Windows 95 turns 20: The OS We All Love To Hate

Hard to believe it but Windows 95 turned 20 this month. Not only was the launch of this operating system a landmark moment for Microsoft, but also, arguably, for the human species. As the the Telegraph reflected, it “redefined home computing and began a golden age for Bill Gates’ company”.

Here are some interesting facts about this seminal piece of software that has been so instrumental in shaping the modern, digital and internet-connected world that has come to characterise the opening decades of the 21st century.

Very rock and roll

The New York Times commented at the time that this was the “the splashiest, most frenzied, most expensive introduction of a computer product in the industry’s history”.

It was also very rock and roll, with the company paying The Rolling Stones for its classic hit Start Me Up to be the official soundtrack of its campaign. The song, as the clip above demonstrates, was clearly a favourite of the team back then.

The dawn of the internet

The internet was, up until the launch of Windows 95, relatively unknown, non-commercial and somewhat misunderstood. Cue Internet Explorer, a groundbreaking web browser, which emerged a week later. It would, via dial-up technology, allow many households to go online for the first time.

“The internet is a tidal wave. It changes the rules.”

Gates recognised early on the potential of the internet, as he noted in a famous memo the very same year: “The internet is the most important single development to come along since the IBM PC was introduced in 1981. It is even more important than the arrival of the graphical user interface (GUI) … The internet is a tidal wave. It changes the rules.”

Bill Gates

An early threat finally unmasked

Cybercrime has grown to be one of the biggest threats to security and privacy in the world today, which wasn’t the case 20 years ago. Nevertheless, the possibilities for exploitation were evident, even back then.

Last year, IBM revealed that there was a 19-year-old bug that has been present in every version of Microsoft Windows from Windows 95 onward. This rare, “unicorn-like” vulnerability could have been used “by an attacker for drive-by attacks to reliably run code remotely and take over the user’s machine”.

Behold, the great taskbar

Microsoft 95 was all about making computers easier to use, more accessible and friendly. One of the ways in which it departed from old ways of operating was through the introduction of the taskbar.

Since copied and modified by other tech giants in subsequent years, the taskbar not only made it easier to multitask, it also offered users quick and instant access – thanks predominantly to the ever-popular start menu button – to other applications.

The personal computer gets personal

While personal computers, better known as their acronym PCs, were commonplace in most offices in the late 80s and early 90s, they were still not considered as a key investment for the average family home.

However, Windows 95 changed all of that – this was an operating system designed for more than just work – it was a platform for playing games (solitaire was strangely compelling on a screen), you could read about things and keep in touch email. The ‘Friends’ treatment exemplified this idea.

Author , ESET

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