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It's (still) Windows 95's world. We just live in it.

Josh Fruhlinger | Sept. 1, 2015
From the Start menu and Taskbar to and device autodetection and free, bundled Web browsers, here’s a brief history of how Windows 95 became the operating system that time never forgot

The first version of the Aqua GUI, from Mac OS X Public Beta
Wikipedia The first version of the Aqua GUI, from Mac OS X Public Beta.

At that point in Apple's history, the company was suffering its own OS crisis, even worse than the one Microsoft had gone through with Cairo. Copland, Apple's planned next-generation OS, was now all the more important to the company as it tried to keep up with Windows 95, but its ship date kept slipping further into the future.

In August of 1996, Apple killed the project, and by the end of the year had bought NeXT (bringing Steve Jobs back on board in the process) in order to use the Unix-based NeXTSTEP as its new OS. NeXTSTEP underwent a complete UI overhaul in order to become Mac OS X, and when the new operating system's Public Beta was released in 2000, it included the minimize/maximize/close buttons. The Dock was there too, and it was a particularly ironic borrowing: The reason Oran's original version of the Windows Taskbar was moved from the top to the btoom of the screen, it was rumored, was to avoid a lawsuit from Apple.

Taking control

Windows 95 really did attempt to give its users better and simpler access to the powerful things their computers could do. This didn't always work -- the words "Windows Registry" will send many into a panic -- but there were successes. The Control Panel, for instance, served to consolidate many system settings into a single relatively easy-to-understand interface, and it remains largely unchanged today. (Apple also borrowed the idea for OS X.)

A huge development in the history of Windows was the abstraction of hardware - Deepa k Kumar

Windows had one challenge that Macs, with their more tightly controlled hardware ecosystem, didn't: working with a bewilderingly wide range of hardware cards and peripherals. Windows 95 pioneered device autodetection, which Microsoft dubbed "Plug and Play"; it didn't always live up to that promise, which gave rise to the phrase Plug and Pray." Still, Deepak Kumar, CTO of IT systems management provider Adaptiva, says that "a huge development in the history of Windows was the abstraction of hardware" that Plug and Play represented, and he praised the behind-the-scenes work the company did in reaching out to hardware vendors. "Since then," he says, "Windows ships with thousands of kernel drivers so users no longer need to know about hardware."

Windows 95 Setup Wizard
Ho New/REUTERS

Windows 95 helped users install software as well, pioneering wizard-based installations that made the formerly inscrutable process easier to understand and complete. Even the process of installing Windows 95 itself was wizard-based, and visual step-by-step processes continue to be how most users on most platforms install software today, on Windows and other platforms.

 

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