back to article Saved by the Bill: What if... Microsoft had killed Windows 95?

Former Microsoft veep Brad Silverberg has paid tribute to Bill Gates for saving Windows 95. Silverberg posted his comment in a Twitter exchange started by Fast co-founder Allison Barr Allen regarding somebody who'd changed your life. Silverberg responded "Bill Gates" and, in response to a question from Microsoft cybersecurity …

  1. jemmyww

    This was an odd half article. It's nice you spoke to Dave Plummer. It would have been interesting if you wrote down what he said.

    1. chuBb. Silver badge
      Meh

      He will probably put a vid up on his channel on the topic, one of the few youtubers out there ive watched all their uploads of, but yeah cant argue with half article here cmon el reg, i expect better clickbait from you guys!

  2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Windows 95 was more masterful marketing

    While technically shit, Windows 95 was "good enough" to keep customers with Microsoft. Previously, Microsoft had added disk compression, better memory management and proprietary extensions to DOS to stop customers jumping ship to things like DR-DOS. Windows 3.11 including enough working networking for small customers. All this, and the work on NT, gave Microsoft to stop working on OS/2, forcing IBM to do the work itself and finally fix some annoying if trivial restrictions (single-threaded Presentation Manager) but took too long to do so. By making OS/2 "the better DOS than DOS, the better Windows than Windows", IBM had allowed companies to keep investing in DOS and Windows software rather buying OS/2 specific versions. This kept the market small and deterred developers from the considerable work of porting GUI applications to a completely different OS. We still see this in OS markets today with a not inconsiderable amount of MacOS only software alongside the mountain of Windows only stuff. In fact, only by adding support for Android to Windows is this changing.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      " fix some annoying if trivial restrictions "

      OS/2 had a single input queue that still could lead to all application freezing because a single one didn't process messages. That was already avoided in Windows 95. Windows 3.x application support was good enough (but not for all applications) - but a lot of software quickly moved to 32 bit, well, because 16 bit. Anyway Apple OS was still worse without pre-emptive multithreading at all. Just it had the applications, at least for a specific sector of users.

      Moreover OS/2 lacked "newer" development environments that were appearing on Windows like Visual Basic and Delphi (or even PowerBuilder!) - which made writing a lot of custom GUI application quicker and easier to take advantage of the then new Client/Server world- with all the defects of their approaches, maybe, but they made Windows the platform you could easily code for - and Visual Age couldn't really compete.

      Maybe Borland (and others) made a mistake not supporting quickly enough a non-Microsoft OS, but probably IBM didn't inspire much trust too - remember when it tried with PS/2 and Microchannel to close the PC market? Yet most companies back then were not large enough to be able to invest on parallel product lines at the same time.

      Anyway even after acquiring Lotus IBM kept on investing in Windows applications and not OS/2 ones. It looks IBM didn't trust itself too....

      1. Vestas

        Re: " fix some annoying if trivial restrictions "

        The SIQ bug didn't actually "freeze" the other applications, they'd be running happily in the background. In most instances it didn't "freeze" the application running in the foreground either. What it did do was make the machine's UI totally unresponsive to the user.

        Headless OS/2 servers/machines ran forever - they simply didn't crash. Some ATMs in the UK were running OS/2 until the late 00s AFAIK - don't remember many "Bork Bork Bork" articles on those ;)

        What killed OS/2 was IBM and IBM alone.

        MS didn't "play by the rules" or anything close but that's pot, kettle, black territory frankly.

        You have to remember this is back in the days when IBM were losing money hand over fist - they set a (then) world record for the largest annual corporate loss in history ($2bn IIRC, small beer now). They were largely clueless regarding the x86 world by this time as everyone with a clue on the hardware side had long since departed.

        IBM simply didn't believe you could make serious money on operating systems unless you controlled/specified the hardware platform, which to be fair has been/still is the case now, MS are/were pretty much the only the exception to the rule.

        OS/2 Warp ran Win16 programs fine but they never got the license for Win32 so Win95 killed any significant consumer use on OS/2. In that regard it was very successful.

        OS/2 Warp had plenty of major developers writing native programs for it but given IBMs ambivalence/hostility to the x86 platform they all left one by one. When I saw Brad Wardell (Stardock Systems) bin OS/2 development I knew it was dead. Brad was a big advocate of OS/2 but he's done OK on Windows.

        My abiding memory of OS/2 was the look on people's faces when you showed them three DOS virtual machines running Win3.1 FASTER on OS/2 than the machine (486DX, 8MB RAM) could run a single instance of Win3.1 when booted via MS-DOS.

        Oh and I still miss the PM on OS/2 - proper OO inheritances, not symbolic link shit.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Windows 95 was more masterful marketing

      Add to that... MS pulled a lot of sneaky backstabbing things to thwart rival companies which didn't hurt MS but it sure killed off the competition.

      1. .stu

        Re: Windows 95 was more masterful marketing

        Except there would be no Apple without Microsoft, tho I imagine that would just mean we had nextPhone's instead.

        1. Snapper Bronze badge

          Re: Windows 95 was more masterful marketing

          As Windows was nothing more than a complete rip-off of the Macintosh OS in the first place I think you have things back to front.

          OK, I acknowledge that during the 90's the fact that Microsoft 'supported' Apple by continuing to supply Office for the Mac helped Jobs reboot the company, but Microsoft really needed that claim to supporting other platforms as it was under serious investigation for its business practices.

          1. druck Silver badge

            Re: Windows 95 was more masterful marketing

            As Windows was nothing more than a complete rip-off of the Macintosh OS in the first place I think you have things back to front.

            Windows 95 was a rip-off of RISC OS, but by someone who had seen screenshots, but not actually used it.

            1. Dante Alighieri Bronze badge
              Pint

              Drobe

              and long term user names

              for your contributions to your OS

              many ---->

          2. VicMortimer

            Re: Windows 95 was more masterful marketing

            Only partially true.

            What really happened in the '90s was Microsoft getting caught with QuickTime code in Video for Windows. Apple let them off easy by forcing them to guarantee continued Office development for the Mac.

            https://www.zdnet.com/article/stop-the-lies-the-day-that-microsoft-saved-apple/

            1. gunshit

              Re: Windows 95 was more masterful marketing

              I did not know about this. Is it really true? xD

              1. ITMA Bronze badge

                Re: Windows 95 was more masterful marketing

                Has it been officially denied?

                If it has, then it must be true... LOL

    3. Dave K

      Re: Windows 95 was more masterful marketing

      Personally, I think 95 was the right OS for the time. True in some respects it was really quite a bodge and decidedly flawed, but it ran far better than NT on more modest hardware (it ran fine for me on a 133MHz Pentium with 16MB of RAM), it had better compatibility with DOS programs and games - including the "restart in DOS mode" for games that struggled with 95 running in the background, and it introduced a user interface that I found to be pretty intuitive and a big step forwards from Program Manager. Windows 3.11 was only really used in our house for more serious apps, word processing and the likes. For most games you usually quit back to DOS.

      NT was technically better, but was just too heavy for average home PCs, and had much poorer compatibility with games and other legacy applications of the time (as it didn't have DOS in the background). To be honest I have never used OS/2, so am not in a position to comment on that side of things.

      1. NeilPost Silver badge

        Re: Windows 95 was more masterful marketing

        …. and proper USB support in NT never dropped until Windows 2000.

    4. FF22

      Re: Windows 95 was more masterful marketing

      Windows 95 was actually more a technical marvel than was NT (which was probably the most advanced general purpose operating system of its time when it was released and for decades to come), because it provided virtually full backwards compatibility with DOS and with 16-bit Windows drivers and applications, while also employing a fully 32-bit kernel with virtual machines and everything.

      NT had it relatively easy, because it had a clean architecture and could drop compatibility with virtually anything, but Windows 95 had to be compatible with three different architectures, and it did do that to a degree that today's operating systems can't even provide between their own major versions.

      Of course people not in the know will always moan about the remaining few percentages where the compatibility was not perfect, or about the unavoidable results of the trade-offs that had to be made to make this extraordinary feat possible in the first place, but this won't change the fact, that whoever at MS designed and implemented Windows 95 were geniuses of their time, more so than the designers of NT.

    5. Dante Alighieri Bronze badge
      Thumb Up

      DR-DOS

      came as an adjunct to my Archimedes 420/1 running RISC-OS which ran it as an emulator faster than the then current 286s

      still prefer it* to MS-DOS variants

      Remember seeing an ARM machine (410) running an x86 emulator in a surgical theatre for data entry over a clone.

      *DR and RISC**

      **available as an OS for a Pi

  3. Binraider Silver badge

    95 was awful at launch, particularly if you were on average hardware. I reverted back to 6.22/3.1 almost immediately; not least because the vast majority of software was just so much better on the older platform - and you didn't have to live with 10 minute boot times.

    I only really took 95 on properly 3 years later to make use of a 3dfx card, and even then, kept around DOS for 99% of that machines use.

    NT4 by comparison, while not the "easiest" system to administer, was recognisably modern and nice to use "comparatively few BSODs".

    How the hell IBM got OS/2 so wrong is quite beyond me - it was clearly the far superior product of the day. Oh yes, "pricing/bundling". And legacy DOS stuff being in demand by most of us (certainly me!)

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Same story here, though I did manage to run Win95 on that (then) ancient machine with SP2. Though its tendency to "rot" was upsetting to say the least - a clean install was necessary every now and then... I did play around with OS/2 (jokingly referred to OS-half) a bit, felt sleek and modern, almost sci-fi-like (though my memory _is_ muddled, I am sure), but the overhead when running software was quite noticable, and I think OS/2 was not working all that well with applications that required lots of free low memory, i.e. under the 640k boundary (think about tweaking load order in autoexec.bat and config.sys, with himem.exe and all that stuff - $(deity) how I still hate that carp!).

      1. John Riddoch

        Oh, yeah, the 6 monthly reinstalls were painful, but better than the instability & slow downs you got after a few months. XP was the first version which I managed to leave for over a year between reinstalls I think.

        As for shenanigans with autoexec - my first PC (DOS/Win 3.11) had to have the boot interrupted to run Doom, otherwise it didn't have enough memory (a measly 4MB). I have vague recollections of tweaking both files at different times, but generally just left them well alone as far as possible...

        1. Franco Silver badge

          Ah, the joys of writing BAT files with SET SOUND and SET BLASTER and then trying to work out which of your .sys drivers were required and which weren't so you could play Carmageddon or Doom or NFS2/3. Then the joys of re-writing them when you got a 3DFX card which required a different executable to be called just to play the same game.

          1. gryphon

            Also the joys of IRQs before we had PCI.

            A network card AND a SoundBlaster.

            Hmm, ok.

            1. Pincushion Man

              I'll see your SoundBlaster PCI (or Soundblaster Awe 64?), and raise you a SoundBlaster ISA, which had its default IRQ set to 7. As everyone knows (now-a-days, anyway), your parallel port is set to 7. I believe the SB documentation recommended to change it to 5, and just run the setup/install/config for each app to point it to that location. Trouble, to be sure, but better than no POST what-so-ever. Why not change the default printer IRQ? In that day and age, most stuff was hardcoded to 7, with nary a way to change it. Printer usage on PC was (and ever shall be) a dark art of the lowest order. Has anyone ever met a print driver programmer? Anyone who has worked on the spooler in Windows? Perhaps a long time ago. I suspect these days they've been assimilated into/replaced with AI (or at least a near sentient collection of macros).

              There was also a SB16 SCSI that could drive one's SCSI CD-ROM (50-pin) and provide one's SB sound needs, all on one card - assuming one terminated that chain properly and set one's SCSI IDs correctly. It doesn't help if one sets the drive ID to 7 - that's the SCSI Adapter's ID (by convention). Too bad if one was running an IDE hard drive with said CD-ROM, some game copy protection schemes would flip out and refuse to work at all.

              1. BobBob

                SCSI is/was a dark art. I remember by Iomega Jaz drive. Amazing - a fast removable disk that could hold as much as 1GB! Bigger than my hard disk at the time.

              2. Franco Silver badge

                Safe to say given recent Print Spooler "issues" that no one has looked at that in a long time.

                SCSI IDs were a royal PITA, not least because no drive that I ever bought came with any jumpers to set the ID (much like the ridiculousness of spending a grand on a PC and printer but the parallel cable being extra or buying rackmount switches that come with 8 different types of bolts for racks no one has ever seen but NEVER come with cage nuts).

                Even worse than ISA SoundBlasters were IBM Aptiva PCs in the mid 90s, which came with a combined audio/modem card called an MWave, long after the world had settled on either SB or AdLib as the audio defacto standards on computers (at the time).

                1. Pirate Dave Silver badge
                  Pirate

                  I remember the soft-modems. A couple of smallish square chips, a few small caps and resistors, and lots of green or blue fiberglass. Hard to believe it could replace the old Hayes or USR modems with all their components, but it did. ISTR this was when "driver issues" really started coming to the fore, with the arrival of the soft-modems and soft-soundcards. Suddenly crappy driver programming became hugely problematic (not to say that it's gone away today, despite what WHQL says...).

                  1. VicMortimer
                    Flame

                    Except softmodems mostly didn't work.

                    I was working ISP tech support back in the late '90s, and one of the worst parts of the job was not being allowed to tell customers "Yeah, you've got a winmodem. It's occasionally going to connect, it might even tell you that you're getting 56k, but you're not really. Your best bet is to take it out of the computer, smash it with a hammer, and then go buy a real modem."

                    Countless hours of my life were wasted talking illiterate (sometimes literally) users through removing and reinstalling drivers and network stacks. And then we'd get yelled at because evening shift's numbers could never match day shift's numbers, when day shift was mostly business users with real modems.

                    Hayes or USR? Chances are the problem was on our end.

                    The few Mac users with softmodems (Apple called it the GeoPort Telecom Adapter) didn't have nearly as much trouble.

              3. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

                > Has anyone ever met a print driver programmer?

                They all shoot themselves. It's very sad.

                1. Pirate Dave Silver badge
                  Pint

                  Best one I've read in a while.

              4. midgepad

                Print spoiler

                Is how I read that.

                Although CUPS has its own entertainments.

              5. Vestas

                I had the SB-16 SCSI card, picked it up at a computer fair (remember those) to go with a SCSI CDROM drive of all things. Cost of both was about £150 IIRC.....

            2. BobBob

              And the joys of having to switch off your computer, taking the sound card out and physically move the jumper to change the IRQ and then cross your fingers that it worked.

            3. It's just me
              Boffin

              Simple, you used IRQ5 for the SoundBlaster and IRQ7 for the NIC. And you set your LPT port to legacy bit-banging mode so it wouldn't try to use IRQ7.

          2. David 132 Silver badge
            Facepalm

            SET BLASTER=A220 I5 D1

            How come I can remember that but not my nieces' birthdays??

            1. Franco Silver badge

              PROMPT $P$G

              DOS=HIGH,UMB

              I still remember bits of it as well sadly, to this day I've got a 64mb flash drive that runs a Windows 98 SE startup disk. Useful for running diags or BIOS flashes on the odd occasion.

          3. BobBob
            Thumb Up

            Memmaker

            No problem. Create a boot menu once you’ve found the right combination of loading DOS high in the UMBs and tried Memmaker to optimise everything…

          4. Binraider Silver badge

            Which you still had to do under win 95. And in fact, it could be worse; the “DOS” underneath win 95 used more conventional memory. Went on large disk support as far as I can tell.

            95 native for gaming on a 486 was a non starter. Too much overhead.

            By the time hardware was good enough to handle 95, and games for 95; 98 was out. But that period up to 1998 if you were a gamer without unlimited budget, DOS was the only way really!

      2. tux_is_god

        "(though my memory _is_ muddled, I am sure)", yes muddled. OS/2 did'nt (itself) care about memory under 640Kb but it did really require 8Mb (16Mb if you were doing serious stuff like development). The DOS sessions in OS/2 generall had a lot of under 640Kb memory available (it made good use of virtual memory).

        Went from Dos 4.x to OS/2 and then Solaris/Linux. Did'nt do much with windows at all. But OS/2 years ahead of the competition, maybe just a bit too far ahead.

    2. msobkow Silver badge

      NT4... comparatively few BSODs.

      Not in my experience. Several a day was normal doing programming, because the fool thing didn't have very good memory protection at all, and some of the flakiest device drivers ever known to mankind.

      Without the Win95 gaming engine, Microsoft would have been a pale shadow of what it is now, because it was games that got people to buy it instead of other flavours of Windows or OS/2.

      I worked with OS/2 for one client doing development. Very elegant system compared to NT; far more logical and coherent. And it only crashed on me once during the six months I was there, unlike Windblows NT.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        "because the fool thing didn't have very good memory protection at all"

        It had the same memory protections of today - because it's the ring protections ensured by the CPU itself.

        Bad hardware or drivers can BSOD/panic anything. Unless you were writing drivers, or hit a kernel bug, you could not create a BSOD easily. I remember I was able to convince my boss to switch developers from 95 to NT when he was shown that a bug in a library that was able to freeze the whole 95 forcing a reboot was just able to freeze a process in NT which could just kill it easily from task manager.

        Presentation Manager was known to have a redesigned API to make it far more logical. It was also what doomed it because Windows application needed a deep rewrite, and the reason MS decided to stick with the Win32 API.

        Anyway both OS/2 and NT required more expensive hardware to run - and back then PCs were still quite expensive for the average consumer - and the OS themselves were more expensive.

        1. msobkow Silver badge

          Re: "because the fool thing didn't have very good memory protection at all"

          I beg to differ. I could reliably cause BSODs by simply doing something like changing tracks on a built-in CD player while at a breakpoint in MSVC. So I used a portable CD player for my music.

          There were no "stable drivers" in the early releases. Everything was as flaky as a modern beta.

          32-bits was a limitation we did run into as well, as we were dealing with some rather large data sets being fed from high-volume systems (telco data streams.) But there was no solution to that other than creative coding and drive caching.

          1. LDS Silver badge

            Re: "because the fool thing didn't have very good memory protection at all"

            It has nothing to do with "memory protection". While you're inside the kernel you can create havoc easily. A debugger needs to interact with the kernel and in deeper ways than plain applications.

            Unstable drivers are a huge issue - but user space code can't still write wherever it likes without some deeper bug - simply the CPU blocks it and throws an exception. That's why it is called "protected" mode.

            "Everything was as flaky as a modern beta."

            That depended on what hardware you were using. Some hardware had far better drivers than other. Usually, you got the quality you paid for.

        2. Pirate Dave Silver badge
          Pirate

          Re: "because the fool thing didn't have very good memory protection at all"

          " back then PCs were still quite expensive for the average consumer"

          Then eMachines came along, and put all the small computer shops out of the business of selling "custom" computers for $1000-1200. It had been hard enough competing with Gateway2000, PackardBell, and to a lesser extent, Dell. Hell, I couldn't even buy parts for the $500 that eMachines was charging for their boxes. It very quickly became "Time To Look For A Real Job"...

      2. ThomH

        Yeah, NT4 was the one where they moved the GDI, along with print and video drivers, into kernel mode — buying both a speed boost and a step backwards in stability, especially as NT drivers weren't exactly anyone's priority at the time.

        If memory serves then Windows Vista introduced the current model, of putting only a tiny shim into kernel mode and doing the overwhelming majority of driver work in user mode.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          "overwhelming majority of driver work in user mode"

          Depends on the type of driver you're writing. Non every driver can be implemented this way.

      3. 9Rune5

        NT4 was stable for me. My daily beater was never powered down and I measured months between having to reboot (due to service packs or similar).

        I did experience a few BSODs when forced to install Norton Antivirus -- it had a bug that triggered a BSOD as soon as someone inserted a floppy.

        Stability at my home computer was better due to not installing any antivirus products.

    3. Number 39

      I disagree with the assertion of when it was awful.

      At launch Windows 95 on a 486 with enough RAM (at least 5MB, but preferably 8) from a fresh install was fine, with 32 bit and DOS software.

      Using a Pentium was not. Upgrading Win 3.x was not. Using 16 bit Windows software was not (in most cases).

      DOS programs were fine.

      Eventually Pentiums were OK running it.

      1. Binraider Silver badge

        I had 12MB RAM on my DX2-50. Windows 95 stayed on that machine for less than a week.

        95 offered no functionality improvements for the use case of that machine at that time. The poor performance of Office / Works / CorelDraw simply weren't worth the overhead when they did the same thing, faster under 3.1.

        By the time dial up was mainstream and IE / Netscape fully ubiquitous, better hardware and 16MB RAM were commonplace. For that use, I accept 95/98 were much nicer than 3.1.

      2. Dave K

        I agree, although I did find that 95 really needed 16MB of RAM to run smoothly. A 486 was also at the lower end I found. With a Pentium (or AMD/Cyrix equivalent) and 16MB of RAM, it ran absolutely fine. Still, this was also back in the era when PCs were rapidly improving in performance year-on-year and a system that was a few years old often fell below minimum requirements for modern games and software. Hence a new OS that had notably higher system requirements than its predecessor wasn't really that surprising.

        1. Number 39

          I am referring to launch time, when I believe Pentiums were still using a larger socket.

          Where I worked pretty soon limited sales of windows 95 to well specced 486 systems (no winbond chipsets.) for those planning to run DOS apps and 32 bit apps.

          .

          You wanted a Pentium, you got 3.1x. You wanted to run 16 bit apps you got 3.1x

          No upgrades - wipe and re-install.

          No legacy 16 bit drivers.

          Later on the Pentiums (I think there was a new support chipset along with a new package) worked fine.

          (Not sure the originals were ever any good though.)

      3. Pirate Dave Silver badge

        I agree, 95 had issues, but was better than 3.1 in several ways. The UI was a great improvement. So were long file names. Explorer was nicer than File Manager (at least until IE 4 arrived). In fact, I can safely say that Win95 was the last time I ever thought a new version of Windows had a superior UI compared to the previous version, and that lasted until Win2k (imho), after which the UI started sliding off the hill.

    4. Fred Daggy Bronze badge
      Unhappy

      There were a number of reasons that conspired together to work against OS/2.

      1 - Microsoft had a deal (very much a deal one could not say no to) with PC manufacturers. You need to pay MS for a license, even if you ship a PC sans OS. The best deals went to the manufacturers with that particular tie-up. Manufacturers NEEDED Microsoft, so no one said no. If you wanted OS/2 you needed to purchase it outright.

      2 - If you did purchase it outright, it was expensive. Now the memory is being clouded by a few thousand pints but I recall that (a) it was double or more the price of Windows 95 (boxed version). (b) if you wanted to buy OS/2 with the Windows compatibility, that was another cost on top - a full retail license, again.

      3 - The Windows compatibility in OS/2 was with 16 bit applications and only some 32 bit applications via the Win32 library. (now the hamster on the memory wheel is working overtime). Windows 95 was 32 bits but obviously a perfect win16 implementation. It was relatively easy to programmatically upgrade many programs at the time to be fully 32bit. So many Windows programs could not actually run on OS/2 Windows layer as the 16 bit versions became bitrot.

      4 - Hardware. Apart from IBM's own hardware, driver compatibility was a real problem. Mostly, drivers just didn't exist. I think it was networking and graphics cards that were my biggest bugbear, but i am sure there were others. Probably printers as well but most printers emulated something very basic as well.

      5 - The workplace shell was very powerful but the icons and desktop in Windows 95 just blew it away. As far the the "oh pretty" from the non-technical crowd, there was no competition.

      It is just around this time that a Finnish kid made an announcement that his barely working Unix-like kernel was available to download appeared. With source code! It wasn't Minix but was inspired by it ...

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        I first tried Linux in 1996. It looked like an interesting project, but definitely not useable as a daily driver.

        I tried it again in 1998, and there was a massive improvement in those two years.

        These days I mostly use FreeBSD.

      2. msobkow Silver badge

        Your mistake was trying to use OS/2 as a Windows platform.

        Had you used OS/2 with OS/2 tools and applications, you'd have found it was a much cleaner and better running system.

        That is the problem with the Windows Infection - it started infesting too many tech eco-systems early on, and continues to fester among them as "compatability modes." Though I do have to give kudos to the Steam Team for their porting efforts to Linux - too bad there weren't just more games written to kits that were ported to Linux native.

        1. bazza Silver badge

          I did use OS/2, and there was hardly any OS/2 apps...

          1. LDS Silver badge

            I bought OS/2 Warp in 1994 to run it on a shiny new Pentium 90 with 16MB of RAM. I started using DOS and Win 3.1 applications waiting for the OS/2 ones. They never came.

            I even bought Lotus SmartSuite waiting for the OS/2 version, IBM was more busy releasing the Windows version where it already lost to MS Office. In 1996 I switched to Windows 95 because the newer applications 32 bit applications couldn't be run on OS/2 - and switched to NT4 a couple of years later.

            The only way to use it was developing custom applications - but still you had worse tools than on Windows.

      3. bazza Silver badge

        3) OS/2 did 16bit Windows because IBM licensed the source code from MS. I can remember reading that IBM did a test compile first, before integration with OS/2. But they used the Watcom compiler instead of MS's one, and the result was a lot quicker...

        OS/2 struggled with 32bit Windows because of differences in how the two OSes did virtual memory. An OS/2 process was limited to 512MByte, a Windows 32bit process could address 2Gbyte. So there was no easy way to host Windows software in OS/2.

        OS/2 was really good when brand new, but MS simply out developed it. Win2k was the final nail in the coffin I think. OS/2 had barely improved at all, whilst MS had got to the point where they could mature their OS and also do things like Active Directory.

        1. msobkow Silver badge

          I think the real problem was IBM. They saw it as a "smart terminal" to replace the green screen devices on their user's desktops. As long as it ran basics, they considered the job "done".

          The Amiga OS had a lot of interesting design decisions that could have become very powerful if it were maintained and enhanced to take advantage of developing architectures like hardware memory bounding.

          I still think the most intriquing of the off-beat operating systems was Plan 9, though. What an intresting precursor to the Java architecture.

    5. Solviva

      As part of the unofficial (ahem) beta testing of Chicago, I found it kind of cute but impractical to use. At the time Win 3.11 was a pretty good allrounder. NT 3.51 lacked the cuteness of '95, felt more robust than 3,11 but still a little impractical around the edges.

      Can't remember if NT4 came along first, or Memphis betas (Win98) #oldmemphis@undernet but I do remember sticking a pair of ISA I think 4 MB expansion boards, populated with TTL DRAM chips removed from random boards my dad brought home, desoldered over the gas stove - heat till you can't stand the fumes, turn upside down & shaky shaky. This to get past the minimum memory requirement to install NT4. Took best part of a day to finish thanks to the speed of the ISA RAM, but once installed it worked fine without those...

    6. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      @binraider: I thonk you are spot on and, consequently, if we had never had Win95 we would just have ended up on NT sooner.

      Other people clearly had different experiences but NT 3.1 was rock solid for me in a way that none of the DOS-based versions ever were. Piles of shite, they were. Wouldn't have touched them at all except that our customers used them, so we had to do a final run of tests on the "real" system after using NT for the actual development.

    7. NeilPost Silver badge

      As someone who struggled away on OS/2 1.2 as my company thought it was the future… it never really delivered until warp 3.0… as mentioned above IBM on it’s own fixed the structural issues with it … it was then way too late as Win 95, NT4 and latterly W2K filled the gap.

  4. karlkarl Silver badge

    I think however flawed the underlying OS was, Windows 95's strengths was its fantastic UI. Not only very powerful but also very user friendly.

    Compare it to what we have today, it is more featureful than i.e Gnome3/KDE4 but also easier to use. Microsoft were on to a real winner back then which did raise them to "the defacto consumer OS". When people mention PC, they basically mean consumer Windows.

    Now all we have is... well, whatever, I returned to the command prompt long ago. Life is to short to faff with broken UI systems.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      I think however flawed the underlying OS was, Windows 95's strengths was its fantastic UI. Not only very powerful but also very user friendly.

      It was fantastic if you came from Windows 3.1... everyone else wondered what the fuss was about. Still, thanks to the economies of scale in PC hardware every other platform was dead or dying apart from Mac, so all MS had to do to not screw this one up was release a stepping stone on to NT which was compatible with games and older software and have an improved GUI (by copying and pasting ideas from those same other platforms).

  5. vtcodger Silver badge

    Windows 95 + a few service packs

    In the late 1990s and early 2000s before I switched to Linux I used Windows 95 plus a few service packs ... well, maybe more than a few ... 25 or so as I recall. It ran fine. Really. Better than Windows 98 which crashed a lot, was prone to trash the Registry, and often refused to shut down. I had to reboot WIn95 every few weeks. And it didn't support USB -- which wasn't important as USB back then rarely worked on any OS. I'd still be using it if (largely dubiously necessary) changes to application software hadn't made keeping Win95 impractical. In point of fact, from a user viewpoint, Win 95 was just fine. Office workers could use it. Scientists could use it. Six year olds who were still a bit hazy on that alphabet thing could use it. What more do you need?

    Of course, Win95 wasn't really an appropriate OS for a server in most cases. But why the heck anyone would want a Windows server when Unix is so much less obtuse has always eluded me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Windows 95 + a few service packs

      I've seen industrial flow computers as late as 2013 that were still running on Windows 95.

      They might have been meticulously maintained mechanical components & instrumentation but tied into that OS. WTF does not do weird decisions like that justice.

      1. Dave K

        Re: Windows 95 + a few service packs

        A company I was contracted to until just a few years ago still had dozens of CNC machines running Windows 95 on their consoles. Despite the age, they still worked OK. They were also still networked to download new designs for milling, albeit they were on a separate VLAN and were heavily firewalled.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Windows 95 + a few service packs

          I wonder if a Win95 PC would be fairly "safe" on a standard network these days? I'd think the black-hats would have long since moved-on to more modern fare, which have far different vulnerabilities, and don't back-port their wares that far back, so the worms and such wouldn't take hold.

        2. VicMortimer

          Re: Windows 95 + a few service packs

          Heh. A couple years back I had to set up a Win95 machine, I happened to have a P3 800MHz box that was about to go to recycling and just hadn't gotten there yet, and I got a call....

          A couple hundred thousand dollar printing press had blown up its controller - a Win95 box. Nothing newer would do. Fastest 95 box I've ever seen, and I doubt that computer cost as much new as what I charged that client for it.

    2. TCook1943

      Re: Windows 95 + a few service packs

      I'm senile, demented and I had a rotten memory to start with but I know I ran USB devices on a later release of Windows 95. BTW I started with Windows at version 1, ran 2, skipped 3 and went on to 3.1.

      I later went to an Amiga till the crash then to XP, Vista and in time to 10. In all honesty all were manure.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Windows 95 + a few service packs

        IIRC (though my memory is a bit patchy from that time, not due to old age now, but young age then) that USB "support" started in Win 95 SP2. But it was a bit patchy and USB things often required some driver fiddling to get working. It wasn't until SP3 that it started behaving a bit.

    3. druck Silver badge

      Re: Windows 95 + a few service packs

      I had to reboot WIn95 every few weeks.

      Rebooting was many times a day, reinstalling was every few weeks.

    4. Fred Daggy Bronze badge

      Re: Windows 95 + a few service packs

      I think a "server", mostly serving files and providing authentication, was Novell at the time. A few might have been experimenting with Windows NT 3.1 and NT 3.5. Netboot was still a pretty popular feature at the time, no disks on the workstations ... and print.

      Windows 95 swept OS/2 aside, plus the various DOS clones, like DR-DOS. I think it might have also strengthened the Intel/AMD duopoly.

      Windows NT4 was the Novell Netware killer. It scattered the ashes of the last mainstream holdouts of OS/2. (I remember talking to someone a year after the launch of Windows NT, said he was about to drop a lot of money on Netware certification. I think I mentioned "insane" and "spend it on beer" several times, this was pre-AD, just PDC and many BDC but it did work for small and medium sized deployments)

      Office 95 killed Wordperfect.

      All together NEARLY killed the Macintosh.

      To quote wikipedia "You can add to this list of serial killers". If I don't get another coffee now, I just might.

      1. Pirate Dave Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: Windows 95 + a few service packs

        "Windows NT4 was the Novell Netware killer."

        Nope, sorry, that was Win9x, at least around here. NT may have killed Netware in the large enterprise shops, but there were lots and lots of small business clients (< 10 users) that had been using Novell, Banyan, etc, previously. Then 95 came out with something that looked like file and printer sharing but with no license fees - it came "free" with a new computer. I still sold a few Novell licenses after that (well, installed them anyway), but most of the Mom-n-Pop shops were quite happy with a Win95/98 "server" in the breakroom closet, and if it crapped its pants every other week, well, they'd gotten a good deal on it, so they were OK with just rebooting it and getting back to work. That was my experience, anyway. YMMV.

        1. Binraider Silver badge

          Re: Windows 95 + a few service packs

          Saw plenty of novell installations over the top of 95, especially in college networks.

          They were crap too lol. You could bypass security by doing no more than pressing escape during the right time in boot (At least on some versions).

          And the infamous Winnuke.exe more than did the rounds.

          But yeah, active directory ultimately killed the “standalone network operating system”. That is, NT4 killed Novell. No need to buy it when the features were there already.

  6. VK2YJS

    Hopefully we would have got Windows 2000 as the standard product. Pity there isn't an option for consumer Windows with the simpler UI in Server.

  7. YetAnotherXyzzy

    "whatever might have happened, we bet we'd still be waiting for the year of Linux on the desktop."

    As a diehard penguinista, I had to nod sheepishly at that one. So true.

  8. FirstTangoInParis

    Reliability

    Apart from the obvious complete absence of corporate IT security, the only thing that stays with me was that my Compaq laptop with W95 crashed twice a day. When XP came out with the claim it was 13 times more reliable than W95, I looked forward to roughly one crash per fortnight.

    1. Major N

      Re: Are you sure?

      yeah I was so excited for XP and its claims of reliability. I started Uni at the time XP came out, so bought my very own computer for Uni (instead of relying on the family machine). It came with the gold disk prerelease OEM version of XP Home (I took receipt of it with XPH preinstalled 2 weeks before the official release date). It bluescreened three times on the first day! As soon as I moved to Pro, they disappeared. Still not sure if it was the V1.0 (I consider it V0.99 since it was before release, I expect WU had several fixes that day) or just that home was gash...

      I also remember owning a disk labelled Windows 96 at some point... think it was a W95 SP ultimately....

      In my memory, W95 was amazing compared to DOS and 3.1. Though it was flaky, and as several have said here regular reinstalls were a must. W98 I found much more stable, especially once SP2(?) was out. I'm old enough to have fond memories of the old DOS days and tweaking autoexec and config.sys to make my latest game run, that was the golden age for me, taking my first steps into the world of computers, and even getting games to run was a victory to savour. Kids these days don't know they're born :P

  9. LB45
    Devil

    Great another day shot

    Now I have that Emin-Em (M&M, 'im'n'im) song ditty stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

    Thanks el Reg.

  10. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Linux

    ( And a lot else besides... )

    Wow! I hope you decide to tweet some of those stories. Those were such incredible times in the computer industry!

    .

    Microsofties have a different definition of such words as 'incredible'

  11. Marty McFly Silver badge
    FAIL

    Windows 95 won the MVP award!!

    *Minimum Viable Product

  12. DS999 Silver badge

    The unanswered question is

    What would it have been killed for? Going to OS/2 and handing IBM a big win? Hardly.

    Going to NT, which needed massively larger amounts of RAM (and RAM prices already shot way up when Windows 95 came out due to its relatively modest requirement) leading to likely frustratingly terrible performance at the almost but not quite enough for barely minimum function that Dell, HP etc. would have sold to gullible consumers? I'm skeptical. That might have been just what IBM needed to make OS/2 a success.

    Given Gates' "discovery" of the Internet too late for it to be integrated into Windows 95, I'm guessing he would have wanted to kill Windows 95 and replace it with a version that included a browser. Knowing Microsoft's monopolistic tendencies back then they would have shortcut things by buying Netscape which would have cost no more than a few billion dollars at the time. Slap a Microsoft brand on it, kill the non-Windows versions to insure OS/2 and Mac are hamstrung, and release it integrated with the OS as "Windows 96".

  13. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Linux

    For me it was a one-off, quickly discarded.

    BBC B, BBC Master, Acorn Archimedes, Windows 95, Acorn Archimedes, Acorn Risc PC, LInux.

    1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: For me it was a one-off, quickly discarded.

      "BBC Master"?

      You're not remembering using a computer. You're remembering skiving off watching Dr Who!

    2. druck Silver badge

      Re: For me it was a one-off, quickly discarded.

      For me it went this way, but as quickly discarded.

      Acorn Electron, BBC Master, Acorn Archimedes, Acorn A5000, Acorn Risc PC (with 586 second processor running Windows 95), Castle Iyonix, generations of Raspberry Pi's...

    3. Dante Alighieri Bronze badge
      Alert

      Re: For me it was a one-off, quickly discarded.

      Electron

      (schools Master with satellite feed and other stuff)

      Archimedes 420

      (dads A5000)

      RISC PC ->StrongARM

      Laptop dual boot - Win/VirtualAcorn

      (dads dual boot laptop --> WTF is windows, bloody awful, now I know why you got me to use Acorn)

      (dads Iyonix)

      Ubuntu on multiple laptops/homebuilt pc/server in VirtualAcorn

      and my StrongARM RPC

      My 6502-fu is still strong!

  14. Blackjack Silver badge

    One of Microsoft early frustrations was how much games sucked on Windows, that's why they invested so much time on money on changing that, including the partnership with Sega. Windows 3.x proved to not be up to task and that's one of the things that saved Windows 95.

  15. Sparkus Bronze badge

    at the time....

    //greybeard recollection warning//

    IBM was looking at OS/2 not only as a standalone OS, but to be the user exec for their other systems; AIX, MVS, and AS/400. Those systems we all know were (and continue to be) dominated by the classic green-screen. Having passed on an opportunity to buy Apple, IBM was looking to push their three dominate systems down-scale into small business and home user environments. NT and OS/2 were to be the gateway drugs in that effort. The MSFT interface was for home consumers while a similar but more 'focused' Workplace Shell was for business. Either UI would have been able to run on the same hosting OS and on multiple hardware architectures.

    Even then there was early work in flight to condense the multi-chip implementation of the RS/6000 chipset into what became the Moto 68x influenced Power architecture. The roadmaps that eventually pulled in the then independent MVS and AS/400 CPU implementations into Power were largely in place in the mid-1990s.

    IBM stumbled twice at that point. It was the unfortunate delay in getting viable PPC/Power cpus into the market (PPC 601 was a disaster for everyone but Apple) which in turn was a key factor in losing the desktop UI and developer base to Wintel.

    OS/2 (Workplace Shell really) running on PPC 604e was pretty damned fast but the economies of scale for systems production just wasn't there. AFAIK, Workplace Shell never made it onto Power.

    IBM tried to pick up the pieces with OS/2 partnerships on both Sun and Xerox. The Xerox hookup in particular was interesting as it was bringing the Most Excellent Xerox XDE and ViewPoint/GlobalView environments to a user exec that could in theory run on the three classic IBM hardware platforms plus the evolving 16/32 bit Intel platforms. Alas, the best that partnership could deliver was a Xerox Mesa emulator card (ISA FTW!!) that would run under Solaris/Sparc or Intel-OS/2.

  16. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    NT

    To be honest, I don't know if it would have made a big difference, I think computers at the low end would have just stuck with DOS+Win3.1, and otherwise would have sucked it up and shipped with the 8MB extra RAM to run NT4. (Minimum, which really couldn't do jack, on 95 was 4MB, with 8MB recommended; minimum on NT4 was 12MB with 16MB recommended.) Maybe (if 95 had been cancelled) they would have been able to put NT on a diet and shave a few MB off those system requirements. NT ended up with DirectX, media player, multimedia codecs, etc. as addons that came out later too; so basically instead of running 95, 98, and Me you'd be running NT4 then 2000, and probably had a somewhat more stable system for the trouble. This is a bit second-hand for me though, I switched straight from DOS + Win3.1 to a brief detour to OS/2, then to Linux (initially Slackware) so I bypassed that hold 95 versus NT4 personally.

    I suppose if there was a lot that the NT DOS VDM (the DOS box) couldn't handle, they probably would have come up with some solution to boot into DOS for those like a few other Windows versions had.

  17. Dasreg

    What no redmond?

  18. WallMeerkat

    WFG 3.11 memories

    Memories of WFG 3.11 that arrived on our first home PC, a 486 that was destined for a corporate office that was never to be, being sold off by a local business systems company.

    Despite having all the network utilities, and the fetching Schedule+ instead of Calendar, it didn't have a network card.

    Upgraded the 4mb to 12mb at some point, along with a sound card (SB compatible 220/IRQ 7/DMA 1). Then tried to squeeze Windows 95 onto its 170mb hard disk. Took ages to boot, then I doublespaced to free up space, which took about 15 minutes to boot.

    Win95 was the shiny though, its hard to explain to folks who are used to iteratively evolving versions of windows how big a step it was.

    I think it was the right OS for when the home PC was gaining mass acceptance - suddenly everyone in school had a Packard Bell pentium running win95.

    I think though that Program Manager would make a fine shell for touchscreen OSs - touch to enter program group, touch to launch application (or app). Windows 8 tried but was a mess.

  19. ITMA Bronze badge
    Devil

    OS/2

    Does anybody know who/where the definition of "OS/2" standing for "Oh Shit/2" came from?

    LOL

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