Windows 95 – what does it look like today?

8 min


Windows 95 was Microsoft’s “next generation” OS: a redesigned UI, support for long filenames, 32-bit applications, and a host of other changes. Some of the components of Windows 95 are still in use today. How she looks like? Let’s test and figure it out.

I had no intention of reviewing Windows 95 because it actually came out not that long ago. But after watching a video titled “Teens React to Windows 95,” I realized that there are not only teens, but a whole generation of 20-30-year-old adults who have never used Windows 95 or were too young to remember it. … In addition, Windows 95 was a very important milestone in the history of computers and a significant improvement over Windows 3.1, parts of which we still use today.

Installation

Installing Windows 95 on modern PCs can be tricky, but it really isn’t necessary — Windows 95 can run in a virtual machine. Windows 3.1 works great in DOSBox, which does not require installation of a convenient and compact emulator that can be launched from any folder.

However, DOSBox does not officially support Windows. In theory, you could install it, but it’s much easier to use a fully functional virtual machine. I took advantage of Oracle VirtualBox, it’s free and can be installed on any modern PC.

To install Windows 95, you need to find two files: a bootable floppy disk and a Windows 95 CD image (available online). I created a new virtual machine with 128 MB of RAM and a 2 GB hard drive:

Oracle VirtualBox options

First, we need to create a disk partition using the command fdisk (this will be our “C” drive), format this drive and copy the installation files from the Windows 95 CD to this drive (for some unknown reason, the installer cannot find some files when running directly from the CD image).

We are now ready to start:

Windows 95 Setup

Everything looks good, but after the first boot we get a “Windows protection error”:

This is a known issue with processors above 2.1 GHz. I will assume that the maximum value stored in the int32 variable cannot be greater than 2,147,483,647 – in 1995, no one thought that Windows would run on a CPU with such a high frequency. Fortunately, a special patch “FIX95CPU_V3_FINAL.ZIP” was created by enthusiasts to solve this problem:

FIX95CPU interface

After installing it, Windows can start without problems:

Starting Windows 95 for the first time

User interface

Many UI elements first appeared in Windows 95 and still exist today:

  • Start menu. Microsoft tried to redesign it, but now, 25 years later, it’s still with us. By the way, the first keyboards did not have a dedicated “Win” key, but the Ctrl + Esc combination works in Windows 10 as well.
  • A taskbar with a clock and icons in the lower right corner of the screen.
  • The Recycle Bin, the taskbar at the bottom, other items like the Command Prompt, and so on.

Some components, for example, “Device Manager” (“Device Manager”), literally did not change for 25 years (left – Windows 10, right – Windows 95):

Device Manager Today and 25 Years Ago

Curiously, the “Shut Down” window allows you to boot the PC in MS-DOS mode:

This feature is no longer available, but the console mode boot option still exists on Linux.

Overall, the Windows 95 user interface seems familiar to us even today, which is surprising given the number of years that have passed.

the Internet

In the 90s, the Internet was at the forefront of progress, and Windows 95 could support dial-up and Ethernet connections.

Windows 95 Internet Connection Wizard

The most popular was dial-up dial-up. The “modem” was a “magic box” that connected a computer to an Internet provider. At the beginning of the connection, the two modems exchanged information about the line quality and the connection speed. At this time, the speaker worked and you could listen connection sounds… They varied depending on the connection speed, and experienced users could even determine the quality of the connection from the sound. Typically, the speed was about 3-4 kilobytes per second, so it would take several minutes to open this page in a web browser. In addition, while the user was online, the phone line was busy.

The web browser icon in Windows 95 was simply called “The Internet”, but when we clicked on it, we saw the name “Microsoft Internet Explorer” still known today. Default home page http://home.microsoft.com no longer available:

Microsoft Internet Explorer

Obviously, this browser cannot support HTTPS, so most modern browsers cannot be opened. You can open the page www.google.com, but it is not displayed quite correctly:

Many other sites, such as Medium.com, cannot be opened at all:

At least the HTTP connection is working and I was able to start a local HTTP server on my PC with the command python -m http.server 80 to view and download files in a Windows 95 browser. This was a relatively easy way to share files without creating shared folders.

Another popular browser at the time was Netscape Navigatorbut it can’t connect to modern websites either:

Netscape Navigator

Windows 95 provides the ability to connect to Microsoft Network services:

MSN Connection Wizard

The registration attempt is expected to fail.

Another protocol forgotten today Gopher was established in 1991. Gopher links can be opened in Internet Explorer under Windows 95. Some enthusiasts continue to support gopher services today. I managed to open gopher: //gopherddit.com (thanks for the link from Reddit user “anthk_”), but all links inside are not accessible:

In 1996 ICQ was released – the first instant messaging program (instant messenger). Today we are used to being constantly online and participating in Slack or WhatsApp chats, but in 1996 it was a fairly fresh concept. Many years ago I had an ICQ number, but after so many years it is already impossible to remember. I tried a new registration, but I failed, the server is already down:

ICQ 1.02b

By the way, this problem has become even more important today. Most services these days are on the web and in the cloud, and it can be assumed that all the “smart” devices we use today will not be able to turn on 25 years later.

Overall, it was interesting to see that physically Windows 95 can still connect to the Internet. However, this connection is practically useless – over the past 25 years, the web standards have progressed so far that 99% of websites simply cannot be opened. I can ping a website, but this is pretty much all that is available:

Ping on MS-DOS Command Prompt

Software

Windows 95 is a 32-bit operating system and the software created for it, in theory, can run (with some restrictions) in a modern OS. However, the opposite is not true – modern programs will not work on Windows 95 due to different API versions and missing libraries. So, on the one hand, Windows 95 looks like Windows, but on the other hand, alas, it is too old to run any modern software. Well, at least we can test the modern software of this OS.

New 32-bit Microsoft Office was released in 1995 and included several applications such as Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. All of these applications are still on the market today. On the screen, it’s curious to see a special launcher on the right side of the screen – the “standard” Quick Launch bar appeared for the first time only in Windows 98.

Microsoft Office 95 Start Screen

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Excel

Adobe Photoshop 5.0 was released in 1998, it was the first version created for Windows 95, the previous one was created for Windows 3.1. I think its functionality could be sufficient for most users today:

Adobe Photoshop 5.0

Photoshop 5.0 cannot open RAW files from digital cameras, but it does provide most of the photo editing features (layers, curves, filters, etc.). It’s also funny to see that Photoshop’s overall design hasn’t changed over the past 25 years (if you want to look at version 1.0 released in 1990 for the Mac, you can read another article).

Popular media player Winamp 0.99 was released in 1997; by the way, the app was only 146 KB in size. Today, even the splash screen of a modern media player can “weigh” more …

Winamp Media Player

At the time, almost everyone had a collection of MP3 files on their hard drive, and Winamp was one of the most downloaded Windows applications. Online streaming services did not exist yet.

Programming

The first popular programming language was created by Microsoft in 1975 BASIC… 20 years later, BASIC was still available on Windows, but as part of a universal product called Microsoft Visual Studio… Version 5.0 appeared in 1997 and contained several applications such as Visual Basic, Visual C ++ and others.

Visual C ++ allowed developers to create native 32-bit Windows applications. It was possible to create a “pure” Win32 application that has a wWinMain function and handles all window messages (documentation so far available online) or use libraries MFC (Microsoft Foundation Classes) that greatly simplified the life of developers:

Visual C ++ allowed you to create code and resources, bind variables, and so on.

In general, project settings and compiler options have not changed much:

The debugger is pretty functional even today:

We can run the application we have created. An interesting point – the size of the application is only 10 KB:

It feels like the minimum app size in 2021 is 100MB. The last time I downloaded the drivers for a new Brother printer, they were about 250MB in size, and I still have no idea what is in this archive.

Conclusion

Testing Windows 95 turned out to be an interesting experience. Many of its UI elements are still in use 25 years later, and the system interface is fairly familiar to modern users. On the other hand, many standards and libraries have changed and such old OS versions are useless today. It was interesting to see the beginning of a new era – the era of devices and online services connected to the network, as well as to see what happened to these services 10–20 years later. It will be interesting to think about this – can we we show your grandchildren how the old technique worked, or will they only see the message “Unable to connect to server”?


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