Programming Windows: Windows 95 (Premium)

The success of Windows 3.0 and 3.1 had catapulted one of Microsoft’s biggest embarrassments into a worldwide success the likes of which the personal computing industry had never seen. But the next release, called Windows 4.0, and expected in late 1993, would be even bigger. Indeed, by the time it hit the market in August 1995 as Windows 95---the name was changed in July 1994 as part of a company-wide product naming revision---it was clear that this launch would mark the apex of Microsoft’s success.

“Microsoft’s goal for Windows 95 are the same goals we’ve had for every release of Windows,” Microsoft executive vice president Steve Ballmer wrote in the foreword to Adrian King’s Inside Windows 95 in mid-1994. “We want to make computing even easier. We want to provide a development platform for the desktop. We want to provide a high-volume, low-cost operating system that will spur industry growth and innovation. We believe that Windows 95 will accomplish these goals and that Windows 95 will be even more important to the PC world than Windows 3.1, which now has over 60 million users.” (It would have over 100 million users by the time Windows 95 finally shipped.)

Windows 95 represented a major step forward for the creaky, MS-DOS based operating system that Microsoft had first released a decade earlier. It hid, but did not remove, its MS-DOS underpinnings, making the system appear more cohesive and less like “a thing on a thing.” (And despite some internal debate on this topic, Microsoft would no longer sell MS-DOS separately.) It shipped with a new and more consistent desktop-based user interface that we’re still using today in Windows 10, and it supported long file names in the file system. It adopted networking technologies from Windows for Workgroups, enabling Windows 95 to work with the emerging Internet of the day. And it adopted the Win32 application runtime from Windows NT, allowing developers and users to transition to the 32-bit world.

Windows 95 also offered new technologies of its own. It was the first version of Windows to support Plug and Play (PnP), a much simpler way to connect and configure hardware peripherals, erasing one of the few remaining Mac advantages. It was the first version of Windows to explicitly support the unique needs of portable computers, including power management, docking and undocking, and file synchronization via a Briefcase application. It was the first to offer integrated multimedia capabilities which had debuted previously as add-ons. And it provided the WinG graphics library for games, a predecessor to DirectX that allowed MS-DOS game makers to port their titles to Windows.

The benefits of Windows 95 to end users are probably well-understood, given that the basic user interface remains in Windows 10, almost 25 years later. But the benefits of this system to developers are perhaps less well-understood. As is the relationship between Windows 95 and a fully 32-bit pla...

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