Microsoft Windows 95 was released in August 1996, and was Microsoft's first attempt to get it right. With this release, Microsoft added or changed a lot of things that we now take for granted.

  • Plug and Play: Windows 95 finally had some semblance of a Plug and Play operating system. You could finally plug in an expansion card and not have to worry about fiddling with the correct IRQs, DMAs, I/O settings, or resource conflicts as was the days of DOS and Windows 3.1. This was an erratic feature; many users had trouble getting it to work leading to the nickname Plug and Pray.
  • Start Menu and Explorer: The nearly universal Start menu made its debut with Windows 95, and was the end product of Microsoft's Usability Labs. The Start Menu organized the Find, Help, and Control Panel functions that were poorly implemented in the Program Manager. Explorer was the evolution of WINFILE.EXE, and featured support for long file names, prettier icons, the famous My Computer icon, and an updated widget set. All this looked suspiciously familiar to a certain other operating system
  • 32-bit horror. See Win32
  • Most revisions to a single Windows operating system. The original Windows 95 was terror incarnate compared to later revisions. From 1996 to Windows 98, Microsoft released OSR2, OSR 2.1, OSR 2.5, and OSR 3.0. These revisions crudely stuck on AGP and USB support, Microsoft's first attempt to integrate Internet Explorer, FAT32 support, and miscellaneous other fixes. The revisions were available only to OEMs to come preloaded on new Windows 95 computers.
  • Designed for Windows 95
  • Preemptive multitasking
  • Memory protection, or some form thereof.
  • A half-assed attempt to shrug off DOS functionality
  • Windows 95 introduced some form of protected DOS box, so if the DOS program crashed, it wouldn't take the OS down with it. Microsoft's attempts to kill off DOS would last for nearly six years. Windows 95 also could exit to a sort of Windows DOS, which was useful for games like Under a Killing Moon.
  • The Windows 95 CD. Microsoft had 650 megs of freedom to put whatever they wanted. Their end result, aside from the OS, were
    • Hover
    • QBasic
    • Policy Editor
    • Windows 95 commercials
    This was also the last version of Windows to come on floppy disks, which numbered 14.

It is considered by some to be the worst OS ever, second only to its predecessor, and probably with good reason too. The operating system itself weighed in at a whopping 65 megs and with applications installed could reach up to 200 megs, and it would not run unless it was fed an extraordinary amount of memory. Crashes were extremely common, to the point of being ridiculous; today Joe Sixpack would know about a BSOD. The OS would rot itself out every six months due to applications spraying around their DLLs with careless abandon, causing Windows to become extremely unstable.

Did Microsoft learn from their mistakes? Judging by later Windows versions, probably not

While it is common knowledge that Microsoft, ah, ahem, borrowed ideas from Apple, it's not so widely known that other companies came in for this treatment too.

Interestingly, Acorn's RISC OS operating system had a concept similar (though more consistent in operation) to the Windows Taskbar. Storage devices, filesystems and printers loaded on the left of the icon bar, while applications loaded on the right hand side. When they met in the middle, the icon bar would scroll as appropriate.

Other Acorn concepts nabbed by other OS vendors include installable filesystems, the system tray, image filesystems, a modular kernel, and of course the big one- desktop RISC workstations.

Apple and Acorn were, for a short time, in collusion to produce CHRP-based systems. The only one that actually came to light was the Acorn SchoolServer, a rebadged IBM RS6000 system running Windows NT 3.5. Performance was very poor indeed and didn't sell well. Acorn (well, ARM anyway) had been in cahoots with Apple for some time, having supplied the ARM6 processor for the Newton.

It's also known that Microsoft bought several RISC OS based machines from Acorn in circa 1993. What happened to them is somewhat uncertain...

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