Windows 95 was not particularly secure and stable. But the new look and many improvements in the operating system made it easier to work and play on the PC. Even 25 years later, Bill Gates raves about the “milestone in Microsoft history”.
“Start Me Up” – The Rolling Stones shaped the sound of the launch of Microsoft’s Windows 95 operating system 25 years ago. Company founder Bill Gates had made three million dollars back then to get the rights to use the song for the premiere party on August 24th and later TV spots. TV star Jay Leno was flown in from Los Angeles to present the software. 2500 guests celebrated the new software in huge marquees on the company campus in Redmond near Seattle. In New York the Empire State Building was illuminated in the colors of windows at night. The industry had never seen anything like it.
Windows 95 was hailed as a world first. However, there was still a lot of old technology under the hood: In order not to exclude the owners of 16-bit programs for the first Windows versions and antiquated software for the first Microsoft operating system MS-DOS, Gates and his colleagues were against a radical new beginning decided. However, this decision also led to Windows 95 crashing every now and then. This was largely ironed out later with Windows XP.
The new look was much more convincing: The Microsoft system brought a new graphical user interface that was based on the documents and could be operated with the mouse. The desk metaphor may have been familiar to Apple Macintosh owners, but Windows 95 was a real first for most PC users. “Windows 95 was a huge milestone for the company,” Gates said in a 2018 Wired video.
Windows 95 caused a PC boom
Gates freely admits that the graphical user interface was not invented by Microsoft. However, he does not see Apple as the inventor, but rather a legendary California research institute. “The graphical user interface was invented at the Xerox PARC for some very expensive machines that were only sold in small numbers.” In fact, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and his team for programming the interfaces of the Apple computers Lisa (1983) and Macintosh (1984) were inspired by several visits to the Xerox PARC. The Xerox group in New York got lucrative stock options for this before Apple went public. Gates and his developers, however, never bought a ticket to visit the Xerox PARC laboratories.
Only a few nerds and computer historians are talking hotly about this topic today. Xerox let a historic opportunity slip by. And Microsoft benefited from it.
Windows 95 sparked an upgrade boom, because compared to the MS-DOS command line system and the first Windows versions, the new operating system looked so much better and was also easier to use. It also threw the annoying length limit on file names to eight plus three characters (EXAMPLE.TXT). And you could also store the files on the virtual desk (desktop), just like with the Mac. Deleted files ended up in a recycle bin and could be removed from it before they were finally deleted.
Click on “Start” to “exit”?
Microsoft set its own accent with the start menu, even if some users could not understand why you had to click on “start” to “exit”. Sticking to the start menu for many years was also partly responsible for the fact that the Windows variant for smartphones could not establish itself. The concept of the start button did not work on the small screens. When Microsoft finally said goodbye to it in 2010, the victory run of Android and the iPhone could no longer be stopped.
25 years ago, however, the Windows 95 euphoria was unbroken: Microsoft sold seven million copies in the first seven weeks alone. Within a year it was 40 million. With this, Gates took the personal computer out of the nerd’s corner and took a decisive step closer to his vision of “a PC on every desk”. In 1995 only a good 60 million computers were sold worldwide. Ten years later, the number of PCs sold worldwide exceeded the 200 million threshold for the first time, and Microsoft held a market share of over 95 percent at the time. The PC market reached its peak in 2011 with 365 million units sold. Since then, the curve has clearly been pointing downwards, because for many people the smartphone or tablet computer has taken over the function of a PC.
A web browser was not originally planned
At the time, Gates completely misjudged the online market. In the beginning, Windows 95 was even sold without a web browser, although the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee had invented the web five years earlier and the popular Mosaic browser had also been available since 1993. Only in the “Plus!” Package for 100 Deutsche Mark was there a browser. At that time Gates still believed in the success of proprietary online services such as Compuserve or AOL and equipped his Windows with the Microsoft counterpart MSN. These closed online services tried to keep users in an isolated area that was not accessible from the open web. It wasn’t until the Mosaic successor, Netscape, overran the market that Gates saw the challenge.
After all, the Microsoft boss reacted quickly: Four months after the premiere of Windows 95, Gates changed his online course by 180 degrees. In a workshop he chose an extraordinary historical comparison to illustrate the new strategy. On the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he recalled the comment of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, “He was afraid that they had woken (with the attack) a sleeping giant”.
The new announcement from Gates read: “Today, the Internet is the driving force behind all the improvements we make to all of our classic products.” After this announcement, Microsoft got involved in a dirty “browser war”. The fight against Netscape almost led to the breakup of the group because the regulatory authorities interfered with Microsoft’s business practice of bundling the Internet Explorer browser with Windows. In the end, Netscape fell by the wayside.
The browser market now only plays a subordinate role. Here Microsoft is trying the umpteenth attempt at a comeback against Google Chrome with a completely redesigned Edge browser. In the battle for net revenue, Microsoft is now on the winning side. The cloud business with Microsoft Azure and Microsoft 365 has meanwhile left the revenues with Windows far behind.
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