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Windows 95 - Recall When It Was First Introduced

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Now that Microsoft has removed the Start button from Windows 8, We recall when it was first introduced

With the furore surrounding Microsoft’s removal of the Start button in Windows 8, you’d think it had been a staple of every Windows OS since Bill Gates first posed for that dodgy photo set on his desk. However, for the less wrinkly PC enthusiast among you, who have had the good fortune to grow up in a graphically driven world, the Start button and taskbar were new features added to Windows in 1995 – the most significant desktop OS upgrade in the PC’s history.

Start button has been removed from Windows 8

Start button has been removed from Windows 8

Before Windows 95, Microsoft’s flagship icon-driven OS was a chaotic jumble of ideas that required veteran experience to navigate. I say icon driven, but the first two versions were really just a graphical front end for DOS – you found your programs listed in text form, and the icons only appeared when you minimized the apps. In fact, the first two versions of Windows weren’t really used seriously by many people. The text-based DOS was preferred for this, as it had no overheads, and overheads were a serious business when you only had 52KB of RAM and no hard drive.

Windows 95 and the Start Button

Windows 95 and the Start button

The first breakthrough version of Windows that started to become used widely was Windows 3, and then 3.1, which brought us a proper icon-driven interface and features we now expect, such as screensavers. This was also the point at which many people started to use Windows as the preferred platform for launching desktop apps such as word processors and spreadsheets, which had previously been firmly in the DOS domain, with software such as Word Perfect, SuperCalc and Lotus 123 being favorites in the DOS era.

Plug and play soon earned itself the nickname of “Plug and Pray

Plug and play soon earned itself the nickname of “Plug and Pray

Windows 3.1 was still a pig though. Trying to get it to connect to the Internet required a lot of fiddling around with third-party apps (mention Trumpet Winsock to PC old hand and watch them shudder) and, importantly for enthusiasts, it was also rubbish for games. This was before we had DirectX, so at this point, Windows was really just for business apps and Solitaire. If you wanted to run a game, you had to exit to DOS, and then use your specially prepared boot disk to load the correct sound card and CD-ROM drivers.

Common staples of the Windows interface that we now take for, such as the Computer (then My Computer) icon for accessing your drives, the Start button, the clock and speaker volume icon in the corner, the taskbar and the Documents folder, were all included with Windows 95. More importantly, many games could be played directly from the OS. However, Windows 95 had a Recycle Bin full of issues too.

Long-term readers may remember a feature I wrote in 2005, in which I tried to live with technology from 1995 for two weeks, including Windows 95. It turned out that I’d forgotten a lot Windows 95’s quirks. Trying to install drivers often required a ridiculous amount of patience – Windows 95 introduced Plug and Play but this soon earned the nickname of “Plug and Pray”, as it regularly failed to detect hardware properly.

You also soon because used to the now infamous blue screen of death, and your machine locking up. Little quirks, such as icons not rearranging themselves when you resized a window, or not stretching the desktop background beyond 640 x 480, make Windows 95 look distinctly amateur in today’s world. If a new OS behaved in the same way now, it would be slated. It was much easier to launch a flawed OS when people were used to stuff not working properly.

Flaws aside, the general interface laid a foundation that’s lasted nearly two decades. The fact that so many people struggle with Windows without a Start button is testament to the way in which Windows 95 revolutionized the way we interact with our PCs.

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