Yes, 25 years ago on this day, August 24, 1995, Windows 95 was released. This might be the only time in history that a computer operating system was a genuine media event.
I worked at Computer City in Coquitlam at the time–the chain disappeared within a few years, imploding after a large expansion across the US and into Canada–but at the time it was possible to go into a store entirely devoted to computer-related stuff. And it wasn’t like Future Shop where other electronics or appliances were sold, it was computer stuff only. Rows of software. Endless aisles of inkjet printers. Miles of parallel port cables ready for purchase.
We had huge stacks of copies of Windows 95 ready to go, in both CD-ROM format and floppy disk (13 floppies in total). We had a setup with two Compaq machines showing how Windows 95 worked with both 4 MB of ram and 8 MB of ram. All of this seems so quaint now (it ran much better with 8 MB, to no surprise. The 4 MB minimum was really meant to make windows 95 look less like a resource hog. Memory was not cheap back then).
Quaint as it seems now, at the time Windows 95 felt like a real breakthrough for Windows and the PC in particular. It ditched the Program and File Managers of Windows 3.1, added the Start button, task bar and system tray–all of which are still part of the Windows 10 UI in 2020. In reality, of course, it heavily mimicked the feel of the Mac’s OS, but had its own vibe, a weird sort of smooth-yet-clunky and sometimes backward compatible thing where it excelled in some regards and fumbled around a bit in others. You had Plug and Play and it sometimes even worked well, but USB support was not in the initial release. We still had mice with balls back then and they plugged into the serial port and speaking of serial ports, IRQ conflicts were still very much a thing with Windows 95. All of its DOS underpinnings couldn’t be entirely hidden (that really didn’t happen until Windows XP shipped six years later–or Windows 2000 the year before if you count it as a successor to 95).
But even though I have undoubtedly blocked memories of things not working right in Windows 95 (native gaming was a bit undeveloped, though it played a mean game of Solitaire), I look back on it fondly. I had just gotten a PC the year before and after a year of running Windows 3.11 for Workgroups, Windows 95 truly felt like the future.
Here’s a shot from an emulator I downloaded today. You can quibble about it, but the UI still looks clean and simple to me–and better than some of the versions that followed (I always found XP a bit overdressed and Windows 8 was a spectacular misfire). Good times, as the kids say.