominate the public imagination when it comes to PC usage in the 90s.
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